by Brock Benson

“Gentlemen, this is a football”

Those famous words spoken by the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi still stir the emotions of millions of football enthusiasts worldwide.  Spoken in the 1961 training camp, Lombardi was reorienting his team to what mattered most – the fundamentals.

As a mild football enthusiast I don’t follow a lot of football action but two stories this off-season have caught my attention in particular.  Since some of those reading won’t be familiar with these stories I will try to give a brief overview of the little bit that I know.

 

Story 1

In July one of the more successful SEC coaches, Hugh Freeze, resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss. Apparently some of the drama was surrounding escort communication Freeze had engaged in on behalf of players who he was recruiting.  To put it succinctly the situation at Ole Miss is disheartening, irritating, and downright EXPECTED. (I’ll get to that in a moment.)

 

Story 2

America’s team the Dallas Cowboys are in the spotlight due to the suspension of legendary Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot. The NFL elected to suspend Elliot for 6 games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy surrounding domestic violence accusations made by Elliot’s ex-girlfriend. The latest news is that Elliot plans to appeal the suspension. What will be the ultimate outcome? Only time will tell…

One of the facts I have found most interesting is the heat Jerry Jones (famous owner of the Dallas Cowboys) is getting from the media for how he has supported Elliot during this time. Radio hosts on our own local 104.5 have aired how negatively they feel Jones has handled this whole situation.

A few years ago when all the drama from Penn State hit the media I was devastated. I’m not an official Nittany Lion fan but my granddad was an Alumni and so growing up I remember how much I loved watching them play especially when I was with him. So to hear what happened crushed me.

Football brings out a lot of passion and pride for people, especially college football. As fans our smack talk reaches its height when college rivalry weekend comes. Why? We want to beat our rival. Actually that was too soft. We want to CRUSH them. Fair?

It’s this very sentiment that should cause us to pause especially in the midst of these recent stories and do something every good football player does after a game. Film Study. It’s in the film room we look back and reflect on how we played and what we could do better. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of football since I’ve never played. But one thing I’ve heard is truly great players like Peyton Manning or more locally our own Blaine Bishop (former Titans safety) is they took the film room very seriously and really worked hard in reflecting on the game.

Why did Hugh Freeze, Ezekiel Elliot, Jerry Jones, and even Joe Paterno act the way they acted? Perhaps you won’t agree but I think it’s because we wanted them to.

Winning is everything. Even in the midst of trying to provide hope and healing for the Ole Miss faithful hear what former coach Tommy Tuberville said:

“It’s just a sad day for them, it really is, because people in that state really want to win games and want to be competitive at Ole Miss. They’ve done a great job to this point, and now they’ve had a terrible setback.”  (http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/20342694)

Sure we would never say we condone the actions of these individuals but the pressure we put on them as fans to win is serious. And so is it any wonder they act the ways in which they do? NO! Furthermore we should expect it to happen again and again and keep expecting it to happen until something happens and hearts get wrecked over the bigger problem.

Maybe you think I am being harsh or unreal. But doesn’t the Bible tells us the first murder ever committed was because of a brother who was competitive? Cain wanted to win and beat out his little brother and felt spited when God accepted his brothers offering over his. (See Genesis 4)

As football fans we can continue to expect this behavior from coaches, owners and players because we want to WIN. And we might not say it verbally but our hearts are so attached to the WIN at times we don’t care as much about how it was attained so long as it’s attained. I’m grateful to the various universities and organizations like the NFL who try at times to make a stand for what’s right but I wonder are we seeing the real struggle? Are we upset over sin or because Elliot being out might cost us a few games in our fantasy league?

I know your attention span is running thin but this is real for so many of us, myself included. I’m stupid competitive in everything I do. I have been ever since I was a little boy and use to race my little brother to see which one of us could get done with our paper route faster. It doesn’t matter whether it is fishing, sports, coaching, or life itself. I want to WIN. I almost wear it like a badge of honor most days. But when I don’t win, I face legitimate depression-like tendencies. Why? Because I easily forget my FUNDAMENTALS. I forget that it’s not primarily in those arenas God has wired me to be competitive in. Instead I must be reminded of the most basic of fundamentals, like who my real competition and enemy is. The Bible tells me he is like a lion and he seeks to steal, kill and destroy me and everyone one else in his path.

I love football and I am not going to quit watching it this fall. And I hope you won’t either. But instead of getting mad and caught up in the drama mix like I so easily do I am going to try and realize how my sin nature has to be fought. My college football coach, Will Muschamp, gets really angry when the gamecocks get railroaded…which happens a lot unfortunately. Why? Because he has fanatic fans like me who want him to win and who get angry when he doesn’t. I’m not proud of the fact there have been many Saturdays watching the gamecocks where I got even angrier than Muschamp/Spurrier themselves but its true. I wanted them to win and they know I wanted them to win. And so when they didn’t…well it was bad, really bad.

Football is back! May this be a call for us to rise up and allow the competitive drive God’s given us to be fuel against our real enemy! May we take him on together remembering the fundamentals this fall. And through doing so, see how God’s shaping our hearts even as we enjoy the big hits and the long passes!

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