God And No Sports

No baseball. No basketball. No hockey. No NCAA tournament. No college games of any kind. No high school competition anywhere. No sports. No sports at all.

But while we don’t have sports, we do have God and our faith in Him.

There are some things we just can’t do without.  Food, water, shelter, smartphones, Netflix, toilet paper — you know, all the basics. But with the onset of the horrid and heinous, worldwide COVID-19, Corona Virus Pandemic, we’ve learned that we’ve been obsessed with sports, and we took the presence of sports for granted — both at the same time. Sports is part and parcel of our daily lives. But what we thought we just had to have, we’re now forced to make do without. 

Sports provide community, unity, and the opportunity for social interaction on multiple levels. Sports and athletics, in their purest form, teach so many valuable life lessons. Most importantly, for the masses who participate in them, sports provide an acquired immunity from individual dysfunction and societal unrest.

At the micro level, exercising and keeping fit are now known necessities. Individual workouts and team sports are societal norms and are accepted as par for the course. And at the macro level, when a team wins a championship, the entire community comes together to celebrate. Two cases in point near and dear to my heart are Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs winning Super Bowl LIV and backup quarterback Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles winning Super Bowl LII.  These victories galvanized thousands if not millions around a sporting event, and the thrill of victory.

But there is a dark downside to sports. And this season, or this non-season of no sports, has borne this out like never before.

It’s been a hard lesson to learn. For one, I’ve learned how sports dependent I really was, and how sports dependent America sorely is. And we are all learning how emotionally unhealthy and psychologically unbalanced this dependency has made us. The stay at home order has revealed how unstable we have become with and without sports. Sports were our fix and our fancy, but without all those games we’re all going through a long and painful withdrawal.  

The next point is, for those who worship the true and living God, we believe that He is God and God alone, and beside Him there is none other. And with this supreme sovereignty and supremacy comes this warning of woe from the Lord: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

When you add it all up, the sum and conclusion is this: whether the sports world in general or Christians in specific want to admit it or not, sports have become a god. Actually, sports are more like an idol, something which is adored blindly and excessively. And throughout the Bible, God repeatedly reproved His people for worshiping idols. And now, for this generation, God is saying that this addiction to sports must stop. And it must stop now.

The 2020 Olympics have been moved to 2021.  Wimbledon has been canceled. Major League Baseball is wrestling with when (and if) to start the 2020 season. The National Basketball Association is deliberating over when or if to resume the current season. And the National Football League, the heavyweight and haymaker of U.S. sports, is grappling with the very real possibility that the 2020 season may be briefly shortened or severely curtained.  

The almighty dollar should not be the reason for resuming professional sports, but it seems that money is always the bottom line. Certainly everything associated with the games we watch contribute billions if not untold trillions of dollars to our economy worldwide. We know how the virus is adversely affecting life in general and the global bottom line. Thousands of lives have been lost. And at this writing, many more are still being infected. But at what point do we resume mass gatherings when we don’t have an antidote for this deadly disease?

My takeaway from the virus holding us at bay is this: I love God, and I must love Him and maintain my faith in Him more than I love and depend on sports. That’s it.  Sports cannot be a god or an idol or an infatuation over and above the Lord God Himself. It can’t, but I fear that sports has competed with my Lord and contented for my faith far and away more that it should.

For me, and dare I say for America, sports had become the walk off homer and the buzzer beater and the winning ace of our affection.  On many days and in many ways, sports succeeded in intercepting my thoughts and illegally holding my time and flagrantly fouling my spirit my when my heart belongs to heaven.

Only God in Heaven can do for us what we try to get sports to do, and that is to thrill and to chill and to fill our hearts with Him. Only God – God and God alone — can fill the void in us that needs to be filled. This virus has revealed our emptiness, and the only cure for our need to be filled is time with Him.

A Victory for Vanessa Bryant

 

vanessa-kobe-bryant-memorial
Vanessa Bryant Eulogizing her husband Kobe Bryant at the Memorial Service, Staples Center, Los Angeles, Monday, February 24, 2020

Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late, great NBA Superstar Kobe Bryant, just won a great victory, and triumphed gloriously in the face a clear and crushing loss. Vanessa Bryant, someway and somehow, summoned strength to stand and state her love for her loving husband and her little lady.  It was a moving, emotive message of triumph amidst unspeakable tragedy. God bless her!  She stood flat footed, and through tears and talking back to herself — “Ok, you can do it” — she motivated the mass of mourners when she herself just wanted to weep and wail and question and query God about why this all happened, and what she’s supposed to do now.

Vanessa Bryant is by all standards a trooper and a champion.  Her husband won five NBA Championships, but her performance at her husband’s memorial service at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 was a testament to her greatness and her superior solemnity far beyond what her husband achieved on the basketball court. Vanessa’s strength and courage under fire was phenomenal, and was also absolutely supernatural. Why?  Because only Heaven and all things holy could help her handle the stress and the strain of the moment with power and poise.  

Vanessa Bryant would have made Kobe proud. She honored her husband and daughter with grit and grace and dignity and distinction. She spoke and stood when she did not want to, but she had to. And it was amazing. What was so amazing was that we all knew that this was an impossible position to be in, and yet in the midst of understandable and allowable grief, she pressed through her own misery and misfortune and sorrow and sadness in order to help the rest of us, hopefully and eventually, overcome ours.

That’s why Heaven had to help. Because she had to do it. And in so doing she carried the burden of her bereavement, even if for a moment, above and beyond the heavy pall of defeat that tried to weigh her down and wipe her out.

 God bless you, Vanessa Bryant.    

Kobe Bryant: Too Soon To Die, Too Late To Say Goodbye  

kobe-bryant-and Gianna
Kobe Bryant and His Daughter, Gianna Maria Onore, 13, were both Killed in a Helicopter Crash on Sunday,January 26, 2020.

Not many people demand attention. Kobe Bryant did.  And now he’s gone. Today, President Trump tweeted about Kobe’s death … saying, “Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news! “

 Yes it is.

Kobe Bryant’s untimely death hurts just as much if not more than Whitney’s in February of 2012 or Michael’s in June of 2009. Of all the unexpected and sudden, unforeseen deaths in recent memory, this one really hurts.

Tragic accidents are brutal.  Tragic accidents are unforgiving. And tragic accidents like Kobe’s are humanly impossible to deal with. They rip your guts out, punch you in the throat, put you in a choke hold and then stand over you and demand that you sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs with a smile on your face.  After a loss like this, there is no earthly way to recover or salvage our sense of sensibility other than to look to heaven for repose.

Kobe was LA, and Kobe was the Lakers. He was admired and loved or just respected or downright hated by everybody. Everybody had an opinion about him, because his life on and off of the court demanded attention.

Kobe was one of the great, greats, not only in the NBA, but in sports history. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and will go down as one the NBA’s most revered scorers and defenders. Kobe’s resume is full of an embarrassment of riches. He made 18 All-Star teams during his 20 year career with the Lakers. He was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft, winning 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs and he was the league MVP in 2008. He was on 15 All-NBA Teams, 12 All-Defensive Teams and led the league in scoring for two seasons. He ranks fourth in the NBA for all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring. Kobe also repped USA in a number of Olympic appearances.

Within the storied Lakers franchise, he is listed with a long list of the greatest that ever played the game. The Lakers have won so many games and so many championships. From Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain, to Kareem Abdul-Jabar to Earvin “ Magic” Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal and now LeBron “King” James. Over the years, the Lakers organization learned how to do one thing, and that is make it to the NBA Finals, and then win championships. And Kobe was a champion who won and lived like one.

And so we weep with them that weep and mourn with them that mourn and pray for Kobe’s wife Vanessa and the entire Bryant family. 

Unfortunately, this sad story got even sadder when it was learned that Kobe’s daughter Gianna Maria Onore — aka GiGi — was also on board the helicopter and died in the crash … She was only 13. We’re told they were on their way to the Mamba Academy for a basketball practice when the crash occurred. The Academy is in nearby Thousand Oaks.

Kobe is survived by his wife Vanessa. Together, they had four daughters — Gianna, Natalia and Bianca and their newborn Capri. Kobe and Vanessa got married in 2001 after meeting in 1999.  He was only 41,  and he played 20 of those years with one team, one basketball family, the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe is also “survived” by many Lakers who already miss his presence on court, and now will miss him in their lives.

In Kobe’s 41 years, he was much more than a legendary basketball player. He was a husband, father, friend and mentor to so many who still play in the “Association,” aka, the NBA. His iconic impact on the sport and his indelible imprint on the lives of athletes worldwide may never be fully known.

Kobe Bryant; too soon to die, too late to say goodbye.

 Farewell, Kobe.

LSU Dominates Their Way to A National Title

Joe Burrow SI Cover

The LSU (Louisiana State University) Football team just destroyed the Clemson Tigers on their way to the 2020 National title. The final score: 42 – 25, and it wasn’t that close. Joe Burrow, (remember him?) the runaway Heisman Trophy winner, just reminded the football world why he’s as good as advertised.

This is how Sports Illustrated reported on LSU’s historic win:

“Joe Burrow proved to be that and then some. In the 2019–20 College Football Playoff national championship Monday night, the QB who received nearly 94% of the possible points in his historic Heisman Trophy–winning senior season, capped off No. 1 LSU’s undefeated 15–0 season with a 42-25 win over No. 3 Clemson. You can label its season as magical, a story book, or a fairy tale, but the Tigers’ star QB had said leading up to the Monday’s win that he “expected” to be in the title game. Burrow threw for 463 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another score, as LSU over overcame its first double-digit deficit of the season. In the process, the school claimed its first national title since 2007.

The Bayou Bengals’(I didn’t know they called them that!?) offense got off to a slow start and punted on its first two possessions, a rarity during their dominant regular season. On the game’s fifth possession, Clemson’s offense opened the scoring as its star QB Trevor Lawrence capped off a five-play, 67-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. However, LSU would answer just over four minutes later, when Burrow found the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase for a 52-yard TD strike. Chase would finish the victory with a game-high 221 receiving yards on nine catches.”

LSU had an answer for everything Clemson threw at them. And it was a sight to see. So congratulations to Joe Burrow, Coach Ed Orgeron, and the entire LSU football family.

“Joe Burrow and the Tigers’ offense set countless records this season, as their dominance was so truly amazing.

Here’s a sampling of some of the records they set:

BY

BEN PICKMAN

The win was well deserved.

A Bad Day To Have A Bad Day

Image result for Lamar Jackson after loss to Titans

Lamar Jackson picked a bad day to a have a bad day. The presumptive MVP who lead the League in multiple categories and lead his Baltimore Ravens to a 14 – 2 record and the No. 1 seed in AFC laid a proverbial egg on Saturday night, AT HOME.  Jackson had three turnovers and was generally off and specifically  late and low and behind and beneath his normal level of play.

The Ravens fell to the the No. 6 Seed Tennessee Titans who shocked the football world by running all over the Ravens, both literally and figuratively.   The Ravens didn’t play very well, and the mistakes and miscues by the star quarterback wearing No. 8 didn’t help.

Lamar Jackson didn’t actually chose to have a bad day, and neither do we. Bad days just seem to happen. And bad days tend to happen at the worst of times. The key is how you react and respond to adversity. The Ravens were favored to win it all, and we all were looking forward to watching a Super Bowl with Lamar in it. But not this year. 

There’s no way to explain how and why Jackson has not performed in the playoffs two years in a row, but his Coach believes that he will rebound and return to form next year.  We all hope so. And Isn’t that just like life? We all need to rebound recover and bounce back and get back up and get back going after falling and failing. That’s why I’m rooting for Lamar Jackson, even if he’s out of the playoffs.

Here’s how the Baltimore Sun reported the story:

“BALTIMORE (AP) — With his bright red shoes and relentless running, Derrick Henry grabbed the spotlight and wouldn’t let go.

When he was done leading Tennessee into the AFC championship game Saturday night, he did a lengthy victory lap around the Baltimore Ravens’ home, slapping hands and taking selfies with Titans fans.

It has been quite a two-week ride.

“It’s not just me,” Henry said after rushing for 195 yards and throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass in a 28-12 upset of the NFL’s top team Saturday night. ”It’s a team effort. We’re all playing collectively as an offense, as a whole. We’re just locked in. We believe in each other. We communicate. It’s working out there.”

The Lamar Jackson who ran with abandon and threw 36 touchdown passes for the best team in the league failed to show up in the playoffs — again.

During his marvelous second season in the NFL, Jackson was an All-Pro quarterback who carried the Baltimore Ravens to the best record in the league. Jackson amassed the most yards rushing by a quarterback in league history and was the catalyst of an offense that led the NFL in scoring.

All of that — as well as Baltimore’s 12-game winning streak and home-field advantage — was irrelevant against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night.

Coming off a three-week break and looking appropriately rusty in doing so, an error-prone Jackson threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and didn’t get the Ravens into the end zone until the fourth quarter of a 28-12 defeat.

All season long, Jackson was intent upon erasing the memory of his rookie season, when he guided Baltimore to a 6-1 finish before faltering in the postseason opener at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. Jackson went 2 of 8 for 17 yards and an interception in the first half, and the Ravens trailed 23-3 in a one-and-out playoff performance.

It was Super Bowl or bust this time around, and Baltimore sure looked capable of making that happen. Jackson and the Ravens were virtually unstoppable over the final three months, slapping aside some of the best teams in the league with surprising ease.

That’s what made this game so darn surprising. Jackson did manage to rush for 143 yards, but most of that came in two chunks, a 30-yarder in the third quarter and a 27-yarder during Baltimore’s lone touchdown drive.

But twice he failed to convert fourth-and-1 runs, stuffed at the line of scrimmage on each occasion. Both times, the Titans went the other way for touchdowns.

Before this game, Baltimore was 8 for 8 on fourth-and-1 this season. Then again, very little that occurred during the regular season for the Ravens went right on this night.

Jackson’s 50th pass of the night, on fourth down in Tennessee territory with just over 4 minutes left, hit the ground with a thud. So, in fact, did Baltimore’s season.

He finished 31 for 59 for 365 yards. The main number, however, was the 12 points — Baltimore’s lowest output of the year.

Jackson doesn’t deserve all the blame for the collapse. Heck, the Ravens twice were penalized on punt returns without even getting their hands on the ball. And another All-Pro selection, Marcus Peters, was burned badly by Kalif Raymond on a 45-yard touchdown pass immediately after Jackson failed to gain the yards necessary to maintain possession.

“It only takes turning the ball over one or two times, a penalty here and a penalty there. All it takes is one loss and we’re done,” Yanda said. “That 14-2 stuff does not matter.”

How very true.”

It’s How You Finish: Eagles Win NFC East!

Buffalo Bills v Philadelphia Eagles
Fletcher Cox #91 of the Philadelphia Eagles reacts to a sack. (Leff/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC East after all. After being the pre-season favorite, and then falling off the map during the season, and then enduring multiple injuries along the way, the Eagles put together a late season march through their NFC East opponents and won four straight to finish 9-7.

It was improbable, and at more than one point it seemed impossible, but those plucky Birds pulled off a comeback for the ages. The Eagles turned their torrid season all the way around, and now they are in the playoffs for the third straight season. It took leadership and perseverance, and grit, and Fletcher Cox has all these, and some.

For many of us, 2019 was that kind of year. It began with high hopes and powerful promise, but along the way the wheels came off and I was left on the side of the road for dead. But that’s just when Heaven starts helping and God get’s going. God honors faith. God rewards faith. And God expects us to have strong faith to endure the tests and trials that face us.

So take it from me, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. So finish 2019 strong, and let’s begin 2020 with the faith to believe that we can conquer anything and everything that life may throw our way.

As for my Eagles, I pick them to go all the way! And why not, we’re underdogs again, just like 2017 when we won Super Bowl LII.

Fly Eagles fly!