Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Bench

by Dan Jones

I’m not a “sports guy” and this is not a sports blog, which is a good thing because one should generally refrain from writing from ignorance.

I was the skinny, uncoordinated kid in grade school that was often picked second-to-last for any given team.  (Okay, sometimes dead last.)

I did have one or two “glory plays” in flag football because I was so un-imposing the offense didn’t bother to block me and I squeaked through the line and sacked the quarterback.

By “sacked” I mean ripped the plastic flag off his belt, not “tackle and bring to the ground” like in actual football. This is not nearly as impressive as a sack in real NFL Sunday Night Football.

Doing a fist-pump dance with the quarterback’s flag in your hand would hardly be suitable for an instant replay right before cutting away to a beer commercial.

Despite all the efforts to create a kinder, gentler society, America still prefers a certain level of controlled violence in its most popular sport.

That having been said, I do occasionally watch the Vikings on TV. (I will pay $100 to watch a football game in person on the same day I can flap my arms and fly there—which, coincidentally, would also allow me to avoid the exorbitant parking fees.)

Last Sunday, I was watching the Vikings play our arch rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

They may throw me out of the state for putting this in print, but I don’t actually hate “The Pack.” They have often been a better team than the Vikings, they are the only publicly-owned NFL team, and they are also the only team named for meat processing activities. (I may not be much at sports, but I can hold my own in even the most gruesome of trivia battles.)

But the main reason I am so often deflated by our namesake Norsemen is a decades-long capacity to give up. I don’t know how many times I have seen them start out with a seemingly insurmountable lead for the vast majority of the game only to suffer some set-back late in the fourth quarter which utterly destroys their attitude just long enough for the opposing team to capitalize on their dashed morale and stomp them into a gelatinous puddle of purple and yellow.

Despite this, I still seem to find myself drawn to watch them in the hope that someday (maybe in my own lifetime) they will get over it, become the winning team they were always meant to be, and their adoring fans will shower them with lutefisk in embarrassing public displays of affection.

Anyway, getting back to Sunday’s game, one of our Vikings players was having a very bad time of it in the third quarter.

Trae Waynes, who is only in his second year with the Vikings, was called for pass interference three times. The replays showed these were not narrow calls made by the officials. It wasn’t because they didn’t like his hair.

Waynes was frequently flailing away at the intended receiver’s face and chest region with no concept of where the ball was at the time. At one point, his flagrant disregard for the rules and lack of composure cost the Vikings 29 yards in a single play!

But here’s the thing:

The coach kept him in the game.

Yes, he was benched for a short series to allow him to rest, but they sent him right back out there.

Even though I have no concept of what it is to play professional football, much less coach it, I could not believe those in charge were leaving this guy out on the field!

“Bench him!” I said as I reached for my iced tea. “They ought to send that guy to the showers,” I said out loud even though the only living being within ear-shot was a nine-pound Chihuahua.

And then, just as Green Bay was marching down the field with only two minutes to go on their way to score the inevitable touchdown and once again cause the Vikings to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Trae Waynes intercepted a pass.

It shut the Packers down, turned the tide, and the Vikings won the game 17-14.

When I tried doing an internet search to verify that his last pass interference call did indeed cost us 29 yards, I couldn’t find it.

All Waynes’ previous mistakes were completely  forgotten by the sports press and every article you can find about that game says Waynes redeemed himself with that one play.

And I would have had him sitting on the bench for that play.

Thank God I am not a professional football coach and thank God that our God never pulls us out of the game while the battle is still going on.

No matter what we have done, no matter how badly we have messed up, our God still has confidence in us. He knows we can do it. We can handle it—with His help. He will give us another chance even if we have messed up and failed at the task every single time we have tried prior to this one last time.

He also knows we can’t do it on our own. Yes, he may send us to the sidelines to rest, but you can bet He will have a Word for us when we are sitting there—if only we will listen.

Trae Waynes didn’t learn to play football on his own. He had numerous coaches teach him. His teammates encouraged him. And so, even though his coaches and teammates will celebrate with him, it’s the team that won, not the individual.

Today’s Praise

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deut. 31:8 (NIV)

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