Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page from St Patrick's Anglican Church. We're taking inspiration for our daily ministerial radio devotionals this month from the world of sports. Ideally sports are about fun and fitness. But the better you get, the higher the level of competition, the more it becomes about winning first, with fun and fitness becoming just distant considerations.
This weekend is the kickoff of the American College Football season. It will come to an end next January 7th, when the national champion is crowned. Last year's winner, you may remember, was Alabama, who thumped Louisiana State in the championship game. Currently, the two teams that meet in the title game are chosen by a complex formula of human polls and computer calculations. In a couple years, college football will move to a playoff system. Good thing, too, because every year there is controversy about the chosen finalists.
Not that the controversy is anything new. For decades, there was no championship game. After all the January 1st Bowl Games ended, polls of sportswriters would determine who was the national champ. And those human voters could be swayed by how many points your team scored.
That was the case, certainly, way back in 1916, almost 100 years ago. Georgia Tech had a powerful team. Their coach, John Heisman, after whom the Heisman Trophy is named, thought they could contend for the title. But the voters of the day cared about margins of victory as a way of showing how good your team was. So Georgia Tech needed a patsy, someone they could clobber.
Cumberland College, from Lebanon, Tennessee, was the lucky team. They met on Oct 7, 1916. Cumberland got the ball first. They ran the ball on their first play, and gained 3 yards. Not a bad start, but sadly it would be their biggest run of the day. In fact, they would finish the game with a net total of minus-96 yards on the ground on 27 carries. They also lost 9 fumbles. Their aerial attack was not much better. This was an era of football when there was not a lot of passing, but even still, they completed only 2 of 18 pass attempts, for 14 yards. Georgia Tech caught more of their passes than Cumberland did, intercepting them 6 times.
Georgia Tech utterly dominated the whole game. They scored 63 points in the first quarter alone, on 9 touchdowns. They matched that stunning total in the second quarter, taking a 126-0 lead at the half. The only signs of weakness Georgia Tech showed in the game was when they missed two of their eight point-after attempts in the third quarter, and had to settle for only 54 points in the quarter and a 180-0 lead through 3 quarters. They let up a bit in the fourth quarter, settling for only 42 points.
For the game, Georgia Tech rushed the football 40 times, for a jaw-dropping total of 1,620 yards and 32 touchdowns. They did not throw a single pass. Their 222 to nothing win is the most lop-sided game in college football history. It was a massive win, an utter destruction of the opponent.
But as big as that win was, Jesus Christ has an even bigger win to his credit. By his sinless life, his death on the cross, and his being raised to life again by God, Jesus Christ has won the great battle we face against sin, against the powers of evil, and even against death. “Death has been swallowed up in victory,” writes the apostle Paul, quoting the prophet Isaiah (1 cor 15v54, isa 25v8). He continues by almost tauntingly saying, “where, o death, is your victory? Where o death is your sting?” (1 cor 15v55, hos 13v14). Kind of a Biblical version of “na-na, hey-hey, good-bye!”
Jesus won the great victory, and we are the beneficiaries. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 cor 15v57). That means, when we join God's team, when we bring Christ into our hearts and minds and lives, we, too share in the victory. We can now overcome our opponents like fear, anger, lust, envy. The challenges of life that stump us won't defeat us any longer, because of Christ. May God give you the victory, too! ... It's been fun sharing some sports devotional thoughts with you this month. Thanks for listening. For St Patrick's church, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page.