Sun, May 12, 2002 - Page 16 News List

Eagles player spreads NFL gospel on return to Taiwan

HE BELIEVES:Chad Lewis has been chosen by the National Football League to return to Taiwan, after first coming here 10 years ago, for a promotional tour of the Asia-Pacific region

By Jules Quartly  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER , WITH BLOOMBERG, PHILADELPHIA, PENNYSLVANIA

Chad Lewis speaks at a press luncheon in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO COURTESY ESPN

Ten years ago he was cycling around Taiwan in a white shirt and tie spreading the good word.

Now, he is the Philadelphia Eagles' starting tight end and has been chosen as the National Football League's roving ambassador to the Asian-Pacific region.

At a luncheon yesterday in Taipei, Chad Lewis met the press to spread the good word according to the NFL.

It's the first time Lewis has returned to Taiwan since he spent two years at the Latter Day Saints mission in Taichung and he told the Taipei Times he was "happy as a clam" to be back.

Speaking in Chinese, which he studied as part of a joint-honors degree with communications at Brigham Young College in Utah, Lewis recalled youngsters in Taichung shouting out to him "adoa," (阿兜仔)or foreigner, as he cycled around.

Superman

He was also called Superman because of his beefy six foot six (1.98m) frame and large glasses, which made him look like the superhero in Clark Kent mode.

Lewis was accompanied by his wife Michelle and a NFL camera crew, who were filming him on his 10-day tour of Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand.

He said that he was hoping to promote the game in Taiwan, particularly among kids, with whom he will hold youth clinics.

"This is going to be an exciting trip. I am really looking forward to spending time in Southeast Asia and visiting with the many NFL fans that live here."

His visit is the NFL's latest attempt to promote football in the region, where the sport is occasionally shown on television, but is rarely played in Taiwan.

The NFL started a flag football program in schools throughout Korea in 1999 and Thailand in 2000, but Taiwan has so far resisted the concept.

Even so, his visit turned out to be a big draw here. ``When they found out I'd do interviews in Chinese, the interview requests tripled,'' Lewis said.

To prepare for his mission in 1990, Lewis studied Chinese 10 hours a day for two months at a missionary school in Provo, Utah.

Three days before Lewis was scheduled to leave for Taiwan, his father suffered a stroke. That inspired Lewis to sing songs to stroke victims at hospitals during his mission.

``We'd sing them John Denver songs even though they didn't know English,'' Lewis said. ``They loved it.''

He often spent 12 hours a day going door-to-door to spread his faith and performed four hours of community service each week.

``When I first got there, it was quite a shock and I thought I would die,'' said Lewis, ``I thought I'd be sleeping on dirt floors and eating locusts for dinner, but after I was there for a while, I realized it's a great place.''

But to begin with it was a trial, which he said, taught him the value of his favorite Chinese saying: "True gold does not fear the refiner's fire" (真金不怕火煉).

He said yesterday it "was a dream" to be able to come back to Taiwan.

Making his way

Lewis joined the NFL as a free agent in 1997 and played in all 16 games as a rookie, but was released the following season. After a brief stint with the St. Louis Rams, he returned to Philadelphia and led all NFC tight ends with 69 catches in 2000.

It was his breakthrough season and his receiving totals were the best for a tight end since Keith Jackson in 1988.

After signing a four-year, US$6 million contract extension, Lewis caught 41 passes last season to help the Eagles win the National Football Conference East and reach the conference title game, where they lost to the Rams.

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