Tight end Chad Lewis (BYU `96) is flanked by quarterbacks Steve Young (BYU `83) and Donovan McNabb (Syracuse `98) last February at Young's golf tournament in Arizona. Lewis and McNabb are teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles.
A modern Marco Polo is what Chad Lewis was as he represented the National Football League last spring in Asia.
The former BYU tight end, who is a two-time all-pro performer for the Philadelphia Eagles, was the choice of the NFL to pitch their product in Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand on a 10-day trip last May.
ESPN will air special
ESPN will be televising a 15-30 minute special on Lewis this Fall, waiting for the right moment to showcase the trip and the tight end.
"I've seen parts of the show, but they are waiting to air it after I have a big game," said Lewis of the 20 hours of footage they were able to obtain in Asia.
The trip also generated 18 newspaper articles in Asia, 10 of which were in Taiwan.
Lewis became the ideal choice for the NFL's venture to Asia when league officials learned he speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese because of his time as a Church missionary. Lewis served that mission to Taiwan in 1990-92.
"My time at BYU is what prepared me to be an ambassador in the NFL. I learned how to represent something 24-7," said Lewis, who prepped at nearby Orem High and walked on to BYU. "After four years at BYU it was easier for the NFL to pick me."
To prepare for this trip he listened to Chinese tapes several hours a day.
"That helped me a ton. All of the people were so nice and they were surprised I could speak so well," said Lewis.
Two years ago, NFL representatives approached Lewis about helping them expand their market to Asia. The first part of this month, Washington defeated San Francisco in Japan, the 11th pre-season game held in that country. The goal of the NFL is to have a pre-season game in Beijing, China in 2006.
The NFL started a flag football program in schools throughout Korea in 1999 and Thailand in 2000. Dat Nguyen, son of Vietnamese immigrants, has been a linebacker for Texas A & M and now with the Dallas Cowboys.
To increase the league's exposure in Asia, Ann Pettiti of the NFL arranged the recent trip for Lewis, his wife Michele, two other women from the NFL head offices and a cameraman, soundman and a producer.
The trip was sponsored by NFL International and ESPN Star Sports.
Lewis and his wife applied for their passport at the Provo Post Office. They left their children Emily, Sarah and son Jacob with Michele's parents in Las Vegas, but they phoned them often while in Asia.
"It was a real culture shock and eye-opener for me," said Michele, who learned to write the Chinese numbers from one to five and to say "hello" and "thank you."
Michele liked seeing the elevated highways in Taiwan.
"The people were really nice and clean cut. There were so many people in Taiwan, it made me wonder where they had room to sleep. The food was alright, but a couple of the raw fish items were so strong."
One food item Chad succeeded in getting his wife to try was "roubau" for breakfast. Roubau is puffed up dough with meat inside.
While in Taiwan he was also hosted by Bishop Steve Hsiung, a former missionary companion of Lewis. While speaking at a Fireside in that Taichung ward, a lady stood up on the back row, questioning whether Lewis remembered her living in the Fong Ying area.
Lewis remembered her name was Sister Woo, that her husband was a branch president and that she had a one-year-old baby. These recollections reminded Lewis of the scriptural passage found in the Book of Mormon:
"Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren... (Alma 17:2)."
On that Mother's Day Sunday, Lewis also was reacquainted with a homeless person named "Gypsy" from his missionary days.
Other Church Contacts
While the NFL officials set up the football portion of the trip, Church coordination came from Elder H. Bryan Richards of the area presidency. Elder Richards has since been transferred to serve in the area presidency for the Church in the Philadelphia area.
Other Church representatives Lewis met on this trip were Ron and Nila Dodson of Provo, who are currently serving as public affairs missionaries in Hong Kong.
Lewis made time for visits with Church missionaries after his NFL schedule was completed each day. Mornings usually began with a two-hour workout of running and lifting at 8 a.m. The days ended at midnight after Church business was complete.
There wasn't always time for every wish. Lewis was not able to show his wife the Church temple in Taiwan. They did arrange to dicker for wristwatches for family members back home.
Lewis was able to make an official visit with the Hon. Frank Lavin, U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, and presented him with an Eagles helmet. He also stopped by an American school in Singapore that has football equipment and played with the kids there.
"Singapore was like Disneyland because it is so clean," said Lewis, who also met with Church missionaries there and got to use his Chinese language with the locals.
While in Thailand, Chad and Michele had an entire bus to themselves. In Bangkok they again met with missionaries. Among the missionaries they met and took a picture of was an Elder Card from Cardston, Alberta, Canada.
Cardston is close to the Lewises because Michele has cousins who live there. There, each July for the past five years, Chad has conducted football camps.
Lewis, an all-conference tight end at BYU, signed as a free agent with the Eagles in 1997 and has made two trips to the Pro Bowl. He plans on returning to Canada to conduct many more camps and would love to return to Asia again in behalf of the NFL and the Church.
Itinerary for Trip to Asia
Date Country Church Activity
May 10 Taiwan
May 11 Taiwan
May 12 Taiwan Services, Fireside
May 13 Singapore
May 14 Singapore
May 15 Singapore
May 16 Thailand
May 17 Thailand Fireside
May 18 Thailand