I have a confession to make. I no longer pray over football.
Yep, I no longer believe that God suits up for college football every autumn Saturday. No, my conversion to nonbeliever in divine intervention in sports had nothing to do with the recent nosedive of UNC’s football fortunes or its attendant scandals.
During my Carolina days when I was chasing the sweet bird of youth and watching Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice trip the light fantastic up and down Kenan Stadium, I lived for football Saturdays.
My football obsession actually influenced my life in a major way. After the war, I followed an Air Force buddy to Mars Hill junior college, a caring and academically superior school.
At graduation, most of my friends moved on to Wake Forest College, Furman University and other church-affiliated schools to become preachers or religious educators. I, too, once held misguided illusions of occupying a pulpit.
Only three or four of us, like poet Robert Frost, took the less-traveled road. I went to Chapel Hill, where I studied journalism, Charlie Justice and Tar Heel football. And it has made all the difference.
My passion for football was so intense, I once fell out of the bleachers during a Tar Heel 34-7 upset of the No. 1-ranked Texas Longhorns.
The football addiction persisted even after I married. My wife and I would dress up in our best duds on Saturday to pull for the Heels after a picnic lunch fighting yellow jackets and the rumblings of my nervous tummy over the approaching contest. During away games, my eyes were glued to the TV screen.
In fact, my youngest child, a toddler at the time, resented my watching football when I could be playing with her.
“Puttball! Puttball!” she once complained. “Always ol’ Puttball! When I was in Mommy’s tummy, I got so tired of all that ol’ Puttball, I would just want to scream!”
Speaking of Carolina football, an email from a longtime reader and disgruntled Tar Heel fan, after the loss to East Carolina, raises the question: Can practicing Christians make good coaches?
“I knew The N&O would eventually solve the problem of UNC’s lack of defense,” he wrote. “I knew it had to be something simple that could cause a 300-pound lineman to cower at the task of tackling a 167-pound ECU back and could result in five tacklers being unable to bring down a single ball carrier. Now we know.
“It’s simple, A.C. The N&O says the defense coordinator ‘is a religious man, one who quotes scripture and keeps a large Bible in his office ...’
“A.C., the poor man can’t even cuss out the little darlings who can’t or will not tackle people. He’s probably teaching them to turn the other cheek, to be lovers of peace, to love their fellow football players, even those from ECU.
“Maybe that’s why we had only nine men on the field when East Carolina went for 26 yards. Isn’t there something in the Bible about ‘If a man asks you to go with him one mile, go seven?’ Well Carolina’s doing that and more!”
Personally, I doubt a coach’s religion or lack of it has much, if anything, to do with his win-loss record. His Bible may be a source of hope as his team takes the field or a comfort as his players leave it with heads hanging low.
As far as I know, there’s been no research to prove that cussing coaches are more effective than mild-mannered men of faith. Perhaps some of you ex-footballers can tell me which is the more effective teaching tool: cussing or coaxing.
For fans praying that the Almighty will favor their team over the opposing force, I share these lines from poet Emily Dickinson:
Of course – I prayed – and did God care?
He cared as much as on the air
A bird had stamped her foot
And cried “Give me!”
You don’t suppose she could have been praying for a home team win when she wrote that, do you?