By S M Chen, posted Feb 9, 2017     Recently I viewed, along with over 111 million others, team sports’ biggest spectacle: Super Bowl LI, between AFC champions New England Patriots and NFC champions Atlanta Falcons.

I had read, almost casually, various sportscasters’ predictions, some favoring one team, others favoring the other. I have learned not to place too much stock in such predictions. It’s been said that, on any given Sunday, almost any team (of the 32 in the NFL) can beat any other team. This is not entirely off the mark.

Having been born and raised in New England, my sentiments favored one team. Politics may be another story.

When the Falcons, behind their vaunted offense (highest scoring team in the NFL; quarterback Matt Ryan having just won Most Valuable Player award for the year), raced to a seemingly insurmountable lead, I was glad I’d not placed a bet against them.

During the third quarter, when the Falcons led 28-3, I almost turned the TV off. What I did instead is go to the kitchen and prepare my dinner.

As is frequently noted by financial investment firms, past performance is no guarantee of the future. However, what can we rely on if not the (sometimes undependable) lessons of history?

History tells us that no winning team of the prior 50 Super Bowls has overcome a deficit exceeding 10 points. The Falcons led by 25.

What happened subsequently led me to examine my fingernails. Had I not clipped them recently, I might have bitten them to the quick.

There are many explanations for the inability of the Falcons to protect their substantial lead. Post-mortems abound. I will not attempt to dissect them.

Suffice it to say, the Patriots succeeded not only in regrouping and mounting an impressive offense of their own, they prevented the Falcons from scoring any more points.

By the end of regulation play, the score was tied 28-28.

In overtime (again, a first for a Super Bowl), the Patriots won the coin toss and initiated a drive that culminated in a winning touchdown. Final score: Patriots 34, Falcons 28.

Victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat before, but this game was one for the ages.

Tortoise and Hare. Aesop’s Fables. Artist: Glenn Parshall. ca 2007. Permission for use on file.

***

It’s been said that art recapitulates life.

The converse is also true: life recapitulates art (who can argue the performance of Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady during the comeback as being less than art, or poetry in motion?)

Potential lessons abound.

The importance of the will. Of never giving up. Of focusing single-mindedly on a goal. Of maintaining a mindset that will not accept defeat until the absolute end. Of remaining optimistic when logic calls for pessimism.

When the score was 28-3 in favor of the Falcons, some Patriots (players and coaching staff alike) may have imagined the proverbial fat lady was in the wings, waiting to come on stage to sing. No one would have blamed them for hanging heads, or holding heads in hands.

But, as Yogi Berra, legendary baseball coach, trenchantly observed, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And it wasn’t.

***

It seems to me that the Almighty also delights, at least on occasion, in long odds.

It has been said that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.

Consider:

  1. I relate to his uncertainty that God really wanted him to lead those who would unshackle the Israelites from the Midianites. It took two go-arounds with sheepskin for Gideon to be convinced that he should be the leader of the oppressed.
    1. Gideon started with a force of 32,000 men. After those who were afraid were allowed to leave, 10,000 were left.
    2. I can imagine his consternation when his forces were additionally pared, by something as seemingly capricious as how men drank water.
    3. Only 300 remained, but it ended badly for the vastly numerically superior Midianites.
  2. One man against 450 false prophets of Baal. I cannot imagine Satan not wanting unholy fire to consume the altar sacrifices of those many prophets (maybe even one would have sufficed), but he was not permitted. Despite Elijah’s recorded frailties, he is now in a better place, one to which we aspire.
  3. He who, with the vision his servant lacked, saw a vast throng of heavenly protectors around the host of the sizable army of Syria outside Dothan, when Syrians had been sent to capture Elisha, who had been warning the king of Israel of Syria’s intentions. It was then that Elisha uttered these words that have survived the passage of time: ‘They that be with us are more than they that be with them.’ (II Kings 6:16) What happened next is a counterintuitive lesson in kindness that presaged Paul’s admonition (Romans 12:20; ‘…if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.’). The blinded army of Syria was taken to the kingdom of Israel, where, instead of being slaughtered, they were fed and sent on their way. Tellingly, they bothered Israel no more.
  4. Samson slays 1000 men with the jawbone of an ass. His frailties (I find it reassuring that Holy Writ does not portray heroes without their warts) are another aspect of this complicated man who may have found the redemption in death that he never quite achieved in life.
  5. One man is incarnated from divinity. He lives a potent life and dies an almost unimaginably cruel, unjust death that many – indeed, potentially all – may live. For most, the 2nd life (just as there be a 2nd death, there is a 2nd life). While the majority of humans will not accept this astonishing gift, some will – sufficient to populate the Earth made new.

***

Just as in a Super Bowl, it is not how we begin, but how we end, that matters.

Ask the penitent thief on the cross. Ask the eleven faithful disciples. Ask Saul cum Paul. Ask Rahab. Ask Mary Magdalene.

But also ask Cain. Ask Judas. Ask the rich young ruler of the Gospels.

Then look in the mirror. Not the one that reflects your face, but the one that reflects your soul.

And ask yourself.

 

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