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!

Note From Joe Burrow: Nice Guys Do Indeed Finish First

Joe Burrow Heisman
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow wins 2019 Heisman Trophy by record-setting margin

Joe Burrow just won the Heisman Trophy. Thereby, Burrow proved that nice guys can, and do, finish first.

In his epic, record setting season and his emotional and heartwarming acceptance speech, Joe Burrow proved and pronounced three things;

     First, you can beat the odds.

     Second, you can rise from obscurity; and

     Third, nice guys don’t have to finish last.

Burrow beat the odds. No one, and I mean NO ONE, had Joe Burrow as a Heisman Trophy finalist at the beginning of the 2019 season, much less the runaway winner. But Burrow led “LSU’s passing game that finished No. 116 in 2014, No. 106 in 2015, No. 101 in 2016, No. 84 in 2017 and No. 67 in 2018 sprang to No. 2 in 2019, largely through the mastery Burrow left strewn across storied American fields such as Texas, Alabama and Atlanta (against Georgia in the SEC championship game). Receiving yards went lavished on brilliant wideouts such as Ja’Marr Chase (1,498), Justin Jefferson (1,207) and Terrace Marshall Jr. (545).”  ESPN

Burrow rose from the obscurity of Athens, Ohio, an impoverished rural county, to the national stage of instant stardom.  Burrow was a backup quarterback at Ohio State, and then transferred to LSU, and now he’s the Heisman Trophy winner on the No. 1 Team in the nation favored to win the college national championship.  Burrow led LSU “from 2,894 passing yards in 13 games in 2018, then ascended to 4,715 in 13 games so far in 2019. He threw 48 touchdown passes against six interceptions.” Incredible.

Talk about a rags to riches, Cinderella, Rocky Balboa story.

So we say congratulations to Joe Burrow. Thanks for reminding us that nice guys can indeed finish first.

PS: Now watch Burrows Heisman Trophy acceptance speech and try to hold it together. I dare you not to shed a tear.

 

The Eagles Need A Christmas Miracle

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Do you believe in miracles?

The Eagles just got one, as they defeated the New York “Football” Giants, 23-17 in OT on Monday Night Football (in the rain, mind you!) at Lincoln Financial Field. After a dismal and tragic first half, the Eagles scored 20 unanswered points to pull out a thrilling, come from behind, turnaround, must win game.

Can a Christmas miracle come in four parts? If it can, the Philadelphia Eagles just got Act One. Shakespearean plays are divided into acts and scenes – and always have a Five Act structure, no exceptions. But for the Eagles, we’ll make an exception here, because they need just three more wins, or “Acts,” to win the Division.

Do you believe in miracles? After tonight’s win, you just have too. The Eagles season has been somewhat of a Shakespearean Tragedy, and the heartbreaking first three months of the 2019 season has felt like and has been full of calamity and catastrophe, just like Shakespeare would draw it up.

But that was then, and this is now. Now, with this win, the horrid and hideous opening of this season can now lead to a tremendous, comedic conclusion. The Eagles are now 6-7, a losing record not so far removed from their historic Super Bowl LII win.

For the Eagles to comeback from way back, you must believe in miracles. This season has had more than enough heartache and had looked like it will end in heartbreak before tonight’s miraculous and momentous end. If the Eagles win their remaining games, they win the NFC East and move on to the playoffs. But they will need a miracle to do it. And they just got part one, thanks to a touchdown from Wentz to Ertz in overtime

Do you believe in miracles? You must. Christmas is all about miracles. The miracle of the virgin birth paved the way for every other miracle, including the one we just got tonight.

Was I watching? No. I couldn’t bear to watch, so instead my wife and I had on a heartwarming miracle movie on the Hallmark Channel. Yes, the Hallmark Channel. After the Eagles were down 17-3 at the half, I tuned out and turned the game off. But they won without me. We got the miracle we needed to keep our playoff hopes alive.

Do you believe in miracles? Yes it takes faith and it requires hope. And you must love this Eagles team, warts and all. Yes, I believe in miracles. And if you’re an Eagles fan, you just have to.

Zach Ertz
Zach Ertz after the Super Bowl LII Miracle

Down Goes Duke! Stephen F. Austin Defeats Duke in an Upset for the Ages

Stephen F. Austin Defeats Duke
Stephen F. Austin hands No. 1 Duke its first non conference home loss since 2000

It’s one of the most heartening and heartwarming, feel-good sports stories of the year, at least for everyone who hates Duke. Yes, this one is being celebrated by non-Duke fans everywhere.  Little, lanky, Lilliputian Stephen F. Austin State University just defeated Duke 85 – 83 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Arena.  Unbelievable.  In other words, Stephen F. Austin (SFA) just became Cinderella personified and made a pre-Ball appearance in November, and she’s lookin’ girly good.  

It’s a long ways off from the madness of March, folks.

First of all, where IS SFA anyway?  I had to look it up. SFA is a public university in Nacogdoches, Texas. Yes, Nacogdoches.  Seriously.  It’s in East Texas.  SFA was founded as a teaching school and now has 12,614 enrolled students. And now this pint sized David just beat juggernaut Goliath with a sling shot and a stone.

As sports fans, this is what we live for. This is why every sports fan should go to church every Sunday (before or after the game). And this is how the theology of sports points us to the mystery of Godliness.

Upsets, comebacks and turnarounds is what Heaven is all about. God is the God of the underdog. Our Lord came to upset the negative status quo. The King of Kings is orchestrator of all comebacks, and the Root and Offspring of David is the one who turns every pitch black and hopelessly bleak situation all the way around, for good.

Here’s how we know: Duke was favored to win by 27 points. Stephen F. Austin was not just in the game, but they outscored Duke in the paint by a mile. That doesn’t happen every day, not even when Duke plays a RANKED opponent. 

After the historic game, here’s what Coach K had to say:

“They were better. Bottom line,” Krzyzewski said. “They were tougher than we were. They played with great poise. And we helped them. You can’t give up 64 points in the paint. We don’t even give up 64 points. And we gave up so many layups. You go 11-of-24 from the foul line in the second half, it’s just a recipe to lose. So we weren’t deserving of winning. That team was deserving of winning, and they won.”

If you’re wondering why this game, this upset win, is such a big deal, here’s what ESPN had to say:

“No. 1 Duke suffered its first loss of the season in stunning fashion Tuesday as the Blue Devils lost an overtime stunner at the buzzer to Stephen F. Austin, 85-83, in an absolutely wild ending at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke became the third No. 1 team to lose this in NOVEMBER, seeing its 150-game non-conference home winning streak snapped by Stephen F. Austin senior forward Nathan Bain’s coast-to-coast layup at the overtime buzzer. The Blue Devils entered the game as 27.5-point favorites, making the Lumberjacks’ win the biggest Division I upset of the past 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Duke took a 15-point first-half lead, but SFA — which had just lost to Rutgers and finished below .500 last season — came all the way back in the second half to take the lead in the final minutes. The game went into OT when Duke’s Cassius Stanley missed a contested midrange jumper at the buzzer.

Stephen F. Austin was able to secure a loose ball under Duke’s basket and then senior forward Nathan Bain drove the ball the length of the floor and banked in a layup just as the buzzer sounded.

It’s easily the biggest win the history of Stephen F. Austin. The team never backed down from Duke down the stretch of regulation and throughout overtime before this layup won it.” https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/28172273/duke-college-basketball-latest-no-1-casualty-stephen-f-austin-pulls-ot-stunner

And there it is: there’s the epiphany and the theophany. The revealed Truth we are to live and learn is this – in the face of a big, bad, bully, never back down. Darkness will be defeated by the light, and right will overcome might. When all hell is breaking loose, never ever give up.

Never give up. You can make it! Your dreams are your ticket out, and your dreams can come true. Just ask Nathan Bain and the Stephen F. Austin University Men’s basketball team.

Note To the Minnesota Golden Gophers: “Don’t Quit!”

Minnesota Logo

Don’t Quit

by

John Greenleaf Whittier

 

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 quit.

 

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a fellow 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.

 

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

And he learned too late when the night came down,

How close he was to the golden crown.

 

Success is failure turned inside out –

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It might be near when it seems afar;

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

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

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Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck: “Find A Way To Win!”

Minnesota Coach PJ Fleck
Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck after defeating Penn State 31 – 26: “We’ve got to change at some point. I think this team’s proven that, as we continue to go into the future, we don’t have to keep saying (negative) things. . . ”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck is a giant killer. Minnesota defeated Penn State, 31 -26 in a Big Ten, November thriller they weren’t supposed to win. And his post-game, locker room speech to his players was a Sermon on the Mount type of message that will preach for years to come.

Coach Fleck’s speech is why I am an instant Minnesota Gopher fan. I don’t know much about him but I do know that if I played college football, I’d want to play for someone like him, if not play for HIM. We all need motivation and affirmation and maturation. And this coach and this team provided all of that and some for all of us who believe that things will, and must and just have to get better.

Here’s some of what Coach Fleck said after the big win:

This is what we can become. I’m sure there was (sic) some people on the final drive who said, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ Gotta let go of all of that. Fifty years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, we’ve got to change at some point. This team’s proven that. Does that mean we’re going to win ’em all? No. But they’re doing a lot of special things that you can keep building on to make your culture stronger, and your program stronger, and make it more of a national brand.”

Amen Brother.

Note to file:as Coach Fleck taught us, “We’ve got to change at some point.” And if we change, things will change. That’s how it works. It might be bad and you might be sad, but things have got to change at some point. They’ve got to. Trouble don’t last always. Success is failure turned inside out. Weeping may endure for a night, but God promised us that joy will come in the morning. Amen and amen.

“Now, Minnesota is 9-0 for the first time since 1904, and Fleck has won six consecutive games as an underdog. And Coach Fleck has a big-game quarterback in Tanner Morgan, who went 18-for-20 for 339 yards and three touchdowns against Penn State. Morgan planned to play for Fleck at Western Michigan but switched to Minnesota when Fleck took over the Gophers. He believes in Fleck. You probably should, too.” https://herald-review.com/sports/college/illini/things-we-learned-about-big-ten-football-after-week-including/article_9c6e3821-b794-59f7-8821-296b124f77f4.html

The third-year head coach did not mince words about what the victory meant for his Gophers team.

“This team’s been through so much — on the field, off the field — through the last three years,” he said. “This team has heart. It has courage. It has character. It’s got an unbelievable culture. They found a way. The whole season’s been highs, lows, but we found a way to win and that was the biggest thing. We’ve been telling people, it’s like — we just find a way to win. They love each other. It’s a special group of young men.”

With the triumph, Minnesota’s resume is padded as the home stretch of the regular season continues Nov. 16 at Iowa, Nov. 23 at Northwestern and Nov. 30 against Wisconsin in the chase for the Big Ten West — and perhaps, now officially, the College Football Playoff. https://247sports.com/Article/PJ-Fleck-Minnesota-Golden-Gophers-football-coach-Penn-State-Nittany-Lions-postgame-interview-James-Franklin-138277618/

The 31-26 victory over No. 4 Penn State marked No. 17 Minnesota’s first at home victory against a top-five opponent since 1977, when the Gophers knocked off top-ranked Michigan three years before Fleck was born. Minnesota is 9-0 for the first time since 1904, and 6-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1961. The Gophers validated a start that many questioned and showed they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation.

“We’ve done a lot of things we haven’t done in a while,” senior defensive end Carter Coughlin said. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck had envisioned a scene like the one that took place Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, as Minnesota students and fans filled the field to celebrate another set of milestones

The win set off a raucous celebration from the sellout crowd. Minnesota players ran to the Penn State sideline to collect the Governor’s Victory Bell trophy, which the Nittany Lions had held since 2016. Students streamed onto the field as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” played. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who set a stadium record with 203 receiving yards — the second-highest total in team history — couldn’t remember a thing afterward, saying only, “A bunch of people. That’s it.”

When Fleck entered the locker room, he jumped into his players’ arms and crowd surfed — a tradition he started while coaching Western Michigan, which went 13-1 with a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2016. He then awarded the game ball to the entire state, giving the ball to university president Joan Gabel, with hope that it eventually reaches Gov. Tim Walz.

“That’s why you take a job,” Fleck said. “That was the whole vision, to be able to have that field swarmed on a top-five team in the country, and to put us undefeated. And when everybody told me, ‘Don’t take the job, don’t take the job.’ My life is usually about, ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that. OK, I’ll do that. That sounds like a good job for me.’

“That was the vision.”

Fleck, 38, began the week by agreeing to a new seven-year, $33.25 million contract with Minnesota. He had been mentioned as a candidate for the coaching vacancy at Florida State, and likely would have been a candidate for other openings in the coming weeks.

But Fleck now appears committed to Minnesota, where he’s 21-13 in three seasons. Fleck’s record through his first 34 games with the Golden Gophers mirrors that of Murray Warmath (20-12-2), who led Minnesota to its most recent national championship in 1960.

“To see in the locker room the former players brought a tear to my eye,” Fleck said. “We’ve had seven head coaches in around 14 years. It’s hard to gain traction with former players. Everybody’s connected to someone else, and we feel like, ‘I played for that guy.’ You played for our Minnesota. That’s who you played for, and I just get to represent that.

“Part of the reason why we signed the contract was we want to bring everybody back. We want everybody to be like tonight every single game. We can create some type of dynasty, you can create some type of cultural sustainability, because your alums are the most important part of what we do.”

Coughlin didn’t know if fans would rush the field. He sought out fellow senior Kamal Martin, a starting linebacker who couldn’t play because of injury, and his roommates.

“It was just amazing to see the excitement on everybody’s face, how together Minnesota is right now,” said Coughlin, a native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who was already in the program when Fleck arrived in 2017. “It’s really special.”

The Gophers have never appeared in the Big Ten championship game and most recently won the conference in 1967.

Go Gophers!

“Stay In The Fight!” —  The 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals Deliver An Upset for the Ages

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The Washington Nationals have the distinction of being one of the most unlikely underdogs to win a championship, ever. There’s a long list of least likely, storybook, fairytale teams that no one picked to win it all. And yet they did. This is why we love sports. And this is why sports and the gospel are such good friends.

Winning it all after you’ve been down and downcast and downtrodden and looked down upon is not easy to do. But just like the Nationals did, with help from up above and hope in the one above, we all can rise from the ashes of defeat and despair and end our stories in triumph. The Washington Nationals did it, and in so doing they gave all the rest of us a double dose of hope and heart. The Nationals improbable win gave all the rest of us hope to believe that an upstart with heart can indeed kick start their fortunes and come back from way back to defy the odds.

Here’s a partial list from the long list of Cinderella champions:

In baseball, these Nats are right up there with the ‘69 Mets and the 2006 Cardinals’ and the 1985 Royals. In other sports, who can forget Joe Naimath and the ‘69 Jets or Eli Manning and the 2007 New York Giants who beat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl? Turning to college basketball, we will never forget Jimmy Valvano and the ‘82 North Carolina State Wolfpack or Rally Massimino and the ‘85 Villanova Wildcats. Yes, these Nats have joined an elite club of Cinderellas, including the 1980 US Hockey Team who beat the Russian National Team to win Olympic gold. These indeed were upsets for the ages.

The Washington Nationals 2019 playoff run “was an amazing turnaround to watch. The Nats were able to win the National League Wild Card game in dramatic fashion coming back to beat Milwaukee, 4-3.

Then it was onto the powerhouse, the L.A. Dogers. The Nats going toe to toe with one of the best teams in the league. Howie Kendrick delivering a 10th inning grand slam in Game 5, giving the Nats their first-ever series win in the postseason.

“Stay in the fight” was the motto all season long for the Washington Nationals. Never quitting, never giving up.

And they played like it too, just absolutely dominating the St. Louis Cardinals, breaking out the brooms and sweeping away the Cardinals in just four games.” https://wjla.com/sports/washington-nationals/world-series-how-did-this-happen

Finally, there was the World Series itself! All four wins by the winning team came on the road. Top that!

How did it happen? Faith, hope, a great slogan and a wonky theme song. That’s right. The Nationals adopted the silliest theme song they could find and it worked. It all started when “outfielder Gerardo Parra started using the tune as a walk-up song while mired in a slump earlier in the year, as a nod to his two-year-old daughter.

‘Baby Shark’ took over Nationals Park in 2019 and the team embraced the undeniably-catchy children’s song as a part of its celebrations throughout the season.

Players and fans alike immediately embraced the silliness. “When Nationals players get a base hit, their on-field celebrations mirror the song. A single gets a finger pinch for Baby Shark, a double calls for hand-clapping like a Mommy Shark and a triple gets the full chomp for Daddy Shark.

It’s blown up pretty big. Everyone seems to be doing it,” Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin said before Game 3. “People are wearing shark outfits. It’s like Halloween out there. It’s great.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/playoffs/2019/10/25/nationals-baby-shark-song-world-series/2458499001/

So cheer up my brother. Live in the sunshine my sister. You too can comeback from way back. Get yourself a theme song and stay in the fight.