Why There’s No Such Thing as a Sure Thing

There’s no such thing as a sure thing. Just ask Blair Walsh. Walsh is the kicker for the Minnesota Vikings who was set to kick a field goal that was a “sure thing” with just 22 seconds left in a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. A 22-yard kick for a professional kicker is a chip shot. They can make them in their sleep.

Field Goal

All Walsh had to do was make the chip shot field goal and the Minnesota Vikings would have won the game and gone on to the next round of the playoffs. To miss it would mean a heart breaking end to the season. But there was no way that could happen. This was, after all, a sure thing.

You could tell that the Seahawks had pretty much given up. All they could do was offer up a prayer, go through the motions of the play, and hope against hope that somehow, some way Walsh would inexplicably miss the field goal. Their entire playoff life rested on this one kick. They were all but making their golf reservations for Monday.

Blair Walsh missed a sure thing.

The ball was snapped. The holder set the ball down with the laces facing the kicker (a big no-no for a holder). Walsh took three steps. He kicked the ball.

The football flew to the left of the goal post. Walsh immediately knew he had missed it. He hung his head. The game ended. Walsh walked off the field all by himself. Later, he was interviewed by reporters and held up pretty well. He answered all the questions and took complete blame and responsibility.

Then he went back to his locker and sobbed.

Who could blame him? The hopes and dreams of a whole team, an ownership group, and an entire fan base who haven’t ever seen their team win a Super Bowl rested on him. And he missed what was supposed to be a sure thing.

But (outside of God Himself) there’s no such thing as a sure thing. This is a world filled with uncertainty. Just ask an investor. Ask a teacher. Ask a dieter. Ask a goal-setter. Ask a Minnesota Vikings fan.

There’s no such thing as a sure thing. But there are proper ways to respond when the “sure thing” fails, falls through, or ends up in a way that no one expected:

  1. Learn from it. If you’re not learning, you’re not living. Blair Walsh is certainly learning many lessons from this debacle. He will practice harder. He will know better how to deal with defeat when it comes along again. He will better know how to speak to reporters in both good times and bad.
  2. Don’t suppress your emotions. Blair Walsh, a grown man, was crying at his locker after his missed kicked ended his team’s season. Some may have criticized him for doing so, but no one could argue with the way he was feeling. After a life changing event, it’s OK, even recommended, to express one’s emotions. To suppress them, or hold them in, has the potential for doing damage to one’s own psyche. Let it out. Let it go. Don’t be afraid to be who you are and to express your emotions in a way that makes you feel better (within reason).
  3. Move on. There will come a point probably in the very near future, when Blair Walsh will have to move on. He can’t live under the cloud of this one missed kick forever. He will have to continue to earn a living as a professional football player for as long as he can. And when that’s no longer possible he will have to move on into another career or station in life. Life will go on. Blair Walsh will be a better person for it.

How would you respond if you missed what is supposed to be a sure thing?

Ryan Braun, Aaron Rodgers, and the Price of True Friendship

Ryan Braun and Aaron Rodgers, the stars of my two favorite professional sports franchises, are in the midst of teaching us a lesson on the price of true friendship. I wonder how it will turn out.

Ascension Pentecost

To know me is to know that I am the die hard of all die hard Milwaukee Brewers fan. I have been a fan since they came to town in 1970. For thirteen years we held a partial season ticket package. I have all manner of clothing that reflects my fandom. My car now sports a Florida license plate on the back, and a Milwaukee Brewers license plate on the front.

Even after allegations of steroid use (and an overturned “failed test”) I supported the now-suspended Ryan Braun, naively believed him, and even defended him to those who (more rationally) didn’t believe his lies. I am hurt, disappointed, and still sorting through all my other feelings.

I don’t know Ryan Braun personally, but I’m certain those who do know him have feelings that are much more magnified than mine. In fact, some, including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, have come out and spoken about it. Rodgers is reportedly very disappointed that Braun repeatedly lied to his face. The quarterback says that he believes in forgiveness, but won’t say if he still considers Braun a friend.

It seems to me that’s exactly what true friendship is all about. Far be it from me to criticize my favorite football player and the “idol” of all “Packer Nation,” but true friendship means forgiving and forgetting. It means doing whatever one can to “put the best construction” on our friend’s behavior, call him to repentance, help him in his rehabilitation, and stick with him through thick and thin.

True friendship has a price. Sometimes it costs our comfort, a bit of our own dignity, and maybe even part of our reputation. In fact, true friendship means backing our friends with our very life.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And we all know what He did for His friends.

Now, I’m certainly not putting Aaron Rodgers on par with Jesus. But if I would ever mess up as publicly as did Ryan Braun, I would want (no, need) a friend who stands by me, forgives me, calls me to repentance, and helps me to rehabilitate my life.

I bet you’d want the same.

And it’s actually what we get. Regardless of whether we mess up publicly or privately, we all mess up (i.e., sin). We all need the perfect Friend who is, in fact, not only willing but in actuality does give His life. We have a Savior who has given His life for us. He covers over the ugliness of our sin, forgives us, enables our repentance, and rehabilitates our lives.

I’m told that Aaron Rodgers is a Christian. In light of that, I ask you, Aaron, to not only forgive your friend, Ryan, but to continue to be a friend to him.

In your opinion, what is the essence of true friendship?

In Their Corner

Have you ever felt as though you really needed someone in your corner? The world was against you (or at least your corner of the world) and you just needed someone who would cheer you on, show support, pat you on the back. You just wanted to know someone was on your side.

I encounter heartbreaking stories in my work everyday. I’m a pastor in an urban setting where I see kids in our school and neighborhood who are neglected, kids who are abused, kids who are born with disabilities because mom was on drugs while she was pregnant, kids who just need someone in their corner.

Whenever I see a piece on 60 Minutes, or Dateline, or the evening news about adversity being overcome, I can’t help but cry. I become an instant sap. I’m not sure from where those tears come. Are they joy for those who have beaten the odds? Are they empathetic tears for those in my own setting who may never know triumph? Are they sorrow over the feelings of helplessness I sometimes have?

You’ve seen those pieces, haven’t you? The kids from Harlem who audition for a show that becomes nationally known; the teacher on the south side of Chicago who spends time after school teaching children how to play musical instruments; the student with a learning disability who suddenly comes alive through an art program. Those all make me cry. They tug at my heartstrings and give me reason to carry on my work in a very difficult setting.

I suppose that’s why the video below hit me so hard the first time I saw it. It’s about a high school football team consisting of incarcerated players: winless, fanless, nameless. But someone gets in their corner and, at least for one night, changes all that.

Those who were treated like aliens now hear people they don’t even know shouting their names. They begin to see the world in a different way. They hear people cheering them on, showing support, patting them on the back. Someone is on their side. Someone is in their corner.

Watch this video. Then ask yourself: Whose corner can I get into today.

In Their Corner

Irrational Passion

OK, I admit it. On the eve of the NFC Championship game featuring the Packers and Bears, my passion, nervousness, and anticipation is irrational. I know that there are those who would never understand it. I even admit to this particular neurosis. I don’t expect people to accept it. As they say, “It is what it is.”

For the past few weeks I have been living and dying with every play of each Packer game. When injuries decimated the team early in the season I felt as though I could relax and simply enjoy any victory that they might achieve the rest of the season. But as the team stepped up, as they began to win, as they made their way into the playoffs, my irrational passion rose to the surface once again.

For the last two games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs I have worn a path in our living room rug. I have been spitting and fuming; I have been lamenting and rejoicing; I have leaped off the couch at the very high highs, and pounded my fist at the very low lows.

At the start of the playoffs I stated that it didn’t matter how far the Packers made it in the playoffs. It would all be icing on the cake. I lied. Now anything less than a win is going to be far more than a huge disappointment. It won’t only ruin my day. It will take me months or even years to get over it. I know. It’s just a game. It’s irrational.

Everything changed when it turned out that the Packers would be playing the Bears. You see, Green and Gold literally runs in my blood.  My maternal grandmother and grandfather lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, just miles down the road from Lambeau Field. They followed the Packers most of their lives. They read everything they could read about their beloved team. My great aunt had season tickets for more years than I could count. My parents are both rabid fans. My mom won’t even stay in the room if the game is close (just in case you wonder where I get it). My son and daughter, nieces and nephews bleed green and gold, too.

I grew up pretending to be Bart Starr scoring the winning touchdown with just seconds left in the game. When I wasn’t Bart Starr, I dreamt I was my favorite player, running back John Brockington, sweeping around the corner for a 40-yard run. I suffered through the Lynn Dickey years, the Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante years, and more recently the Ray Rhodes year. I still shed a tear and get chills when I watch Brett Favre and Reggie White winning the 1997 Super Bowl, and can’t even bear to think about the 1998 Super Bowl. To this day I can’t stand the Denver Broncos.

Now it comes down to a game with the Chicago Bears in order to proceed to the Green Bay Packers’ first Super Bowl appearance since 1998. Really? Did it have to be the Bears? Did it have to be that team from south of the border that has been the arch rival since time immemorial? Did it have to be the team so appropriately dressed in villain’s black? Did it have to be the team from the city that produces more obnoxious fans per capita than any other? (OK. They probably feel the same way about the fans to their north; but, still….)

So if you listen closely tomorrow, you might hear my screams, cries, or shouts. I’ll be lunging my body forward with James Starks on the Packers running plays, and oomphing along with Clay Matthews as he makes a tackle. I’ll be wincing when Aaron Rodgers gets hit, and putting a little bit of my leg into Mason Crosby’s kicks. I’ll be cheering each fumble and interception given up by the dreaded black and orange, and hoping against all hope that my beloved Green Bay Packers will pull out an improbable run to the Super Bowl.

But if they lose, please give me my space. And if they lose, I don’t want to hear from any of you Bears fans. I know, it’s just a game. It’s irrational passion. But I am who I am. I can’t help it.

Go Packers! Please win. Please?