When I first proposed that Belhaven College start intercollegiate football a dozen years ago, a former NFL player pulled me aside to tell me it was impossible to be a Christian and play football. I strongly disagree.
This past Saturday, our team played one of the most exciting games I’ve seen in a long time – although the final score was heartbreaking. Leading 20-7 with just two minutes left in the game, Cambellsville University scored a touchdown, got the ball back with an onside kick, and scored again with just seconds remaining on a fourth down and inches play.
I happen to be on the sidelines at the goal line when they scored, and wanted to jump in and help as I saw their running back leap high over our line to extend the football so it would break over the goal line. Except for that last inch, our guys had put up an incredible goal line stand.
I don’t normally go to the sidelines during a game, but had gone down with five minutes left in the game in anticipation of congratulating our coaches on their fifth consecutive win. I only know of one other time we’ve won that many games consecutively.
Instead, I made my way through a bunch of disappointed players to give Coach Thrasher a word of encouragment, and hit a few shoulder pads to thank our guys for an incredible effort – more than one of whom had tears in their eyes following such a disappointing loss. (I was impressed with the wise leadership of our coaches who held our team back at the end of the game for just about 30 seconds before they shook hands with the other team, in order to get the shock of the emotion out of their system.)
But as I started off the field, I saw that not only had our team gathered in the middle of the field, but so had all the Cambellsville players (a Christ-centered school like Belhaven) – and they were mixing in together. As I began to get out of earshot, I heard Coach Thrasher congratulate Cambellsville on a great game…..and as I got to my car up the hill, I could see both teams praying together.
Can you be a football player and keep strong your Christian life? Absolutely – and what I saw Saturday assures me you can. Be competitive, give full effort, play clean, play with emotion, and play to win. But when it is over, it is over and we are together in the eyes of the Lord and each other.