As we reach that high holy day of American civil religion and the country stops to watch a game of catch and some hyped commercials in very expensive air time, I once again pause to reflect on this game of American Football in a wider context. One article I would point you to is a great piece by Carl Trueman, “The (Non) Religion Of Sports,” that was published on the First Things blog two days ago. Another story that caught my attention this week was a piece on NPR’s All Things Considered about “Football as a Tool in the Hands of a Master Craftsman” looking at a high school coach who focused on the athletes. But no, I have been saving a piece that is more local, and more Presbyterian, for this day.
Back in September one of the finest wordsmiths at the Los Angeles Times, Bill Plaschke, wrote a column titled “Getting a taste of football at its purest.” The premise was to consider a typical Saturday at a Division III university where the players were not on scholarship, the stadiums are small and the fans are there for the friends, family and pure fun of the game. Near the beginning of the story he writes:
The search [for good news in sports] ends at a college football game with no glitz, no glamour, no Heisman hopefuls, no first-round draft picks, nothing but bouncing players and beaming parents and lessons rooted far too deep to be beamed on television by some giant balloon. [i.e. a blimp]
“USC and UCLA aren’t playing today, so you came here, right?” says [Jan] Pfennings with a grin. “Welcome to the real thing.”
The game he visited was a match between my local institution of higher learning – the University of La Verne – against a similar, and Presbyterian opponent – Whitworth University. But fair warning for the Presbyterians, his focus throughout is on the local school.
He describes the ULV side:
The team has 111 players because nobody gets cut. None of them are on scholarship. Most of them will be playing football for the last time in their lives. They are small and fast and play with a relentless passion that results in giant hits, giant misses and constant leaping chest bumps.
“This is exciting, it’s not perfect, it’s got all the attributes professional football and big-time college football doesn’t have,” says [English Professor David] Werner. “This is what sports is supposed to be.”
Plaschke continues –
It’s football that isn’t judged by the final score, but the student journey, the lessons that lead these small-school graduates to making big impacts in society…
It’s football that isn’t surrounded by shallow hype, but safely ensconced in the warmth of neighborhoods, a truth evident in every corner of [ULV’s] Ortmayer Stadium.
After the game he gets a quote from a player:
“You make the big time where you’re at,” says La Verne receiver Jon Lilly after catching six touchdown passes. “No matter what happens, this is a blast.”
and the coach:
“Our guys are learning how to be successful men,” said [Chris] Krich of his 1-1 team. “How you handle adversity is what sets you up as a man, and we handled it during the game, and we’re handling it now.”
Oh, the final score – if it matters:
Few loved Saturday’s ending, a late Whitworth touchdown followed by a desperation pass that was not answered, the Leopards losing, 50-48, despite racking up 672 yards.
But the bottom line is this:
After a couple of weeks of watching the sports world sink in violence, arrogance and callousness, Krich offers three other words.
“Our motto is simple — faith, courage and class,” Krich says.
Good news, indeed.
Something to keep that in mind today as well as the recent statistics that there were 310,465 high school football players, 15,588 college seniors in football and 254 that were drafted by the NFL. It makes the ULV football motto look a bit more relevant. So have a great Lord’s Day, however you spend it and remember…
Faith, Courage and Class