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.

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

washington-nationals-fight-finished_500

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.

Note From Rob Maaddi: The Super Bowl LII Eagles Were “Birds of Pray”

Birds of Pray

How did the Philadelphia Eagles win Super Bowl LII?  According to Rob Maadii of the Associated Press, it was relentless reliance on Christ. Amen Brother.

The Eagles 2017 Super Bowl victory is a gift that keeps on giving.  I had the pleasure of hearing author Rob Maaddi speak at a men’s prayer breakfast this past Saturday and enjoyed him immensely. He has an awesome testimony AND he wrote a book about the Eagles miraculous Super Bowl season.  Do yourself a favor and check out his book. 

Here’s the write up:

“In Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles were the underdogs with the championship New England Patriots towering over them. Yet the faith of the Christian players never wavered! Sharing exclusive interviews, newly published photos, and insider accounts, Rob Maaddi reveals the team members’ relentless reliance on Christ, who gives us all strength in moments of crisis and celebration.” 

Rob Maaddi
Rob Maaddi, Author of “Birds of Pray”

 

Stephen Strasburg: Give Your Team Another Chance At Victory

strasburg-game-6-ws

I TOLD you! I told you the Washington Nationals would win! And wow, what a way to win.

The Washington Nationals won the World Series because Stephen Strasburg, the Series MVP, gave his team another chance at victory.

In April, no one, and I mean no one picked them to go this far, much less win the title the way they did. Going into the playoffs, nobody gave them any respect. And against the astronomical pitching staff of the Houston Astros, there was no way that these plucky, happy go lucky, baseball diamond darlings could pull out and pull off an upset victory. And yet they did it. They actually did it! They made it all the way to a come from behind win in Game 7 of the Fall Classic. And now here they stand as the champions of the world.

It took chemistry and comrade and faith and fight, and conviction and compulsion. Yes it took all that, and some. This Nationals team is the underdog of underdogs, the Cinderella of Cinderella’s and the David of David’s. They upset the favorites; they came back from way back and they turned their 19-31 season all the way around. And they turned a 3-2 World Series deficit around. AND they won all four games ON THE ROAD.

It was almost like a dream that has never come true. Because it’s never been done before — ever. This is the stuff that legends are made of.

The Nats improbable playoff journey was a beauty to behold. This team won the wild card game by coming from behind, then they beat the Dodgers, the best team in the National League, by coming from behind, and then, they beat the best team in baseball, the Houston Astros, by . . . wait for it . . . coming from behind and winning the last two games of the World Series on the road. What they’ve done deserves all of the credit in the world.

Most importantly, Stephen Strasburg went 5-0 with a ridiculous ERA of 1.98 in the post season. And if that wasn’t enough, in Game 6, Stras gave it all he had and turned in the performance of a lifetime. He pitched the game of his life in hostile Houston when his team needed him most. Down three games to two, Strasburg stood in and stood tall and kept the Astros from winning and gave the Nats another chance at victory. And that’s what we all need: we all need another chance at victory.

Here’s what Sam Fortier of the Washington Post had to say about the World Series MVP:

“They might not have been here without him. Strasburg shoved all postseason, shedding the fragile label he once bore and showcasing a reinvented approach that reflected his passage into becoming a veteran. He carried this team through three elimination games and delivered one of the best elimination-game starts in recent World Series history. In Game 6, he was the first pitcher to allow two or fewer runs while going 8⅓ innings since Curt Schilling in 1993.” An incredible performance from someone with high hopes hanging all over his career, and he delivered in the clutch.

So congratulations to Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals, the 2019 World Series Champions.

The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

Raptors Logo. 2

Ok. So the Raptors ripped the reigning NBA royals a new one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you all the way over here. 

Yes the Raptors won Game One. No, the Warriors did not look like the Warriors. Yes, it was the first NBA Finals game outside of the good ‘ole USofA.  No, Durant did not play. And yes, the fans were pumped and primed and the energy in the building was crazy. And no, the Warriors did not match the Raptors’ intensity. So there; a Game One win for the home team.

But just who were those guys in the home whites? Kawhi turned in a pedestrian performance as he ONLY scored 23 points. But the rest of the Raptors? Who were they? And where did that come from?  I mean a guy named Pascal Siakam scored 32 Points!  Thirty-Two points! On 14 for 17 shooting! Seriously?  That guy shot 82.3% from the floor?!  Are you serious? In other words, that guy, that guy who has a 10 point career scoring average, took 17 shots and missed three.  That only happens once in a never. Is this a dream or what?

Ok — let me try this explanation another way, as I try to lower my blood pressure – breath, breath . . . . Pascal Siakam just played in his first NBA Finals game.  His FIRST. Siakam is averaging 18 points per game in the playoffs and he averaged a very respectable 16.7 for the season.  But his unexpected 32 points in Game One was the most points in an NBA Finals debut since Kevin Durant had 36 for Oklahoma City in 2012, and it made Siakam the first player to score 30 or more on at least 80 percent shooting in a finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004.

Those two players, Durant and Shaq, were top-two draft picks, as were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, the other players since 1970 with 30 points in an NBA Finals Game 1 within their first three pro seasons.

So, do you believe in miracles?  This guy from Cameroon, who was going to be a priest, turned to basketball and now turns in the performance of his life when his team needed it most. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. As I watched Game One in disbelief, I realized that it appears that we may, just may, have an upset in the making?

While I’m pulling hard for “my” Warriors, it appears that the team from up North has all of the farm animals lined up to make a dress for the ball.  The newest entry on the long list of sports Cinderella’s thinks she can dance her way into the prince’s heart, and the pumpkin is ready and waiting outside. That’s the pumpkin that just got turned into a riding carriage. We’ll see.

Here’s how Jackie MacMullan from ESPN saw it:

“TORONTO — When you are champions, you stick with what got you here. For the Golden State Warriors, the formula in these 2019 playoffs had been fairly transparent: identify the best player on the opposing team — see James Harden and Damian Lillard — and harangue him into a night of frustration and disappointment.

Thus, the blueprint against the Toronto Raptors was to reduce Kawhi Leonard’s basketball life to misery, or at the very least considerable discomfort. Blitz him, double him, triple him if necessary, force him to give up the ball and dare the others to beat you.

It was a sound strategy on paper — except the “others” were not only expecting it, they were aiming to exploit it. So, it was a collection of “complementary” Raptors who vaulted Toronto to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-109 in a raucous Scotiabank Arena, delivering a roundhouse right to a team that so often has seemed invincible.

On a night when Leonard, who had been the most transcendent player in the playoffs, was a mere mortal, players such as Pascal Siakam happily filled the void. Siakam, the 24-year old forward who once was on a path to the priesthood — until a visit, on a lark, to a summer basketball camp in his native Cameroon detoured him on an improbable basketball journey — scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. It was a prolific performance that would have been unthinkable two short years ago, when he was a raw, unpolished player who couldn’t shoot.

At all.

‘I was joking with him the other day,” teammate Fred VanVleet told ESPN. ‘We used to shoot together in my rookie year, and me and the guy rebounding used to duck sometimes because his shots would come off the rim so hard.

‘He had some bad misses. But what you are seeing now is the result of a lot of hard work. You can just see his confidence soaring.”

And the confidence of the Raptors is soaring as well. Not only do they think they can win, they believe they will win. And that’s how we should be: full of faith, void of fear and brimming with confidence that the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory. shall fight for us. Regardless of the opposition, notwithstanding the competition, we must trust and believe that we are victors, not victims. We must cling to the Old Rugged Cross and to the truth that we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us.

As for the Warriors, they have their work cut out for them, with or without Durant.

Do You Believe In Miracles?

Nick Foles

In Philly, Nick Foles is a saint.  Nick may nay not nary be a saint in the eyes of the Catholic Church, but in Philly he was eligible for sainthood last year, because he was the MVP of the SUPER BOWL! And this year he’s just adding to own his lore and legend, because he works miracles on the football field.  A few weeks ago, the Eagles didn’t have a prayer of making the playoffs. Now, with Saint Nick doing his thing, all we need is faith in “The Process.”

Saint Nick just did it again.  “The Process” seems to be to trust in the Eagles as the underdog, and throw caution to the wind. Nick just came off of the bench at the end of the season and marched into the fray to stave off elimination from the playoffs in front of a rabid, ravenous crowd at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly.  

AND Nick just had the game of his life as he set a personal and FRANCHISE record for an Eagles QB.  In other words, Saint Nick just had a better game than Ron Jaworski, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb AND Carson Wentz ever had.  Saint Nick threw for 471 yards and four touchdowns with an interception that was not his fault (sounds like the Super Bowl!)  Nelson Agholor caught five passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, Zack Ertz caught 12 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns and Alshon Jeffery caught three passes for 82 yards. Wow!

But the Texans didn’t go down without a fight.  Houston QB Deshaun Watson went 29-of-40 for 339 yards and two touchdowns. He was the Texans’ offense, leading the team in rushing with 49 yards and two rushing touchdowns on eight carries The Texans rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a one-point lead with 2:04 remaining. But Saint Nick did Watson one better.

Saint Nick drove the Eagles to a game-winning field goal on the final play, keeping his team’s playoff hopes alive with a 32-30 victory. Philadelphia needs a win next weekend at Washington plus a Vikings loss to clinch the No. 6 seed.

And let’s not forget about Jake Elliott, who missed an extra point earlier in the game but redeemed himself as he kicked a 35-yard field goal after Foles drove the Eagles 72 yards in 11 plays in the final 2:04.

And so the moral of the story is this: Saint Nick is absolutely playing better than Carson Wentz. There. I said it. All of Philly loves Carson Wentz , but right now, Saint Nick is the one with the marvelous, miracle, almost mysterious football mannerisms. Nick is my pick to kick start the Eagles right into the playoffs . . .

 . . . and beyond.

A Young Lad Goes From Bad To Sad: The Markelle Fultz Story

Markelle-Fultz
Markelle Fultz’s Future in Philly is Fairly Debatable

It’s not just bad — now it’s turned so, so sad for this young lad. The Markelle Fultz story in Philly has quickly gone wrong in a hurry. It’s not just bad, it’s really, really sad. It really is. First let’s talk about the bad.

It seemed like a good thing that Markelle Fultz was the No. One overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Philadelphia 76ers picked him because of his explosiveness, his ability to drive to the hoop, and most importantly, his ability to shoot the ball. But all that’s gone. Game over. This kid’s game is kaput, out the door and over and done with, or so it seems.

No one seems to be able to put their finger on it, but the thing we can point to is that this kid can’t shoot, he’s scared to drive, and his verve and his nerve have evaporated into thin air. AND, if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s lost his confidence. You can see it in his eyes.  Fultz has lost his sureness and his certainty and his assertiveness. In other words, Fultz has lost his faith.  And his loss of faith leads us to the sad part.

Markelle Fultz looked so good on paper as far as potential for the NBA was concerned.  He’s so young, but so gifted, that it doesn’t seem possible that he would be struggling like he is. In college Fultz was “a player who jumped off the page athletically and possessed creative scoring instincts and playmaking skills. Everyone everywhere held that Fultz would be the consensus among sports analysts to be the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft.”  But that was then, and this is now.

Now, “Markelle Fultz and the Philadelphia 76ers could be headed into an inevitable divorce after rumors circulated that the former No. 1 overall pick is no longer considered part of “The Process.” Fultz has been a huge disappointment since the 2018-19 NBA season started, and as of now, he remains on the sideline, dealing with shoulder and wrist injuries.” (Bleacher Report)

So what’s the lesson to be learned here? How can Fultz regain his faith and overcome his fears?  The same way you and I can: go back to what works.  Stop listening to the “experts” and the pundits and listen to the voice you hear from above that speaks to your inner man.

Fultz can get back and come back if he listens to what God says, and not what man says. And that’s what we need to do too.  God says that we are more than a conqueror through Him that loved us. God says that it’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit. God says that I’m the head and not the tail, above only and not beneath. God says that the enemy is under my feet, and that I’m healed by the wounds in his side. God says that one can chase a thousand, and two can put then thousand to flight.  God says that we are to fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life!

So let’s say what God says.

 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.

 Philippians 4:13  KJV

 

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.

 2 Corinthians 3:4-6,  New Living Translation