Football Can't Save You

I have officially ended my college football career. Actually, I have ended my football career entirely. A couple of Saturdays ago, I played my last football game ever. I will be graduating with my undergraduate degree in May of 2020. Prayerfully, I’ll be heading into Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in August on next year… if they accept my application, that is. It’s a weird feeling. I have spent about 14 years of my life using anywhere from 3 to 9 months of the year for football-related activities. Some of my lifelong best friends were and are my teammates. I have played in something like 150+ football games in just 20 years of life. That is a pretty crazy stat. Can you even imagine the number of hours I’ve spent playing football? I wouldn’t even know how to do that math, partly because I haven’t done math since high school (Praise the Father). I’m sure the number is huge.

College football is cool. I’ve been an Oregon Ducks fan for a little over a decade now (Go Ducks), and let me tell you… that has been quite the experience. “1,000 uniform combinations but 0 National Championships…” I’d like to point out that we did in fact play in two national championships in 5 years. How many of your apparently “phenomenal” teams that did number? Yeah, I didn’t think so. But I have watched a good majority of their games in my lifetime. When you pull for a team, you watch them play. That’s what I’ve been doing for years. Oregon has had some good years, and they have had some not-so-good years. I miss the days of Marcus Mariota and will soon miss the days of Justin Herbert. College football is great, though.

My high school, Kings Mountain High School, lost in the semi-final game this past Saturday (Dec. 6, 2019) in the seventh overtime. They had a great year with absolutely historical numbers for our school. My high school head coach (whose niece is actually my lovely little lady friend/future wife) is absolutely one of the best people ever. He also has done so much with what he’s had at Kings Mountain. This year, they were loaded. They have several players that will be playing on Saturdays before it’s all said and done, a few them on primetime television. But even the years when we have had less talent, Coach Lloyd has had tremendous success. He, along with a whole litany of other great coaches, has made a career out of good football. High school football is just fun. It’s a big deal where I live. The whole town comes to the game. It’s awesome. I do miss those days under the lights. I made some unforgettable memories.

The best part of football for me during my career has been sharing it with my family. My dad got to coach me some before he became an assistant principal. He is the one who taught me how to long snap, which is all I did in college. My parents made literally almost every single game I played in college, and when you talk about traveling all up and down the east coast to play, that’s a huge blessing. Not many kids can say that for their families. My siblings have been nothing but supportive, seeing as my sports career has dominated a part of our lives as a family. I got to do something very few people do, which is play Division 1 college football. My team wasn’t the best. And I really couldn’t care less. My family is awesome. And they were there through it all. I didn’t play football for 14 years. WE played football for 14 years. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m eternally grateful that it came.

It’s bowl/playoff season now. There are still a select group of teams in the hunt for the title. South Carolina played their state championship games by now. North Carolina has also. The FCS playoffs are in full-swing (JMU will probably win). The College Football Playoff Committee has selected their Top 4. The rest of the teams are headed for bowl games (Roll Ducks — Rose Bowl Bound). Everyone is getting excited. This is the time of year when we see who really is legitimate. Who is the best team?

But you know, the older I get (I say that like I’m 75), the more I realize how vain all of this really is. Think about it. We get so bent out of shape over football. When a team has a bad game/season/performance, we are so prone to emotional unrest. Our happiness rides or dies on the score at the end of the game. We put a lot of our own social stock into our teams and whether or not they have a winning record (being an Oregon fan in the southeast is a very tough experience for me). I’ve seen people absolutely flip out at high school football games. I’ve seen people cry at college football games when their team loses. We talk smack about a team who is 2-10 (wink wink), and we worship a team that’s undefeated. Players identify as nothing but a football player. Without the cleats and helmet, they are nothing. Some coaches don’t know when to take the whistle off of their neck. We crave football. Football makes our heart beat fast. We debate about it. We buy the jerseys (I have 2). We go to the games. We stay up late to watch. We love football.

But if football really is just so fantastic… why is there always a next season? Let’s say Clemson wins the National Championship (I hope they lose it by 53 points… I’m a hater). Will Dabo Swinney retire? I doubt it. Will the whole team quit playing? No, they won’t. Will the NCAA close its doors? Absolutely not. With the College Football Playoff get rid of its committee? There is no chance of that happening. I’m not saying football is useless, worthless, or pointless. I spent 2/3 of my life playing it to this point. I love football. Football changed my life.

But oh my goodness, ladies and gentlemen… football can’t save you.

I know that, Cooper.

Okay… so then why do we act like it?

It’s unbelievable how deeply entrenched we are in our culture. It’s unbelievable how much time and resources we spend on certain things. Football is one of those things. And now that I’m done with football, as far as playing it, I think I really see the vanity of the life that we try to live. The fact of the matter is that there is always next season. Win, lose, or draw, it’s not fulfilling. If it were satisfactory to have success, then there would not be an all-out struggle to constantly have success. If winning one title was enough, Nick Saban would never have even coached at Alabama. If being a good team was enough, North Dakota State would finish the season and fold their program. If being a fan were enough, my life would be perfect, yet I still hurt, I still cry, and I will still pass away. If football could save us, it would. But it can’t. So, why do we give it so much of our resources?

We love football because we are addicted to emotional response. But where on earth is our emotional response to the Cross?

We love the rush of football. We love the grind of long and hard-fought season. We love to win, we hate to lose, and we love to be a part of the game. Players love to wear the jersey. Fans love to buy the jersey. Coaches love the call the plays. Writers love to cover the beat. Announcers love to call the game.

As we approach the end of the football season and reach the pinnacle of the season for so many teams and fanbases across the country, it’s explanatory of my entire point. So many of us– us being people, yet some of us being believers— live and die by the action on the gridiron. But the last thing we give our time, our resources, our passion to is the Body of Christ, His Church, and the whole purpose of our existence– God’s Glory. This it not good. It’s not good because it’s not a reflection of Christ. He died for my sins, so I selflessly give him 3-4 hours of my week (can you feel the sarcasm?) whereas football gets a lot more.

Football can’t save you. I spent a countless amount of hours playing the sport. It was awesome. It changed my earthly life. But it will never do anything for my soul. My soul is by its very nature wretched and sinful. That’s Romans 3. God doesn’t owe me a thing. He doesn’t owe me His love. He certainly doesn’t owe me His forgiveness. That’s Romans 6. Yet, seeing as He loves me abundantly more than I could even describe in words, He saved me from my iniquity. That’s Romans 5. God forbid I treat any man-made game like the Creator of the Universe. Yet, we do that all of the time.

I’ve been doing my reading through several Old Testament books lately. Currently, I’m in Exodus. And if I had one macro-theme of the Old Testament, of the many, I will say this: the God of the Universe absolutely hates idols. I say that, we say that, and we immediately think of small, gold figures. What’s an idol, though? A small gold statue? Maybe. A painting on the wall? Potentially. But really, and idol is something that you worship. What does it mean to worship? In its most practical definition, it involves spending an large amount of resources as a result of said object of worship. I’m not saying every football fan is an idolater. What I am saying is I get a lot more upset at losing to Arizona State than I do about lost people dying and going to Hell. I sure do want Oregon to win games more than I want an unbelieving teammate to become a Child of God. I sure do spend hours watching games and 30 minutes reading my Bible superficially. I would feel extremely confident in making the argument that you, Football Fan, are in my same boat.

In this season of life, meaning physical life, there will be an end. But the difference is that there is no next season. Clemson, Ohio State, LSU, and Oklahoma will all have a team next year. Kings Mountain High School will play games again. The Presbyterian College Blue Hose will live on without me. There will always be another game. There will always be another National Champion. There will not be another opportunity to ask God to reconcile you to Himself because of your sin. And there will not be a chance to love Christ back once the sky cracks or you’re looking at Him in front of His throne.

Some of you are coaches, players, parents, etc. You say, “Cooper, I have to spend a lot of my resources at/because of/for football.” I get that. God gets that. But if football makes you passionate and Christ makes you snore… it’s time to rethink it a little.

Football can’t save you. Christ can.

Go Mountaineers. Go Blue Hose. Go Ducks. Go Dolphins (I know… judge me). I hope all 4 teams in the Playoff somehow lose.

But at the end of day, Know Christ and Reflect Christ.

Football is fleeting. The Cross is forever.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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