I love college football. This is my favorite time of year. Each year I have renewed hope at what possibilities lie ahead. New players emerge, older players get better, every game counts. It it exciting, thrilling, heartbreaking, and devastating all at the same time.
Sports in general can teach us so much about life, and overcoming obstacles, opposition, and adversity. It is an almost perfect type for our own lives. College football yesterday, gave us that perfect example of a principle I have been thinking about lately. Enduring to the end.
This example, is of a game between bitter rivals. It was a hard fought game between Michigan, and Michigan State. All game it had been a grudge match back and forth, neither team could move the ball very well against the other, both defenses had dominated the opposing offenses, and as time ran down to the last 10 seconds, Michigan found itself ahead by two points with the ball, and just about a minute left. They could almost just take a knee, and let time expire and win the game. Almost.
As time slowly clicked away, Michigan ran the ball to make sure the clock didn’t stop and were able to get time down to just about 10 seconds left. It was 4th down, the ball was on Michigan State’s 48 yard line, and all they had to do was punt the ball away, make one tackle, and the game would be over. They would win the heated rivalry game over their higher ranked bitter enemy. Life was good for Michigan fan. They were basking in the eminent victory. They were on cloud nine. Years of being second fiddle in the state and listening to Michigan State fans trash talk would finally end. The battle was nearly over, and they would be victorious!
Then Michigan snapped the ball. And their 10 second nightmare began.
The punter for Michigan bumbled the snap, the ball fell a few feet in front of him, and in his sudden panic, lunged forward, grabbed the ball, and made a last second heroic effort to kick the ball away. But Michigan State hit him with 3 guys just as the ball left his hand headed towards his foot.
The momentum of the hit sprayed the ball to the right, through the air, and landed perfectly into the hands of a surprised Michigan State player. Upon receiving the miraculous gift of a fumble, he took off, headed towards the end zone 45 yards away. He had a procession of blockers, and only 2 potential tacklers, time seemed to stand still and Michigan fan went from the peak of elation to the depths of despair in mere seconds. Michigan State rolled down the sideline, and lunged into the end zone with no time left to win the game.
Michigan fan could do nothing but stare in disbelief. That actually just happened. One of the most unlikely wins and final plays that could even be conceived. If any of a number of things didn’t go exactly right, or exactly wrong, the game would have ended with Michigan on top. It was unbelievable. The odds of Michigan State winning that game before the final snap were 0.2%. 2 in a thousand! Yet it happened. Michigan State never quit. Michigan State endured to the end. Michigan did not.
The punter had made a huge mistake, but, in the moment, when all the pressure was heaped on him, he actually made it worse by trying to kick the ball again. Had he just fallen on the ball, it would have been downed, and Michigan State would have had to pull off a hail mary pass to win, another unlikely chance. But, in the moment when panic set in, the situation became critical and the decision he made while in that mindset was horribly bad and exactly wrong. And it cost them the game. Had he thought out all the options should anything unplanned happen, the outcome might have been different.
All the hard work, battle, struggle, sweat, and effort for 59 minutes and 50 seconds just went up in smoke. It was kind of like performing a perfect face plant 25 yards from the finish line of a marathon, and never making it to the end. Sometimes we get SOOOOO close!
On the other hand, Michigan State never gave up. They played every last down until the whistle blew, there is ALWAYS a chance that things may bounce your way. But in order to get those bounces, we need to be in the right spot, and playing as hard as we can.
Whether its in a football game, basketball game, baseball game, tennis, running a marathon, or any other competition or challenge, the principle is the same, Never quit! Never stop fighting, clawing, pushing, crawling or clenching towards the finish. Never slow down, never let up. Ever. Our lives are a race, a race to finally get back home, to our Heavenly home, and in the process, be as close to our Savior as we can be, and as much like Him as we can be.
Its never easy, sometimes it seems like its impossible to win, that we might as well just leave, because we are getting our butts handed to us. But thats not why we are here. We are here to compete, to get better, and to endure.
To me, one of the most fascinating parts of the Book of Mormon comes in the final few years of the Nephites just before the coming of Christ to the Americas. At this time, the Nephites and righteous Lamanites actually come together in one body because the Gadianton robbers are so powerful, that they had overtaken nearly the entire country. All the people that followed the prophets gathered together to join forces and preserve their food and protect themselves from invasion. After a long siege, and with the help from God, the Nephites eventually defeated the Gadianton robbers after a massive battle, (the slaughter was the greatest since Lehi had left Jerusalem) and completely eliminated them from the country. God had helped and preserved them according to their faith and trust in Him.
This major battle happened in the 19th year after Christ was born, and lingered until sometime after the 21st year. Christ would begin his ministry halfway around the world in a mere 8 years! So, 600 plus years had passed since Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem, with countless prophets, wars, contentions, missions, etc. And now, in the 4th quarter, the Nephites had just seemingly defeated the last enemy and could now live in peace until the Lord would visit! Right? They just had to hang on for another few years. And they would celebrate with Christ himself!
After this massive battle, this is the mindset of the Nephites:
”And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection.
31 And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies.
32 Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God.
33 And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction. (3 Nephi 4:30-33)
The very first verse in chapter 5 says, “Now behold, there was not a living soul among all the people the Nephites who did doubt in the least the words of all the holy prophets..”
A few verses later, it says,”And there had many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a ahundredth part of what was done among so many people in the space of twenty and five years;
They seem to be sitting pretty don’t they? Now its down to the final 8 years until the sign of Christ’s death and resurrection. kind of like being up by 2 points with the ball, and only 10 seconds left? All they needed to do was make a decent punt, and make one tackle, and they would be celebrating with the Savior. But, lets watch what happens in just a few very short years…
In the 26th year, they all separated again, and went back home after having lived together as one people.
In chapter 6, it sounds the warning bell, “And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually, except they should fall into transgression.” (3 Nephi 6:5)
Kind of like a scouting report that warns about the stone hands of the punter.
Fast forward 3 short years, and this is what you get, “But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and aboastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions; (3 Nephi 6:10)
Uh, oh. The punter just bumbled the snap. Better just land on it, and take your losses, repent, and get right with the Lord.
But, just like the football game, the worst possible thing that could have happened did.
“Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world. (3 Nephi 6:15,)
Now, the opposing player is running towards the end zone, and the game is slipping away.
“And thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness.” (3 Nephi 8:18)
“…and there were but few righteous men among them.” (3 Nephi 7:7)
Year 30. Christ is just beginning his mortal ministry, and will eventually come to visit the Americas in just 3 more years! Thats it! 3 years. After 600 years of preparation, they bumbled it all away at the last moment. They couldn’t quite endure till the end.
We cannot let this happen to us! We need to play every down, every play the best we can. we have to endure, and persevere through the finish line. The tricky part is that we don’t know exactly when the finish line comes, but we cant let ourselves turn into the Nephites who face planted 3 years before the finish line.
Christ was so close! All they had to do was hold on just a little bit longer, and finish strong! He is our end goal! He is why we are here. He is why we can win, and why we even have a chance at all.
Sometimes we can learn lessons from other people’s mistakes. Lets look at the punter for Michigan, and the Nephites, and learn what not to do, so that we can be better prepared to work, and fight, and endure all the way through the finish line!
He is there waiting for us, coaching us, and rooting for us to succeed. Lets all try just a little bit harder to never let up, never slow down, never give up and never lose hope for the win!