Why Are We Talking About Football In July?

Invincible-Movie-Wallpaper

Why are we talking about football in July? Why does ESPN’s Sports Center allot and spend the bulk of its air time reporting from minicamp? And why aren’t we spending more time talking about the first place Phillies!? Because we love football, and we love movies about football.

Baseball may be called the national pastime, but football actually is. We are obsessed with our teams and their talent. Even in July, we are passionate and preoccupied with the schedule and needed wins and unwanted loses. And we can’t get enough of how good our teams look on paper. That’s why we love the underdog. And that’s why we all loved The Waterboy, and The Replacements, and all Philly fans everywhere rooted for Vince Papale in Invincible.

Just think – if we put as much time and effort into averting teen pregnancies and decreasing drug addiction and preventing recidivism and bolstering job creation and creating more affordable housing, we might also come up with a cure for cancer along the way. No there’s nothing wrong with watching and celebrating sports (especially football in July), but do you think our society has perhaps, maybe, possibly gone a bridge too far?

This is coming from an avid, borderline rabid sports fan, and a PHILLY sports fan at that. The Eagles are the defending Super Bowl Champions, and so defending the crown is all we Eagles fans are concerned about right now. In July. The sound of sports and the matrix of sports has sent many a fan one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. And that sound reminds us of listening to Brian’s Song and Radio. Yes, it’s July, and while some like it hot, on any given Sunday, there’s a Rudy we can root for.

It’s in July, when football players train and talk about training camp becomes insane, that we Remember the Titans. It’s in July that we start thinking about Friday night lights and being Undefeated (the Best sports documentary ever!). So let’s not get to excited nor should we neglect to look for the Silver Linings Playbook in sports. We all need to protect our blind side. That’s why balance and moderation and having more than enough margin in life is a good thing. Because too much football in July can be a bad thing. But it doesn’t have to be.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy! (The Phillies Are In First Place!)

Phillies Logo

That’s right folks; the Philadelphia Phillies are in first place in the National League East. And they’re looking good doing it. Well, kinda good.  It’s a stunning turn of events. The Nationals were SUPPOSED to be the best team in the East, but not so. And the Braves came out this season with a little something to prove, but they find themselves going neck and neck with the Phils. And I love it.

It seems like this: every time I watch Sports Center or pay a little too much attention to my ESPN App or am a little too concerned about the standings, they’re losing or they’ve lost. Conversely, when I don’t pay attention or forget to check in or deliberately say “whatever” in a good, unfazed and nonplussed way, they win!  So, is that the formula and the principle — don’t be anxious, don’t worry about it, and don’t sweat the small stuff?

It seems like the same philosophy that pays in life works for us on the field of play too, and vice versa. In essence, sports and life are teaching us, and each other, the same lesson. It seems, yea rather, it is in fact the prescription for a stress free, worry free life.  Whatever happens, in spite of what happens, and yea, even BECAUSE of what happens, we must learn to live this way. The ticket to being “care free” in this life of cares is that feel-good, Bobby McFerrin song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” . . . in Jesus!

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=A0geKeeye1Zbd8sAYxdXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0N2Noc21lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNwaXZz?p=Don%27t+Worry%2C+Be+Happy&fr2=piv-web&fr=mcafee#id=9&vid=78f30eec3fdd9a9a1412ac84a021a934&action=view

And here’s our scriptural ammunition for the fight:

Philippians 4:6

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.    New American Standard Updated Version

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.     New Living Translation

 

 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

1 Peter 5:7, KJV

Toronto?  Kaw-Why!?

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Sometimes somethings just don’t make a whole lot of sense on paper. And sometimes somethings make less sense in reality. And Sometimes somethings weren’t even a good idea at the time. Hence is the Kawhi Leonard trade from San Antonio to Toronto. Yes, Toronto. That perennially great regular season team that can’t do a darn thing in the playoffs. Now they’ve essentially rented Kawhi for one year, because next year he’s a Free Agent. (And why does free agency cost so much?)

Toronto traded Kawhi for DeMar DeRozan, but “in the initial aftermath, reports came out indicating that neither of the star players involved were thrilled about the deal, and in fact Leonard had no interest in playing with the Raptors. However, it seems that Leonard has softened that stance a bit. According to a report from Bruce Arthur, the Raptors have had ‘positive’ talks with Leonard’s camp, and the star has shown no indication that he’ll holdout.

And so Kawhi Leonard finally got his wish. He’s no longer a member of the San Antonio Spurs. Only, the blockbuster trade that got him out of town sent him not to Los Angeles, but the polar opposite: Toronto. Early on Wednesday morning, the Spurs and Raptors swung a huge deal that sent Leonard and Danny Green to the Raptors and DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Spurs.

So again, the $25,000 question is “Why?” Why did the marriage between Kawhi and San Antonio, and more specifially between Kawhi and Greg Popovich, go so bad so fast? Why Toronto? And why do teams trade their best player to a team they don’t want to play for?

Sometimes somethings just don’t make sense. But for those who know and trust God, there is a silver lining. Romans 8:28 says that “And we know that all things work together for good for them who love God; to those who are called according to his purpose.” The Message Bible puts it this way:

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Every detail is worked into something good. I don’t know what Kawhi’s spiritual status is, but I absolutely know mine. And that means that all of the bad and the ugly are working together for my good. Thank God. Job felt the same way. He went thorugh somethings that did not make sense. And without this promise, Job and I would have gone crazy a long time ago. So we hold to this promise, and all the while sing this old hymn, until our change comes:

We are tossed and driven
on the restless sea of time;
somber skies and howling tempests
oft succeed a bright sunshine;
in that land of perfect day,
when the mists are rolled away,
we will understand it better by and by.

Refrain:
By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.

Bryce Haper Wins The 2018 HR Derby with a Flair for the Dramatic

Bryce Harper 2018 Home Run Derby

Bryce Harper vowed to enter, and win, the MLB Homerun Derby if and when the All Star Game was held in his hometown. Well, last night was the night. In dramatic, come from behind, flamboyant fashion, Bryce Harper avoided flaming out at home as he was “on the verge of an anticlimactic ending. Instead Harper began a furious comeback with a nod and some family karma. Down 18-9 to the Chicago Cubs Kyle Schwarber in the final round, Bryce went deep nine times in a span of 10 swings to tie it at the end of regulation. Then he drove the second pitch of bonus time over the fence in center field to win the thing, and all sorts of raw emotions came flooding to the surface.

As magenta steamers rained down from high above the stands behind home plate, Harper walked triumphantly down the first-base line with his bat raised high above his head. Then teammates Sean Doolittle and Max Scherzer came out and handed him the Home Run Derby trophy, and Martinez lifted him off the ground in a mammoth bear hug. It was a moment of sweet relief and unbridled joy in a season with too many negative undertones.

It was a welcome respite for a town and a team playing trying to live up to the hype.

The Washington Nationals are playing below expectations and their boy wonder is having a so-so year. He’s hitting .214. and his 23 home runs are offset by 102 strikeouts and a .187 batting average since the start of May. The Nationals are 5½ games behind first-place Philadelphia and five back of second-place Atlanta in the National League East, and they’re going to have to pick up their play considerably to avoid being one of 2018’s colossal disappointments.

While Harper struggles, Manny Machado is having a more productive season in Baltimore and laying an early claim to the bigger payday in the offseason. Somber, distracted and underachieving are never a good recipe for getting the most out of a free-agent “walk” year.

The 2018 Home Run Derby took on extra meaning for Harper, who participated in the event as a shoutout to the home crowd in what might be his final season in Washington. For sentimentalists, he brought along his father, Ron, as his designated Derby pitcher.

‘It’s unbelievable,’’ Harper said. ‘We have some of the best fans in baseball, and to be able to do that with my family out there, that’s an incredible moment — not only for me, but for the organization and Nationals fans. I’m very blessed and humbled.’”  http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/24116616/mlb-bryce-harper-brings-house-epic-derby-comeback

And that’s the beauty of sports. It gives us a taste and a glimpse of what God gives us heaps and hordes of, and that’s victories and triumphs with a flair for the dramatic. David defeated Goliath and his unheralded victory had a flair for the dramatic. Moses parted the Red Sea as the children of Israel fled Pharoah and his army, and that escape from Egypt had a flair for the dramatic. And of course our Lord was crucified on the old rugged cross, and His resurrection from the dead had a flair for the dramatic.

Is Serena Williams The Best Women’s Tennis Player Ever?

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Who are the best athletes ever?

In some sports, there is an ongoing, if not raging debate about who is the G.O.A.T., a.k.a., the greatest of all time. But not in women’s tennis. In women’s tennis there isn’t even the slightest hint of discussion about the best to play the game, ever.

In Basketball, the debate rages on between LeBron and Michael. And for football quarterbacks, it’s Brady vs. Montana, with honorable mentions to Bradshaw, Marino and Favre, Steve Young and John Elway and Peyton Manning, and of course, Roger Staubach.

Hockey is easy: Gretzy the Great will forever hold that title. Baseball is a little harder to pin down, but certainly it’s got to be the Babe or some other Yankee. In other sports, such as women’s gymnastics, Nadia Comaneci’s name comes immediately to mind as she is certainly is at the top of the list. In men’s swimming, Michael Phelps has dominated of late.

Since it’s the season for Wimbledon, we focus on tennis. In men’s tennis, Federer just lost in the quarterfinals for the first time ever (that was a fluke, right?), but he’s still got to be at the top of the list along with Nadal and Sampras and my man Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl and McEnroe and Andre Agassi and even Jimmy Connors.

But when it comes to women’s tennis, there is absolutely no debate. None. We all loved watching Chrissy Everett, and respected Martina Navratilova, and Monica Seles and Steffi Graff. But when it comes to tennis, there is only one queen. Serena. Not even her sister Venus gets an honorable mention. Serena reigns supreme.

Serena is one win away from wining her eighth major championship, at Wimbledon alone. Here’s how ESPN put it:

“Even after more than a year away from the tour, even after a health scare while having a baby a little more than 10 months ago, Williams is still capable of dominance.

A relatively routine 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over 13th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany on Thursday put Williams into her 10th final at the All England Club and moved her closer to a 24th Grand Slam title, which would equal Margaret Court’s record.

‘It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to feel, you know, because literally, I didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back,’ Williams said. ‘I just feel like when I don’t have anything to lose, I just can play so free, and that’s kind of what I’m doing.’

After hitting five aces with a serve that reached 119 mph, delivering 16 winners to only seven unforced errors, and covering the court so well with speed and effort against Goerges, Williams will face another German, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber, on Saturday. http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/24076249/wimbledon-2018-serena-williams-angelique-kerber-reach-final

That was the play-by-play. Now here’s the commentary: the great ones in every sport inspire us to do our best, to be at our best, and to stay at our best. Because we love to watch the best, and only the best. We like excellence in everything, especially sports. And that’s what sports do for us. Great players give us excellence, and the best ones do that (mostly) all of the time.

Spiritually, God requires excellence as well. Since we can’t be at our best all of the time on our own, He now asks — not demands, but asks — that allow Him to help us be at our best, live at our best, and stay at our best, all of the time. Naturally, that’s what Serena is doing on the court. Naturally and spiritually, that’s God wants to help us do every day in every way.

Croatia Stuns England, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup Is Theirs for the Taking

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Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring Croatia’s winning goal in their upset, comeback win against England

“Little” Croatia didn’t get the memo. Little Croatia didn’t read the script. And Little Croatia, the little country across the Adriatic Sea from Italy (see, sports and a geography lesson to boot!) that was carved out of former Yugoslavia (and a history lesson), is on its way to its first World Cup Final in only 27 years of existence. And along the way, Team Croatia defeated Argentina and host Russia. Unbelievable.

England was on its way to not just the World Cup Final, but to a victory in the World Cup Final. It was a fait accompli, or so they thought. Until Croatia got in the way with a come from behind, goal in extra time-turnaround win. It was an upset for the ages. England wasn’t supposed to lose. And Croatia wasn’t supposed to win. And that’s how the ball bounces in this summer of surprises.

And here’s the theological twist: what have people, or even you yourself, said that you couldn’t do? What seemingly insurmountable, unachievable, or impossible feat have you been told just can’t happen in your life? Write it down. The Biblical examples are endless. Abraham and Sarah had their promised baby boy late in their retirement years. So did Zacharias and Elizabeth. The woman with the issue of blood was cleansed after being sick for so long, and the widow from Nain had her son raised to life again. It can happen!

So write it down. Write what you are believing God for down. Put a magnet on it and stick it on the refrigerator. Write it in on a post it and stick it on your mirror. This way, every day, you can remind yourself of what you are believing God for. And then remember Croatia in the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Because if Croatia can pull off the improbable, you can too.

And if “little” Croatia defeats France in the final on Sunday, they will forever be the upstart that pulled off the upset that we will be talking about for ages to come. And, when your miracle comes to pass, we’ll be talking about you too.

“As Brazil Crashes Out, the Magic Appears to Be Gone, Too”

Brazil Loss in 2018 FIFA

Here’s an absoultely brilliantly written piece by By 

KAZAN, Russia — It is a fine line between respect and deference, and in the days before they came face to face with Brazil, Belgium’s players and staff did all they could to navigate it.

A World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil was a challenge, defender Vincent Kompany said, but he and his teammates would not be “losing sleep” over the identity of their opponents. There was “no weakness” in Brazil’s team, according to striker Romelu Lukaku, although “defensively, they can be taken” on.

Belgium’s coach, Roberto Martínez, would concede only one advantage to his opponent before his team beat Brazil, 2-1, on Friday. “The difference is, we have not won the World Cup, and they have won it five times,” he said. “Brazil has got that psychological barrier out of the way.”

That weight of history, of course, is what lends Brazil its magic. It is what makes Brazil the world’s most prestigious national team, a byword not just for taste and style but for success, too. That ultimate marriage of style and substance is what makes the sight of those canary yellow jerseys, blue shorts and white socks so enchanting, what makes the colors gleam just a little brighter.

To see them is to remember Pelé and Jairzinho, Romário and Ronaldo, all of the single-name stars who emerged, every four years, to light up a tournament and so many childhoods. It is to recall the goals they scored and the World Cups they won, the stories of their indelible greatness the world was told when it was young.

It is the same whether you are a fan or a player: Brazil is different; Brazil is special. Martínez is quite right — that effect must count for something, at some level, however deep in the subconscious. It must bewitch those who find themselves tasked with stopping the thing that so inspired them.

And yet if those jerseys are intimidating to see, they are surely no less daunting to wear. All those greats, all those ghosts, on your shoulders and on your back, reminding you of what you are supposed to achieve, who you are supposed to be, that only victory counts as success and everything else is failure.

But Martínez was also quite wrong. Brazil might have won five World Cups, but this Brazil team — this Brazil generation — has not won any, and it will be painfully, crushingly aware of it.

There are five stars on Brazil’s jersey representing those championships, but the last one was added in 2002. After this defeat, the soonest a sixth can join it is in 2022, a wait of two long decades for a nation that — for all the romance of jogo bonito — values only victory. This team, like the three that have gone before it, has failed.

There has not even been a succession of near misses. Brazil fell in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010, just as it has in Russia. It went one step further on home soil in 2014, but found only humiliation, the sort that can scar a nation, waiting there.

Every time, the rhythm of the country’s reaction has been the same. There is a bout of soul-searching; the manager is sacked; a new coach promises to make the team more resilient, more tenacious. He does this by playing with more defensive midfielders. It does not work. The cycle begins again.

This time, it is even harder to believe such a response would be proportionate. Brazil was not embarrassed by Belgium: Tite’s team created more than enough chances to have forced extra time, at the very least. It can regard itself unfortunate not to have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Gabriel Jesus. It can believe itself cursed that, in the first half in particular, Belgium defended so effectively by accident, rather than by design.

Not every defeat is proof of some spiritual failing. Not every defeat means everything is wrong. Certainly, there is no shortage of talent on this Brazilian squad, just as there was no shortage of talent in any of the squads since 2002. Neymar is not a mirage, and neither are Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa and the others.

There are some aging legs in the back line, and something of a dearth of young, dynamic fullbacks, but this is a country that exports thousands of players every year. It is a place where players will continue to grow.

That is what has allowed Brazil to build its history, that endless flowering of talent, one star replaced smoothly by another, year after year, cycle after cycle, decade after decade.

What has happened since 2002, though, suggests this is no longer the advantage it once was. The playing field has been leveled: Brazil is no longer pre-eminent in the way it once was, possessed of enough raw brilliance to carry it through. The explanation for that does not lie in Brazil’s shortcomings, but in someone else’s strengths.

It is not a coincidence that all four of this year’s World Cup semifinalists, whatever happens in the second set of quarterfinals, are from Europe. This is, increasingly, a European competition. All four of the most recent world champions have been European. Since 1990, what might be broadly termed soccer’s modern era, there have been eight World Cups. Brazil has won two. Europe will have picked up the rest.

At least one manager here has confided privately that Europe’s power — in terms of finance, influence, and physicality — has become almost impossible to compete with, certainly for Africa, Asia and North America, and increasingly for South America, the game’s other traditional stronghold.

The major nations of the Old World have industrialized youth development so effectively that France, Germany and Spain can now rival Brazil and Argentina as a source of players. Its smaller countries have such easy access to best practices that their size is no longer an issue.

Their players and coaches can be exported easily to the best leagues in the world. The latest developments in coaching, sports science, nutrition and the rest can be imported rapidly. It is that process that allowed Iceland to draw with Argentina, and be a little disappointed it did not win. It is that process that has left Belgium in the World Cup semifinals, and Croatia and Sweden with hopes of joining them.

And it is that process that has seen Brazil come and go from four World Cups, all without success. Each one, each failing, simply adds to the pressure that awaits the next team to try to end the wait, to try to overcome all of the advantages that Europe can call on.

The players in those yellow jerseys know as well as anyone that Brazil has won five World Cups. They know more than everyone that they have not contributed to any of them. Increasingly, those victories are not a psychological barrier that lies broken at their feet, but one that towers above them, standing in their way, casting them into shadow.