Monday, February 4, 2008

True Champions

Before there was ESPN and dozens of sports channels giving you 24/7 coverage of every nuance of every sport known to humanity, there was ABC's Wide World of Sports. In the introduction of each weekly installment, Wide World of Sports summarized the magnetic attraction of intensely fought athletic contests in these immortal words,
"Spanning the Globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat; The human drama of athletic competition! THIS is ABC's Wide World of Sports!"

Yes, it's the thrill, agony and the drama that draw us. Wide World of Sports went beyond filming games, it took you behind the scenes, humanizing the contestants, showing everyone that the struggle you watched was more than an exertion of strength on a weekend afternoon - It was a microcosm of life itself - a journey of blood sweat and tears that tested character and exposed what was inside the heart of individuals - win, lose or draw. The sporting world was treated to an amazing presentation of "human drama" this past weekend as the mighty and here-to-fore "perfect," AFC Champion New England Patriots faced the determined and not-even-close-to-perfect NFC champion New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. To the extreme satisfaction all who watched, the game more than lived up to the pre-contest hype and will go down in gridiron history as one of the most dramatic, heart pounding displays of football competitiveness ever to be displayed on Superbowl Sunday.

The Giants played like a team possessed - especially the defense! It seemed as if they had a singular, almost maniacal obsession from which they never relented - Get Tom Brady at all costs! After every New England snap of the ball, the Giant defense caved in on Brady as if someone had told them he had insulted their mothers. Brady faced a human tsunami of Giants every time he touched the ball, and only incredible talent and professional excellence enabled him to put points on the board and to lead his team to come within minutes of glorious perfection and Professional Football Immortality. But history had a different, and much more dramatic ending than Brady, his coach Bill Belichick, and the Patriot Franchise had in mind. Two words that have described the New York Giants throughout the entire 2007-2008 football season are "Determined" and "Undaunted". These words were in full evidence in one phenomenal play by New York quarterback Eli Manning and receiver David Tyree that led to a subsequent touchdown pass that changed the course of the game and history making the New York Giants the come-from-behind victors!

What a turn of events for the Patriots; to come so tantalizingly close to doing what only one team in NFL history has done, the 1972 Miami Dolphins who emerged from the 1972 Super Bowl as the undefeated NFL Champions - to came so close to football immortality - only to fail! The shock, disappointment and pain were obvious. The Patriots perspective was summarized by Brady who basically stated that the other 18 victories during the season meant nothing. They lost the most important game of the season, and in the end, for them, that was all that mattered. For the Giants, obviously the drama was different. They had started the season 0-2 and it seemed as if Eli Manning would be forever in his big brother Peyton's shadow - always the bridesmaid, never the bride. However, in the face of long odds and almost universal doubt on the part of others outside of the Giants organization, determination, perseverance and a reliance on team effort enabled Eli and his teammates to embrace one of the most satisfying victories in NFL History and to assure their own place in the chronicles of NFL Legend.

As a Christian, every life experience ultimately causes me to reflect on eternal values and broader life truth. As I reflect on this year's Super Bowl, first, there is the realization that the drama on the field played out for our entertainment has real life repercussions for the players and franchise staffers themselves. For those people, their victory or defeat in the Super Bowl is a matter of professional success or failure. This Game of all games is a matter of dollars gained or loss, contracts renewed or terminated and a very big determinant of how their professional life's work is viewed for years to come. It's somewhat easier to understand the pain in the Patriots loss when one considers that because of this particular loss, the Patriots are now seen by some as failures when they have been to 4 of the last 7 Super Bowls and won 3 of them! It is sad to think that Tom Brady and his coach Bill Belichick may actually be portrayed by some as losers in their over-all careers because of failing to achieve this historic opportunity even though they have already been victorious in the Super Bowl three times!

One sports commentator stated that because of their failure to achieve a perfect 19-0 season, this will certainly be the most bitter loss for the Patriots in their careers and that they will NEVER get over it! I dare to counter that though it may be true that will be the most monumental professional and personal loss in their careers, the 2007-2008 Patriots HAVE to get over it! I speak from experience. I've had my own share of failures and losses, a few of them public ones and one pursuit in particular very noteworthy in the level of ambition involved in my pursuit of it and the level of consequence involved in my failure to achieve it. Nevertheless, I've learned that I cannot succeed in going forward to pursue future success, if I always look backward and cling to my past short-comings. In seeking to allow the Lord to teach me in victory and defeat, my eyes have been opened to other human dramas much more critical that any I have experienced - life and death dramas where people face real life struggles such as broken families, inadequate housing and substandard education. I was exposed to the challenges others faced as they lived from day to day with debilitating illnesses, chronic pain, or the loss of a close loved one. I have also witnessed the spiritual blindness of people who didn't understand God's love for them or how this love was freely available to them and could empower them to overcome many of the tremendous challenges they faced. In my own losses, I was also exposed to my responsibility to share my God-given gifts with everyone I meet, understanding that most people aren't so concerned about my past failures - they are more concerned about my involvement, dedication and commitment to walk along side and helping others in their journeys.

In getting a grip on God's perspective in victory and defeat, I have experienced triumphs that have been as satisfying as anything achieved by a championship team. I have seen drug addicts come clean. I have witnessed those who were formerly down and out, lifting up others after their own lives were transformed. I have seen haters become lovers and destroyers become healers. I have certainly seen losers achieve unbelievable victories and inspire others to see that the possibility of victory was within their grasp as well. This is the kind of perspective I wish for the New England Patriots - The kind of perspective that will allow them to hold their heads up with dignity, grace and a powerful humility that will cause them not to walk around like "Football gods who own the earth" but as tremendously gifted mortals who understand all too well, the pain of defeat, and the necessity to move beyond it and help others who truly have to live everyday with pain and suffering. If they can do that, they'll always be champions in my book. Until next time...


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