Are you a football fan?
Well, whether you like the game or not, two of the NFL playoff games this past weekend provided both the young and old with some lessons about life.
One good. One bad.
First, the bad.
Saturday night’s AFC Wild Card contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals set a few records, but not the kind you want.
More fans were arrested during the game than ever before, including one guy for urinating on someone.
Sadly, it was the unsportsmanlike conduct on the field that seemed to instigate the poor behavior off it. On a cold and rainy night, the Bengals seemed to implode at the very moment they needed to keep their cool. With Cincinnati ahead by 1 point, the Bengals were cited for an illegal hit. An argument and melee followed in which the referee was bumped, resulting in another flag. The additional 15-yard penalty against the Bengals put the Steelers in a position to kick an easy field goal to win the game.
Following the debacle, Adam Jones, the Cincinnati cornerback who was charged with the final penalty, lashed out on social media against the referees. A few minutes later, the Instagram post was deleted and a new one was created. “All right, I’m good now,” wrote Jones. “I’ve had my 10 minutes. I still don’t believe I should have gotten a flag for talking to a coach that’s on the field behind the huddle. That’s my opinion.”
Anyone who’s ever played a sport knows that things don’t always go your way. But that’s one of the great things about athletic competition. Sports teach us life skills, like how to win and lose, how to prepare, compete and persevere – and how to develop and manage our emotions. It teaches us discipline.
“If you can keep your head when all about you others are losing theirs,” wrote the poet Rudyard Kipling, then
“ …you’ll be a man.”
Unfortunately, too many players on the Bengals lost their cool – and as a result, the team lost the game.
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit,” wrote Solomon, “but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11).
So, lesson number one: When the heat rises in your life, take a deep breath, pause. And keep your cool.
Speaking of cool, the weather for this past Sunday’s NFC Wild Card matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota’s Vikings was downright frigid, with the mercury dropping as low as negative four at one point during the game. Minnesota jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first three quarters but Seattle fought back to take a 10-9 lead in the closing minutes of the contest. With less than two minutes left in the game, however, the Vikings drove the field and were in a position to win it with a 27-yard field goal, a chip shot in the NFL.
But the kick went wide left and the Seahawks held on to win.
The kicker, Blair Walsh, could have blamed it on the cold, or on the holder, Jeff Locke, who incorrectly positioned the football. Or he could have explained it away by citing the imposing presence of Seattle’s star cornerback, Richard Sherman, who was charging full speed towards him.
Instead, he blamed himself.
“When they needed me in this moment,” he said, “I didn’t come through for them. That hurts.”
No excuses. No finger pointing. Blair accepted responsibility.
I feel bad for the guy, but I admire him for stepping up and owning up to his mistake.
Blair’s blown field goal and immediate admission reminds me of one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. It came years ago from a friend who told me, “When someone comes at you for messing up, hear them out, and if true, take responsibility. Don’t fight it because that’s when people pounce on you. If you admit you were wrong, people will often encourage you to do better next time.”
That’s good advice.
Sure, for us fans, football is just a game, a pleasant diversion from the difficulties of life. But if we’re paying attention, football also provides us with a chance to learn some lessons about how to manage and navigate those difficulties that are sure to come our way.