“You Play To Win The Game”

Each and every journey begins with the first step.  And the first step toward championship living is the will to win.  Not ability, or skill or knowledge.  Just will.  A young man named Rudy dreamed of attending the University of Notre Dame and playing football for legendary coach Parseegian.  He wasn’t the biggest, he wasn’t the strongest or the fastest football player ever to suit up, but he had the one essential ingredient that lead to the fulfillment of his dream:  an iron will.  He went through disappointments, setbacks and slammed doors, but he willed his way to Notre Dame and onto the football field.  In fact, Rudy’s family came to see the last game of the only season he played, and witnessed him being carried off of the field in triumph. Rudy was the last Notre Dame Player to be carried off of the field.

James “Jimmy the Bulldog of Bergen” Braddock was called “Cinderella Man.”  He won the heavyweight boxing championship of the world by sheer will.  Braddock was a professional boxer who broke his hand in the ring and had to resort to working on the loading docks to earn a living.  When the stock market crashed he lost his life savings, so during The Great Depression, he fought outside of the ring for his children to have milk to drink and a warm bed to sleep in.  He fought to keep his family together after he went on public assistance and could not afford to pay to keep the lights on.  And yet after all he went through, he willed his way to defeat the heavily favored defending champion in 1934 not because he outwitted or out foxed his opponent, but because he would not be denied. Continue reading

Don’t Quit

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When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest if you must, but don’t you dare quit.

 

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a failure turns about,

When he might have won had he stuck it out;

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–

You may succeed with another blow.

 

Success is failure turned inside out–

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far,

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

-By an Unknown Author

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Cinderella: Undergoing and Overcoming

Cinderella

Vince Lombardi, the immortal coach of the Green Bay Packers said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  Naturally speaking, this phrase has been overblown and misunderstood.  But spiritually speaking, Lombardi was right.  Who remembers who came in second place?  Is being the second runner-up as rewarding as finishing first?  Is honorable mention as gratifying as the championship trophy?

Winning is everything. And not just winning, but winning big. I’m not talking about the margin of victory, but the quality of victory.  The fiercer the battle, the sweeter the victory. Hard fought wins are more memorable, more satisfying, and more gratifying than all others. And so it is with life.  The life God wants us to live is about quality, not necessary quantity.  That’s why we all love Cinderella Stories.  The improbable victories no one, not even Hollywood, can script.  And this is some of our lives.

God loves the long-shot.  God loves the underdog.  God loves Cinderella.  She had undergone mistreatment and maladjustment before she met the prince at the ball.  “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”  Cinderella believed.  I come back to this because if you can believe, you can achieve.

Believing is the first step.  Many of us have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, beaten bigger, better, more talented teams, and won when no-one gave us a chance.  Many of us have undergone major surgery, endured unforeseen layoffs, weathered 100-year storms, and yet overcame big setbacks and huge letdowns.  We bounced-back, with the help of God and God-sent friends and fans, to overcome the worst of circumstances.  Cinderella had mice, sparrows, a pumpkin and a Fairy Godmother.  We have those who are Heaven-sent into our lives, who, just when we need them most, come to our rescue.

And so the question is, since you have overcome, who are you helping as they undergo to overcome?

Baseball and Football: Safe at Home

I remember the late great comedian George Carlin performing the infamous baseball vs. FOOTBALL routine.  Generally vain but always funny, with his comedic satire, here Carlin hit on a truth that cannot be denied: the fact of the matter is that life is like both of these uniquely American sports.  “Baseball is a 19th Century pastoral game,” whereas “Football is a “20th Century technological struggle  .  .   .  Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life; Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying.”

In Football and life, we must play in any kind of weather; despite rain, sleet, snow, hail and mud . . .  the struggle must continue.  Carlin went on to say that “in Football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun; with short bullet passes and long bombs; he marches his troops into enemy territory balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemies defensive line.”  But life is also like Baseball in that “the object is to go home and to be safe.  I hope I’ll be safe at home – safe at home.”

Don’t we want both?  “To march into enemy territory with a sustained ground attack;” to “punch holes in the enemy defensive line” and “to go home and be safe?”  The only way to do both is to trust in God who will fight for us and fight with us. The only way to go home and be safe is to “trust in Him who will not leave you;” the One who is on our side.  Daily we need to turn to Him who is the only one who can guarantee to help us through life whether it is like baseball or football.  “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18, New Living Translation).  And long before George Carlin, the hymnwriter gave us these words:

“Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’ve come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wandering from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed His precious blood.”

Don’t you want to arrive safe at home?

How You Play The Game

Poem by Grantland Rice These words have been diluted down to “It’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game.” These words, contorted but true nonetheless, have been quoted a thousand times. How many a young player has been consoled with these same words after a devastating loss or a deflating defeat? How we play the game is more important than winning or loosing. This is what is taught in “theory” but it’s not always what we do in practice. With this sage bit of advice, win or lose, every athlete can, at the end of the day, walk away with his or her head held high knowing that they gave it all they had and left nothing on the field of play.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. David Ortiz and John Lester. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Jack Nicklaus. Pele. “Broadway” Joe Namath. Babe Ruth. Rivals, teammates and legends alike, these all and so many others knew how to play the game, and they played it well. They were students of the game; they love and loved the game they played; they taught others by their examples what to, and what not to do. How they played was just as important, if not more important, as the game itself.

In Grantland Rice’s poem, “The One Great Scorer” is, of course, The Lord Himself. At the end of the day, He is the one who will “write against our name.” He is the one who is ” lookin’ and bookin’. He is the one who will judge the quick and the dead. And so ultimately, He is the one who decides how we should play the game. And we should play well. We should live well. We should love, give, forgive and be more concerned with how we play the game than with “winning” and “loosing.”

I am writing this blog entry from Rome. Yes, Rome Italy. I believe my trip here is a direct result of how I play the game. I don’t bat .400; I strike out more than I should; I’ve fumbled more than a few times; and sometimes I can”t hit the side of a barn. But I love The One Great Scorer. I love the Lord with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength. Just because I’ve fumbled the ball doesn’t mean that I stop playing the game. All is not lost because of a misstep or a mistake. How I play the game is more important than the stats. He cares not that I win or lose, but how I play the game. Continue reading

Stop The Run

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In the game of football, playing defense is fundamental.  It has been said that offense wins games, but defense wills championships.  On the way to becoming a champion, I believe that tackling, the elementary cornerstone of defense, must be mastered.  Tackle means to confront, block, grab, seize or bring down.  Grabbing an offensive player with the ball, hanging on, and bringing him down to the ground is a basic skill that is taught at the earliest ages and in the earliest stages of the game.  Without a good “run defense”, the opponent can run the ball at will, own the battle for time of possession, and essentially control the game.  There is good tackling and bad tackling, and the proper techniques are as old and as time-honored as the game itself.

When I played football in 9th grade, the coach tried to demonstrate to me that tackling a big man low is the only sure way to bring him down.  During a practice, after he saw me grab the star running back around the chest in a feeble attempt at bad tackling, he blew the whistle and stopped play.  My efforts were barely able to slow his progress.  Shaking his head and waving his arms frantically, he ran over to where I lay.  He took the time to show me the art of “staying low”.  I wasn’t as big as the guy I was trying to tackle, but the coach showed me that if I stayed low, grabbed him around the lower body, wrapped my arms and held on, I could bring him down.  That day I learned that you don’t have to be big to tackle, but you need to be determined to tackle.  I also learned that open field tackles are the most important, for in confronting an oncoming opponent, you could be the last line of defense.  In that case, one must decide and determine to be the one to stop the run. Continue reading

Redemption

Hoosiers is the best sports film ever.  Period. End of discussion.  The themes of redemption, reconciliation and restoration shine through almost every scene.  If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this blog and watch it right now.  If you’ve seen it, watch it again.  It’s that good. Hoosiers is a 1986 sports film about a small-town Indiana high school basketball team that wins the state championship. The story is set during 1951/1952, when all high schools in Indiana, regardless of size, competed in one state championship tournament. It is loosely based on the Milan High School team that won the 1954 state championship.

The film is the triumphant tale of a high school basketball team’s long-shot attempt to go from worst to first and is filled with edge-of your seat suspense, breathless excitement and heart-felt performances by Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hooper. Hoosiers is said to have redefined the sports movie with a realism and frankness that make you believe in this small town team and the small-town characters – and cheer for them over and over again. Continue reading