A Step of Independence
I was born into a non-sports-loving (aka logical) household in Colorado Springs. The idea of emotionally investing in a violent sport played by millionaire strangers was something my parents simply weren’t into – silly, I know! But for whatever reason, I loved it. The complexity of the rules, the intricacy of situational strategy, and the sheer diversity of athletic abilities on display absolutely wooed me.
Debating classmates at recess on Mondays about which team would win that evening’s game is one of my earliest social memories. My friend and I would reenact iconic plays with a foam football in the church nursery while our parents were at music practice. Football was one of the first steps of independence I took from my parents. It was an interest that wasn’t forced on or taught to me, but cultivated on my own.
I “inherited” the Denver Broncos, insofar as I was born in Colorado and had a few relatives who half-heartedly rooted for them. But upon my 10th birthday, I determined it was time to make a choice – to pick the team I’d support for the rest of my days. As a fourth grade boy, the criteria for selecting a team was highly sophisticated:
- The team must score LOTS of points in a VERY exciting way.
- The team must score ME some FREE stuff
Enter the Minnesota Vikings.
I was HOOKED. The team shattered all sorts of offensive records that year (most points scored in a season, most passing yards in a season, most explosive plays in a season). They featured two of the three all-time great wide recievers, and went 15-1 en route to one of the most successful campaigns the league has ever seen. Add to that the fact that I had an aunt and uncle from the Twin Cities who sent me Vikings merchandise for Christmas, and my 10-year-old mind was made up: I was going to be a fan of the Minnesota Vikings for life.
Great Team, Lousy god
The next few years saw my affection for the team increase, along with my teenage stubbornness. A common topic of debate in the Mauck household was my schedule on Sunday mornings. Though my parents had always modeled a joyous and consistent practice of participating in church, I was certain that staying home and watching my team was a much better use of my time.
I can’t remember what the number was, but I eventually negotiated a compromise with my mom for a quota of weeks per year I could stay home for the Vikes.
But in 8th grade, the debates forever ceased following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Lord awakened me of my desperate need for Him. He caused me to be born again when I heard the gospel, repented of my sin, and embraced Christ by faith. From that moment on I knew that anything keeping me from gathering with His people, hearing from His word, singing His praise, and celebrating His table was an idol. Not out of duty or compulsion, but through the immensity of Christ’s love for me and the love He had given me for Him, I could no longer comprehend missing church for any reason – even for my beloved team.
My love for the Vikings NEVER dwindled or decreased in any way, but my love for Christ and His people easily superseded it.
The Sorrow of Caring
If you’re not too familiar with the NFL, being a Vikings fan ain’t easy.
- They’ve never won the Super Bowl.
- They’re one of only two teams who have LOST the Super Bowl four times without a victory.
- They haven’t even GONE to the Super Bowl in my lifetime. Their last appearance in the big game was in 1977 (when GERALD FORD was president)!
- They have lost the last six straight NFC Championship Games in which they’ve played.
- They’re good enough to inspire hope almost every season (they have the 6th highest historic winning percentage of all 32 NFL teams – higher than teams with multiple championships including the 49ers, Steelers, Ravens, and Broncos). But they always find new and unique ways of letting their fans down.
And that’s just the on-the-field stuff. In my high school years, the team was horrendous both on the field and off. They failed to win their division in those years, constantly underperformed, and had their fair share of scandals off the field. Their star receiver had several run-ins with the law, many of their most prominent players were involved in the infamous “love boat” scandal, and they had a running back try to cheat a drug test using a device called “the original whizzinator.” One particularly horrific season began with championship aspirations but ended in last place – symbolized poetically when the roof of their stadium literally collapsed:
This misery is relevant because, well, life is hard and people let us down. We constantly deal with loss and disappointment. Strange or silly as it may sound, I learned this lesson first as part of the syllabus of being a fan of a perpetually disappointing team. Before I had a theology of suffering, before both of my grandfathers passed away, before I had experienced marital difficulty, before I ever officiated a funeral, before I understood the political scandals being discussed on the nightly news, before I grappled with loved ones committing suicide… I was just a young boy clad in purple and gold, trying to understand why my favorite team could never win the big one.
Sticking with a team who is an embarrassment on and off the field has taught me an awful lot about faithfulness and commitment in all of life. A friend might gossip about me, a church member might stumble into sin, someone in my family might forget my birthday (and I might let them down in the same ways). But that’s not the end of the relationship. As the cliche’ in sports goes, there’s always next year. When you determine ahead of time that you’re not going to give up on or let go of a relationship, there is no hardship or obstacle that will fracture it. This is the sort of commitment Christ has made to me in the gospel – and He makes that covenant while knowing all of my embarrassments and failures ahead of time!
There’s no logical or theological reason to invest deeply or personally into the athletic achievements of others. But there are moments for a passionate fan that rise near the pinnicle of jubilation that is possible in this life.
Sunday, January 14, 2018 was just such an experience for me.
The day was packed full of incredible ministry opportunities. I got to the office early and prayerfully prepared for the day. I led a discussion on The Pilgrim’s Progress, preached a sermon from 1 Samuel, conducted a congregational meeting, and made a beeline to Camp Elohim for a late lunch. They needed some help in the kitchen, so I stuck around to wash some dishes. That evening I had the opportunity to preach a lesson to the youth group of New Song Bible Church about what they might expect in life if they place their identity in Christ through the gospel. It was all so fulfilling and meaningful that it hardly felt like a sacrifice at all to miss out on seeing the Viking’s first divisional playoff game in 8 years. But at around 9:30pm, I was able to say goodbye to the kids and head to the church to watch a recording of the Vikings’ game against the New Orleans Saints.
The game had all the ups and downs Vikings fans have become accustomed to. They took a commanding 17-0 lead into halftime, then had several mistakes and mishaps cause them to stumble toward the finish – resulting in the Saints taking a 24-23 lead with less than a minute to go (along with a 96% win probability). It simply wasn’t going to end well for the Vikes, and I started moaning to my buddy about all the misery you read about above. This darn team was simply incapable of ever coming through in the moments that matter!
Then, with 10 seconds and zero hope remaining…
An average week brings several valleys and mountaintops, with the normal ups and downs of human existence. You’ll have a really great visit with your neighbor, then get a power bill in the mail that is way higher than you expected. Your pastor’s sermon will be a bit of a snoozer, but then you’ll get to share a time of prayer with a friend after the service. You’ll find a $5 bill in your pocket, and then realize that your septic system isn’t working correctly. It’s life – and we should do our best to be as steady as possible through all of it.
But there are some moments that rip the very capacity of composure from our clutches, and they are the snapshots that will make it into the highlight reel of our lives. Just past midnight on that recent Sunday, with my phone turned off while watching a recording of a game that had been over for several hours, I saw Stefon Diggs scamper into the end zone for the playoff-game-winning score. I tried to run across the sanctuary of the church, but the strength in my knees failed me. So I collapsed in tears and laughter right there on the stage. It is a spontaneous jubilation that cannot be replicated in any other way. Wedding days are planned, a child’s birth anticipated for months. Graduation is expected, a job offer comes after you’ve submitted to a formal application process. But when 10 seconds of utter chaos and skill intersect to completely reverse the fortunes of the team you’ve loved since elementary school, there’s nothing quite like it.
Long live the Minneapolis Miracle.
True to form, the Vikings were OBLITERATED in a game they were favored to win this last Sunday. So I’ll go another year without seeing my team in the Super Bowl, and I’ll likely never see them play in a home Super Bowl game (the extremely rare opportunity they forfeited by losing against the Eagles).
As every last one of my favorite team’s strengths morphed into glaring weaknesses at the worst possible moment, I was filled with gratitude that my identity isn’t found in this team. I love them. I care more about them than most folks probably think is healthy. But my well-being and purpose is somewhere much more secure – the redemption purchased by Christ, received by the Father, and applied by the Spirit. So all of my self-inflicted anguish is put into perspective. Finding a team and loving them, till death do us part, has been a foundational part of my life. I’m just thankful that they’re not THE foundation of my life.
With that in mind, I’ll keep rooting for the Super Bowl
49 50 51 52 53 champion Minnesota Vikings.