It’s college football season. For many, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, myself included. No longer will we be forced to find something to do on Saturdays. No longer will we be plagued by preseason speculation and hype. This is a time of new opportunity. To get a fresh start, to take back bragging rights from our rivals, to lose our voices at stadiums across America, to eat more terrible food than is socially acceptable at other times of year. The season is here, and the time to put it in perspective is now.
I was born in Miami, so growing up, I enjoyed the perennial prosperity of the Hurricanes of the 90’s and early 2000’s. After my dad married into a Gator booster family in 2002, I also supported Florida, inheriting a program that would win back-to-back basketball championships in 2006 and 2007, sandwiched by two football titles and including a Heisman Trophy winner in between.
The year before I got to campus at Florida was the year Tim Tebow led the Gators to a dominant regular season, putting up gaudy numbers from start to finish, then holding the high-flying Sooners offense to 14 points in the Orange Bowl to win the 2008 national championship. My freshman year, we bowled over most of our opponents on our way to an undefeated regular season. I thought we were invincible. Then I traveled to Atlanta to watch my boys play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
We lost that game. Then the following year was just alright, then Urban Meyer left and we hired Will Muschamp and the rest is history. Gentlemen, today’s devo is really simple, but I think pretty much everyone needs to be reminded of it.
College football makes a really bad god.
I experienced a ton of success as a sports fan early on, and I came to expect nothing less. In fact, if I wasn’t a Dolphins fan, I may not have really believed that consistent mediocrity in a sports team that I supported was even possible. That made it really hard to deal with watching my Gators lose five games in a season, then six, then eight, then five again. I watched my idol crumble and it sucked.
Thankfully, it was about the same time I met a man named Chad Gibbs, who was writing his first book, titled “God and Football.” He went to every SEC campus for a weekend to be an observer, attending a football game on Saturday and a church service on Sunday. What he found was that, more than I would care to think is true, the fanaticism on Saturdays dwarfed the devotion on Sundays in southern Christians. Meeting Chad and reading his book helped me put things in perspective a little better, but I still catch myself getting too fired up about a game.
Listen, I know that sports are sports. I can’t remember attending a Florida-Georgia game where I didn’t witness multiple fights on my way out of the stadium. I’ve been in certain student sections that would make Lil Wayne sound like a saint. On Thanksgiving weekend (that’s rivalry weekend for those of you who live under rocks), there’s not a whole lot of unity at football stadiums in America.
But here’s the thing: in the context of our interactions with others, we’re called higher than that. We’re Brothers Under Christ. As brothers, we’re called to unify under Christ no matter what colors we wear. And with the non-believing world, we’re called to give them the love of Jesus, not the hate of a sports rival. Enjoying football season and tactful trash talk is one thing, but distasteful comments and classless behavior are not the mark of a Christian. Pride and slander are still sin from September to January.
I know people with whom it is impossible to talk football because the slightest critique about their team will prompt a disproportionate retaliation. I also know people who become socially lubricated, illogical sycophants as soon as they step into a stadium. Don’t be these guys. Unity is more important. Representing Jesus well is more important, and you can’t hit “pause” on that responsibility on Saturdays in the fall.
Moral of the story: be careful where you place football on your list of priorities. Don’t put your precious mascot on a pedestal. It doesn’t belong there. Football teams will let you down. God will never let you down. He’s the only one who’s truly undefeated.