FOOTBALL AND FAITH
There’s nothing quite like it! I’m sure I’m just one of literally millions of folks around the country that feel that way. It’s as much a part of the fall season each year as the changing colors of the leaves, the trick-or-treaters dressed up in their costumes, or the day you break out the sweaters in your closet. Football is built into the culture of our country. From little kids playing Pop Warner to the grown men playing in the NFL, fans of the game get into a frenzy as they cheer for their favorite teams when theyt take the gridiron each week. Football is just a lot of fun for a lot of people!
Normally during this time of year I’m heading to Eugene on 6 or 7 Saturdays to watch the Oregon Ducks. My wife and I have had season tickets there for 23 years, and followed them longer than that. There is something about the experience of sitting in Autzen Stadium that I just can’t explain. Gathered with about 58,000 of my “closest friends” all dressed in green or yellow, or whatever color the Ducks are wearing that week from their myriad of uniform combinations, we share a passion for our team that rivals any fan base in the country. Before going to the games I often check the newspaper for the scores from the Friday night High School games around the state and enjoy the banter on ESPN’s College Game Day show. On Sunday’s after church I follow the NFL, which has been a lot more fun for me to do this year because the Raiders are actually winning games. Back in the day I even played a little Pop Warner myself before deciding in Junior High that I’d rather work part time and make some money than have bigger, stronger kids tackle me! The point is, football has always been a normal part of fall for me!
Just today I watched a condensed one hour replay of the 2020 Rose Bowl, featuring my Oregon Ducks and the Wisconsin Badgers. Obviously I already knew the outcome of the game, which Oregon won 28-27, a game that featured three rushing touchdowns by the Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who is now turning heads as the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers. Knowing we won the Rose Bowl made watching the game much easier than it had been on January 1st, but it also freed me up to see the ups and downs that were highlighted in that contest, the setting in which it was played, and the emotions that accompanied those moments. In many ways, it was a microcosm of life that I had never really appreciated before. It was actually quite a startling revelation.
I can almost hear someone saying, “What? That’s crazy! How do you come up with that from a silly football game?” Honestly, I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch if you really think about it. While there is certainly an element of spectacle in big time football games, the game itself is basically the same on every level. The ultimate goal is to reach the end zone as many times as you can, or stop the other team from doing so. The team that has done that the most successfully ends up winning the game. In between the opening kickoff and the final gun a lot of things happen — some good, some bad. How you handle those ups and down normally determines who wins the game.
Take the Rose Bowl game I mentioned earlier. It was a highly anticipated game for many reasons.. These were two evenly matched teams, one ranked 6th and the other 8th in the country. One featured a running back that was setting all kinds of rushing records and the other a quarterback who had an elite arm and won the country’s highest academic award for an athlete. Both teams were incredibly well coached and featured star players on both sides of the ball. Everything said about the game in anticipation of the kickoff agreed that it would be very close, with the outcome depending on which team would be able to run their game plan, make some breaks for themselves, and take advantage of the opportunities they had. The game lived up to the advance hype and became one of those instant classics that people will talk about for years to come…….especially Duck fans!
While I could certainly talk about the game itself, that’s not my purpose here. Rather, I’d like us to consider how that game, and so many others like it, actually serve as a realistic analogy of our lives. This thought first hit me this when the broadcasters commented on the beautiful setting the game was being played in, especially at the start of the 4th quarter. This was a tight game that had so many ups and down, yet these professional broadcasters were talking about the sunset that was casting a golden hue over the stadium and the surrounding hills. It was absolutely gorgeous! Having been there myself on a couple of occasions, I can assure you such scenes are one of the annual attractions of the Rose Bowl game. It creates an atmosphere that helps make this game the “granddaddy of them all”.
Life is like that sometimes! There are moments in life that are just stunningly beautiful. There are no words to describe those scenes! Sometimes they just take your breath away! You’ve witnessed plenty of those moments – like the birth of your baby, a bride on her wedding day, the return of a soldier home from deployment overseas, or relief on the faces of a family gathered in the waiting room when the doctor comes in to tell them everything is going to be OK. Whether it’s a moment of great joy and celebration, or a moment of relief and needed peace, those occasions bring a sense of meaning and purpose to life. Amidst all the struggles and hardships that accompany our everyday routines, we need those moments to brighten our outlook and give us hope for better days to come.
The Rose Bowl game also gave me a glimpse of many other elements that seem to be a part of my life. As a Duck fan there were low moments when our receivers dropped pass, our running backs were tackled for a loss, or when Wisconsin ran the kickoff back for a touchdown. There were high moments when the Ducks blocked a kick, recovered a fumble or stopped Wisconsin on 4th down. The game was filled with emotional moments that mimicked real life. Sometimes things went the way I wanted them to for the Ducks, and sometimes they didn’t. It was frustrating to watch Wisconsin (the enemy) continue to make inroads through our defense or stymie our efforts on offense. Some plays we did very well, but at other times Wisconsin got the better of us. It was a back and forth struggle for all 4 quarters.
My life has resembled that for as long as I can remember. I’ve had days when I’ve enjoyed the positive moments in the sun. I’ve gotten jobs I really wanted, received attention and accolades for my efforts, and were blessed with more than my share of financial rewards. But there have also been lots of days when I’ve been thrown for a loss or put on the defense. I’ve fielded angry comments, made bad decisions, had my plans blocked, and faced some strong opposition. It has rarely been easy and often left me weary and worn. I’ve continued to “play on” because I believe in the game plan I’ve adopted in life. After all, the only way to win is to stay in the game.
Though I didn’t expect it, that Rose Bowl game last January has become a compelling illustration of how I view my life. It was a hard fought contest to the very end. I think that’s a good reminder for me. Whatever progress I’ve made this far in life doesn’t guarantee my “enemy” is going to give up. I figure he’s in it for the long run and will do whatever is within his power to distract, disturb, and defeat me. My challenge is to stay focused and keep fighting to the best of my ability until I reach the end. Along the way I’m sure there will be some more of those beautiful moments that I will need to capture to stay encouraged. But I’m just as sure there are still difficult challenges I have yet to experience. Like the Apostle Paul, someday I want be able to say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith….”.
Football and faith — who would have figured they had so much in common. I’m grateful the Ducks won that Rose Bowl game last January, but I think I’ve gained more by watching the replay today. That game had so many memorable moments that ultimately resulted in a victory. In the same way, my life has had some amazing moments that I hope will help carry me through to my ultimate eternal victory!