Don’t Quit Before You’re Finished

A couple of idioms come to mind when contemplating the Indianapolis Colts’ loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, December 17: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” Yogi Berra is known for having said about baseball’s full, nine-inning games with 27 outs; and, “It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings,” meaning that nothing is irreversible until the final act plays out. The Colts (4-8-1) went into their locker room at halftime with a 33-0 lead over the Vikings (10-3). Interim coach and former Colts’ center, Jeff Saturday, had made it known earlier in that week that he would be happy to be considered for the job of permanent replacement for Frank Reich, the Colts’ fired former head coach.

So, how did the game end that fateful Saturday in Minnesota?  When I returned home after running some errands with Ellen, the score was 36-28!  I heard an announcer say, as Minnesota scored a TD, “They certainly have the momentum,” and that was pretty obvious! But the Colts had possession of the ball with a little over two minutes left in the game. They had a 4th-and-1 situation near mid-field. For non-football fans, that means they needed to gain one yard on the next play or lose possession to the Vikings.  Normally, a one-yard gain is a “piece of cake.” Quite often, the quarterback will get the ball from the snap of the center and, with an all-out effort by the offensive line, lunge or jump forward enough to make the one-yard gain. That’s what the Colts’ quarterback, Matt Ryan, attempted to do on this critical play. If the Colts made the one yard, it would be 1st and 10, meaning they might well run out the clock and leave the Twin Cities with a huge win! 

It was not to happen. They failed, by just a few inches, to get the one yard on the quarterback sneak; Minnesota took possession and scored easily, making the score 36-34. They needed two points to tie the game, so the Vikings went for a run rather than the one-point kick after their TD. They scored on the two-point play, rather handily, tying the game at 36-36 and sending it into overtime. Then they won the game, 39-36, on a 40 -yard field goal. It was an historic win for the Vikings, breaking the NFL record for greatest comeback ever in a game!

For the Colts, it was humiliating. For their fans, it was almost unbelievable and certainly disgusting. For the sports writers, it was an opportunity to reach down deep into their reservoir of superlatives: “catastrophic,” “collapse,” “quit,” were a few of the many. It was a stunning loss for the Colts and a stunning comeback for the Vikings.

Well, I enjoy some sports but decided early in life that there were more important avenues that I could take, knowing of course that I would never be of college-draft caliber; so I did not participate in basketball or football after my sophomore year of high school. But I have never lost my interest in those sports and have learned that one can absorb a lot of life-lessons through the challenges that competition involves.

It was not difficult to pinpoint some lessons to be learned from the Indianapolis Colts’ debacle in Minnesota on December 17. First, of course, “it’s not over ’til its over.”  Can you imagine how difficult it would have been for any of the Colts’ players, or even the coaches, to go into the locker room at halftime with a 33-0 lead and not have a deep-down feeling that “this one’s in the bag!” There seemed to be no way the Vikings could dig themselves out of that hole! Yet, the impossible happened, and the Vikings made history. (So did the Colts, but not the kind of history you want to be remembered for.)  So with my ministry: It’s not over until it’s over, and though my duties as pastor emeritus are different than when I was senior pastor, I still am “in the ministry,” and my Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, has not relieved me of my commission. I have a job yet to do, and it would be a huge error were I to breathe a big sigh of relief and think or say to myself, “This one’s in the bag, no way I can lose the victory from here on out.” Too, too many have made that strategic, unforced error and have tragically tripped up just short of the finish line, bringing disrepute to their Savior and to their ministry. God forbid.

When I watch pros play, it really irks me to see, as I did in the Colts game, these multi-millionaires doing “victory” dances in the end zone after they score a touchdown, or on the field after they make a good defensive play. Is that not what they’re paid the “big bucks” for?  Ok, it’s good to play with a lot of spirit, zest, and drive (as did the Vikings in the 2nd half), but to celebrate before the game is over can be ill-advised. If I were a coach, I would ban those “dance” celebrations; they must aggravate and maybe are indeed intended to aggravate the opposing team, and we all know now what can happen if the opponent gets too riled up! Paul rejoiced in that he had finished his course and run the race, but he did so practically on his way to the guillotine. It was not in a boastful, braggadocios manner but as he was praising God and anticipating the crown that he—and all of Christ’s followers who love His appearing—will receive.

So, there are a couple of lessons that we can register or underscore in our “frontal lobe.” (1) It ain’t over ‘til it’s over and (2) Don’t celebrate until there are no seconds left on the clock!

What lessons have you learned through competing or watching your favorite teams playing? I’d be happy to hear of them if you’d drop me a note by replying to this post.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebs. 12:1)

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