Joe Ehrmann, former NFL star and volunteer coach for the Gilman High School football team, now an ordained minister, spoke (along with Jeffrey Marx, the author of his recent biography, "Season of Life") at my daughter's high school last year.
His remarks, though shared in the spring, spiraled me back, like a well-thrown football, to the previous gridiron season. I'd never been a football fan, but last year I became one. Or at least of one team.
I was asked to provide spiritual support to a high school football team from training camp through district playoffs. I watched every practice I could, read books, studied plays, researched opposing teams' stats, studied the Scriptures and other spiritual texts to find inspiration to share, and loved, loved, loved that team.
I stood on the sidelines for most of the games. As player after player would come off the field exhausted, wounded, or bruised, I would put a smile on my face, tell them that they had a job to do, that God was there on the field giving them the courage, strength, flexibility, and wisdom to do it, without harm, and to go back in with confidence and cheer.
All the while my heart and mind scrambled for the bedrock of my confidence, digging deeper through the shifting sands of doubt and fear to the core of what I knew to be true: God is All-in-all and on every field. That He was the Great Choreographer moving those boys around on the field with the grace and strength of a ballet. This statement by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, took on new meaning: "Grace and Truth are potent beyond all other means and methods" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 67).
Week after week, I watched young men find peace, endurance, strength, and confidence, and I witnessed countless healings of fatigue, self-doubt, and injuries.
But the scoreboard repeatedly left them feeling as if they could have done better.
My prayers were for their realization that what they were learning about themselves – their spiritual strength, flexibility, grace, and inner peace – couldn't be tallied in lights on a scoreboard. The measure of this growth – this winning – was found in the stillness of their hearts, their confidence in God's presence and power in the details of their every move through life.
Jeffrey Marx, in his biography of Joe Ehrmann, shares what he witnessed at the first game of the 2001 season: "No victory or defeat, no matter how glorious or excruciating for his team, would ever eclipse the only reason he was there. What do points on a scoreboard have to do with teaching boys how to be men of substance and impact? And that explained the absolute calmness with which Joe walked toward his huddled team....
"Joe initiated his standard question-and-answer sequence.
" 'What is our job as coaches?'
" 'To love us,' the boys yelled back.
" 'What is your job?'
" 'To love each other,' the boys responded."
In my view, my team had a winning season. They won one another's respect as they picked themselves up off the bench and went out time after time to defend their brothers. They won one another's love as boy after boy helped his fellow teammate remember that he was not alone on that field – a pat on the back, a hand proffered to someone who'd had the wind knocked out of him, 21 men on their knees in prayer when a teammate or an opponent was injured. They won our hearts when, loss after loss, they came to the edge of the field and applauded their fans.
Each crisp Friday night and cool Saturday afternoon, I stop and remember one of the best seasons of my life. I remember that for every winning team, there is a team that will return to the locker room to discover something new about themselves as men of humility and grace, of "substance and impact" from the experience of not scoring the most points.