One of the reasons I love sports is that it provides an opportunity to witness a person or a team pit against seemingly impossible odds. The vast majority of the time, the odds win out. But, in those few and fleeting moments when a person or team overcomes that insurmountable challenge, it is a reminder that the possible stretches beyond our imagination, and it is a glimpse of God. Last night’s National Championship game appeared to be one of those moments. While Clemson was a terrific team, Alabama had won over twenty games in a row and had yet to meet a foe all season that could even keep it close. It would take superb effort to overcome the odds, but Clemson tapped into a superhuman source of strength. Head Coach Dabo Swinney put it best in his postgame press conference (do yourself a favor and watch his speech here. My words could never do his emotion justice):
“I told them tonight that the difference in the game was going to be love.”
That’s hardly what you expect to hear coming from the lips of a football coach. But, if you take time to consider it, a team represents one of the few remaining organizations in our society built upon love. Especially in a sport like football, where the margin for error is so razor thin; where eleven men have specialized tasks so specific that a minuscule lapse in technique or placement from any one of them can disrupt the entire play; where no man can succeed on his own and no play can succeed without all men; it is the self-sacrificing desire to do it for your teammate that elevates the best teams. And, it is the lack of that love that sinks even teams with a multitude of the most talented players. I’ll put it another way:
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NRSVCE)
It takes the faith of the coaches and players in their game strategy, in their different schemes, and even in each individual play. Beyond that, it takes the hope that their faith will be rewarded with victory. But, as great as these two virtues are, love will overcome them, even when faith and hope are hard to grasp. Swinney continues:
“My word all year’s been love. And I said tonight we’re gonna win it because we love each other. I don’t know how we’re gonna win it. I told them at the halftime, ‘Guys, we’re gonna win the game. I don’t know how. But we’re gonna win it.’ I’m just so thankful and blessed. You know, it just doesn’t even seem real to me. I’m thankful to the Good Lord and all our players.”
While Swinney’s statement above certainly displays faith and hope (although a candid lack of it in any sort of game plan or scheme Swinney could conceive), he understood even beyond his own reasoning that the power requisite for his team to win had nothing to do with logic, strategy, or physical strength. He knew that inner strength could overcome the appearance of physical strength. Swinney recognized that if it were God’s will, anything could be done.
Now, it’s probably appropriate to take a step back and recognize we are discussing a football game. This is not life and death. But, I think it’s also important to mine the parallels to life as we do in any good story. David was the overlooked son who brought down mighty Goliath with nothing more than a sling and some river stones (and, of course, with God on his side). Moses, a murderer and poor speaker, was elevated to be the leader and spokesman of God’s people. And, God himself was born in a manger where cattle were fed, destined to grow into a man who gave Himself so the world would be saved from itself.
It is stories like these that remind us of the power of God to overcome the most difficult odds in our own lives. Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you’ve lost your spouse. Maybe you’ve lost your child. These seemingly impossible obstacles can be wiped away by God. He can replace your weeping with tears of joy. He can elevate you to places you’ve never dreamed. Just take it from Dabo Swinney:
“It’s indescribable. I mean, you can’t make it up, man. Only God can do this. To take a guy like me, from Pelham (Alabama). Go to Alabama, win a National Championship. Come to Clemson and have a chance to win a National Championship against the best team in the country up until the last second of this game. And to see my guys fight. And just believe.”
Congratulations to Clemson, and thank you for the inspiration to attack our lives’ impossible odds with renewed faith, hope, and most importantly, love.