Here in the U.S., the National Football League (NFL) has now completed its most important weekend, with playoff games reaching a seasonal crescendo leading up to the Super Bowl in February. And tomorrow evening, college football’s national championship playoff will be played out in front of millions more viewers. Football fanatics are having the time of their lives, and therein lies an important recognition for all of us, whether football junkies or not.
Time. The game is played over sixty minutes, no more, no less. The timeouts and the breaks for television advertisements notwithstanding, the outcome of the game is determined over the entire time to be played.
I watched portions of each of the games played over the weekend. In a couple of the contests, teams were able to mount significant leads, only to lose those advantages with the passage of time. Given my lukewarm interest in the actual outcomes of the games, I found myself more closely observing what I perceived to be the emotions and attitudes of the players and coaches as the scores changed, over the full sixty minutes.
In one game, the presumably favored team fell behind by a wide margin on their own home field. They caught up, only to fall behind again by the same deficit. When they fell behind for the second time, viewers could actually see the trepidation in the players and hear the despair of the crowd at their plight. On the opposite side of the field, the opposing team’s players were jumping up and down, dancing and slapping high-fives with each other amid great smiles of self-satisfaction.
If we had had the opportunity to stop the action on the field at that point and talk with the protagonists from both sides, I wonder what we might have heard from each. In the case of the home team, we would likely have heard that the game was not yet done and that there was plenty of time to reverse the outcome. Such optimism is expected from those who are competitive and driven to succeed. But we might well have heard the hint of doubt or uncertainty in their words while standing under the glare of the massive scoreboard which, at the moment, would suggest a different end result. We might not have even had the chance to speak with the guys who had dropped a pass or missed a tackle; they sort of lose themselves along the sidelines. It might have been difficult to mingle with any of the players much, as the poor guys just seemed down.
On the opposite side of the field, conversation would have been even more difficult, given the hollering and joyful yelling of the team in the lead. We’d have a hard time hearing each other. Here, we would have access to all the players, as every one of them would stand with confidence- even hubris- and a certainty that their game plan had been well-crafted and that victory belonged to them, regardless of the face of the field clock. The word “destiny” might be heard over the din of excitement.
Well, we now know the final scores. In some of the games, by the final gun the have’s became the also-rans, while those who appeared to be facing elimination survived. One of those “survivors” may even make it to the Super Bowl. Imagine that. The world often becomes topsy-turvy during these times and those in the lead don’t always emerge as the champions.
Maybe that’s why so many people follow the NFL. There’s always the chance that the “little guy” will rise to the occasion and achieve a status considered impossible. And we all love a good story about how the high and mighty are somehow justly brought down to size, especially if at the hands of the little guy. We make legends of five-foot eight, one-hundred eighty-five pound running backs blasting through a line of behemoths to score in the final seconds, reminding us that time is the controlling element, that ultimate success or defeat only occurs at the end of time.
I start watching some football during this time of year, for the reasons mentioned above. But I can’t help but watch the story lines unfold with an acute awareness of how time will have a way of bringing great surprise to the highly favored and the the lowly alike. The reality is, we have no way of foreseeing who will be on top when time runs out….