Monday, January 25, 2016

Saban vs Bryant? That Is As Ludicrous as Batman vs. Superman!

33 Years Ago.....

As many of you know - I try to post something about Coach Bryant on the anniversary of his passing away on Jan 26, 1983. The site I have dedicated to Coach Bryant is full of special memories.


In March of this year (2016) Warner Brothers will release a movie, "Batman vs Superman" that on the surface, seems to be a ridiculous title- but my understanding is that the storyline involves a conflict that ultimately results in the harmony and formation of the Justice League.

The confetti was still falling on Jan 11 after Saban's 5th national title when the talking heads began the debate on who is the greatest coach...Bryant or Saban? This is an equally ridiculous question, but I do understand the human need we have to compare, contrast, and debate. I have always joked that heaven may have a football planet where we get to play all those scenarios...  we have eternity...right?

But just like the movie (if I am right about the storyline), the debate ultimately leads to a unique harmony of what has made Alabama football a special place in my life.


To save you some reading time- let me cut to the main point.

Coach Nick Saban has an opportunity to take on (as a competitor) his next great challenge and his hardest one. One that none of us would have the right to complain if he chooses to leave it or even fail to achieve it- and that is to survive the anticipated dip in performance.

I have no clue WHEN that may happen... but Coach Saban himself this year hinted that even he knows that it will come at some point..... and it will be a great challenge for him to stay the course.


In 1969, Coach Bryant's Alabama team went 6-5, was only 2-4 in the SEC (they even lost to Vanderbilt) and was beaten 47-33 by Colorado in the Liberty Bowl.

Can you imagine what a Paul Finebaum show would sound like during that stretch?

To make matters worse, the 1970 team went 6-5-1 including the famous opening loss to Sam Cunningham and USC. USC outgained the Tide by more than 300 yards (559 yds of total offense) and whipped the Tide 42-21. Cunningham ran for 135 yds on just 12 carries.

We know the rest of this story- Alabama shocked USC the next season- went 11-1 and won the SEC, finishing #2 in the nation. That sparked the 1970's as Bryant's best decade.

IF- Coach Saban is able to persevere an inevitable dip ... and guide the ship through the hurricane of doubters and dissent.. and then find a conference or national championship after that... then he would silence all doubters.

In the end...does it really matter?

The problem is that regaining that 'winning edge' in this modern era poses more peril than ever before... and deep in my soul I always stand amazed at the passion and energy of Saban to continue to do it. A mortal man would take his money, trophies, and ride his grandchildren on his boat.

In many ways... modern day football is a young man's game.....


Now let me mention the HARMONY I find between the two coaches..... did you see it? It was on display... right on the Alabama sideline during the game.

Whenever former players feel comfortable coming around and want to come around- you know that a special culture is at work. Alabama's sideline at the National Title game was packed with many adoring former players.

That is what both Coach Bryant and Coach Saban have in common. And the fact that Coach Saban has young men in such high regard of him in a generation that is more prone to mock and disregard elders... this is quite an achievement.

Coach Bryant towered in a day when it was more common to follow the leader no matter what.

But men followed him with such a passion that the bond still stays strong today.

Coach Saban has managed the same thing. But his ability to transcend generation, race, socio-economic differences, and regional differences is impressive!

Relationships matter.... and winning coaches know how to invest in their players in such a way that the players go through pain and persevere out of love and inspiration.


Football continues to display dramatic narratives and storylines- my favorite one is always the comeback story... someone who is cut down and counted out... but through perseverance and fight... finds victory once again.

It means a lot to me that Wade Phillips never stops fighting and builds a Superbowl bound defense.
I am also proud of Mike Shula and his work with the Panthers.
The personal stories this year are fun... Peyton Manning, Kenyan Drake, and I could go on and on....

When the Superbowl ends... then I will experience the winter of discontent.... but I also know that once again come August- the boys of fall will be dreaming again- everyone undefeated and expecting greatness.....

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Now What?

I am working on my yearly post to reflect on Coach Bryant on Jan. 26.. but I couldn't help but notice how quickly the National Championship win started to fade away at ESPN into basketball and NFL news.....

Before long. it will be all in the past.


Ernie Conwell works for the NFL Players Association. His resume is impressive, to say the least...  while training as a potential Olympic Athlete in track and field, Ernie found a love for football. He is an impressive guy- 6'5 255 with athletic agility, leadership, and heart!

He was a college standout for the University of Washington and achieved great accomplishments as a pro. He was drafted by the Rams in 1996, won a Super Bowl after a horrific knee injury, named a captain for the New Orleans Saints- An All-Pro selection in 2001.

I had the privilege to have Ernie coach with me in Nashville and loved hearing him speak to men about his miraculous journey back from the knee injury and what it felt like to compete in the NFL.

But you could hear a pin drop when he explained the saddest reality of all......

Right after his Super Bowl win - the pinnacle of a sport achievement- a lifetime pursuit that organizations invest millions to get, and individual's pour blood, sweat, and tears to grasp...

In the locker room...right after winning.... after hugs and laughter...

a lot of grown men sat there with empty stares on their faces... now what?

This isn't to minimize the lasting memories or value of the accomplishment. It is a recognition of all human existence... the thrill is momentary and often less than satisfying.

It isn't just in big things... it is in almost every aspect of life.

 I always thought it was appropriate that Pip experienced all the shock of seeing his world collapse in the classic novel, “Great Expectations”.

“All the truths of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.” 

But it was the subtle letdowns that he noticed first:

My (new) clothes were rather a disappointment, of course. Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in, fell a trifle short of the wearer's expectation.

I think there is a part of us that has been trained to desire the finest and fastest. A lifetime of commercials and movies has given us (especially the western world) a high standard of status. Every item, destination, and activity has that certain level that we refer to as "The cadillac of..."

What does THE BIBLE say about this?  Quite a lot actually....

We catch a piece of this in Proverbs. The largest contributor to theses aphorisms is purported to be Solomon- a royal indulger himself of wine and women. Here are some thoughts in Proverbs 23:
1 When you sit to dine with a ruler,
   note well what is before you,
2 and put a knife to your throat
   if you are given to gluttony.
3 Do not crave his delicacies,
   for that food is deceptive.
 4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
   do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
   for they will surely sprout wings
   and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

If you read a lot of biographies you will find that many times the wealthiest and most famous in the world are often the most miserable. They get to the top and find it all and realize that they still haven't found what they are looking for.

There are countless tales of these. One of the saddest is the last words of Guy De Maupassant-famous french writer in the 19th century. His talent, handsome appearance, wit, and charm led to his accumulation of great wealth and status. A famous womanizer- he entertained and dined in the most luxurious ports on the mediterranean- travelling on expensive yachts and enjoying the best that life could offer. 

On New Years day of his 41st year of life- Maupassant was already ravaged by his lifestyle. Experiencing the attack of syphilis and distraught by his loneliness he cried out in chilling starkness, "I HAVE COVETED EVERYTHING AND TAKEN PLEASURE IN NOTHING!"

The next day he tried to commit suicide by slashing his own throat, was committed to an asylum and died in depression a year and a half later.


Things of this world lose their luster because they are not supposed to be ULTIMATE THINGS......

The Bible gives us a clue to how we are to live and one of the keys is to be careful and not fall into a lust to live extravagantly- we need to learn discipline and godly contentment. This is such a tough deal- it is such a subtle slide. Enjoying the 'good' life and 'longing' for the good life are small gaps. Having good things and NEEDING good things is just a silent slip.

My constant message is that is is not a sin to have wealth or to enjoy success- no one needs to feel guilty- we just need to be grateful.

So we have these YEARNINGS and DEEP THIRSTS- love, significance, companionship, security, meaning.... and we sometimes go to the wrong fountain to fill those thirsts: Fortune, Fame, Power, Pleasure- only to find us more thirsty and more addicted.

The key is to find the LIVING WATER- your thirst is for an answer to your fatherlessness- the only Being to fill that hole of eternity in your heart is God Himself. That is why we are told to seek God and all these other things will take care of themselves. (All kind of verses here: Matt 6:33, John 4, Jeremiah 2:13)

Finally, I think all of us struggle here- it is so easy to substitute for God- our hearts do, as Calvin said, constantly manufacture idols. So do I never put on a tux, or eat on fine china, or sip tea on the beach in a luxury resort? Heavens NO- enjoy God by enjoying all of His blessings- but allow the Holy Spirit and His word to wrestle and purge the dark side of the longings.


Here are a few tips to help: If we do these things, it helps us to keep a proper perspective on all things in this life.

1) Honor and serve those who have less things materially. Not for show or guilt removal, pray for a heart to see them as worthy and important. It is not hard, most of the blue collar-common folk I rub shoulders with are by far more admirable individuals as a rule. In the previous chapter we read -

 2 Rich and poor have this in common: 
   The LORD is the Maker of them all.

2) Cry out to God for the balance between contentment and complacency. The Bible teaches a tight tension- we are NOT to be apathetic and lazy but at the same time we are not to wear ourselves out for riches. What drives us? Why? Where is God's will in our pursuits? These are deep, life long questions.

3) TITHE- I know of no greater way to slay the dragon called greed than to give. God does not need my money- He has provided the command to give of my first fruits for my benefit and a healthy heart. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. I Timothy 6:10 Tithing includes talent and time as well!

4) THANKFULNESS- When you get to do lush things- play on a golf course- fish in the gulf- drive a fancy car- OR if you encounter great achievement...PRAISE GOD and be thankful- hold it all with an open hand and ask how you can bless others as well. I have been a huge recipient of wealthy believers who have decided to bless me- I have done things and experienced things that a man of my lot could never afford.... And the whole time my heart just leaps with joy and praise to God and I pray for blessings on the giver.

Consider the testimony of the apostle Paul here in Philippians 4:

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

5) RELATIONSHIPS- it is always WHO not WHAT. What makes team success so beautiful is who we take the journey with. I found it interesting to hear O.J. Howard's response to the question.."What do you remember MOST about the game?" and he said "Celebrating with my brothers"- Yes, that is important!


We don't have to section everything in a box.... When Alabama won Monday night... I enjoyed this as a fan WITH GOD... and He is still the ultimate whether my team wins or loses.

It is OK to celebrate... but no joy is this life can fill the thirst we have for Jesus Christ....

C.S. Lewis

“The Christian says, 'Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”

― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

And what I love the most about Ernie Conwell is that he understands this... so he gets the best of it all.... achievement, success, and godly contentment....

May we all do the same!