One of the current reasons it’s great to be an Auburn Tiger is that we can enjoy Tim Tebow with a clear conscience, at least as much as it’s possible to enjoy a player from a rival team as despicable as Florida. We’ve never lost to the boy some call the greatest. Michigan fans can say that, too, just not as much as we can. (Michigan fans can’t say they haven’t lost to THE Bo.)
Not that I wasn’t nervous to play him, of course. Especially in ’07, in the full bloom of his evangelism. Of course, deep down I knew that God wanted us to win, like always. But there was a tiny, hateful thought that He might decide to do His famously faithful field general a solid.
That’s how I broke the ice with Eric Chaffin, a pastor and Oklahoma fan I interviewed on the eve of last year’s BCS Championship Game for a story on whether God cared about football. It was for the paper I worked for during my 11 month vision quest in Lubbock, Texas. (I also interviewed Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach… via text message.) I’m posting it here just because.
It seemed spectacularly apropos that, on the day the story came out, Tebow conquered the Sooners under the most famous of Christian mantras: John 3:16.
Tebow’s sense of fashion and heroic timing made the one verse, one-sentence summation of the Gospel Google’s most popular search query in the hours following the game; had no idea there’d be that many people who had to look that up, but here we are.
Even the New York Times thinks the night seemed “meant for Tebow to shine.”
Here’s the story (originally published in the January 8, 2009 edition of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal):
Pastor answers question: ‘Does God care about football?‘
Eric Chaffin, pastor of Broadview Baptist Church, walking, talking football encyclopedia, and author of Everything I Know About God I Learned From Football, is all about his brother in Christ, Tim Tebow.
He’s all about him being chased down like a dog and thrown to the ground, over and over and over again.
Chaffin is confident that tonight, in the 2008 Fed Ex BCS Championship Game, his Sooners can handle that sort of thing to the tune of oh, say… 34-27.
“You’re not going to print that are you,” he asks laughing. He turns and looks at the shelves of Bibles and autographed footballs and C.H. Spurgeon scripture commentaries and a box of nine-year-old corn flakes commemorating Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship.
“I can see the headline: ‘OU pastor, failure as prognosticator, loses small fortune in illegal online betting.’”
He’s joking, of course — because Oklahoma’s going to win, right? He’d clean up.
But deep down, in the secret place of their hearts where they hike God prayers for third down conversions, Oklahoma fans who believe the Bible and love the Lord like Chaffin have got to be just a little bit worried.
They saw him. Everybody saw him.
At the press conference after the Ole Miss game.
Ole Miss, 31. Florida, 30.
They saw a special sort of determination drive the tears from his eyes.
They saw Tim Tebow – beefcake saint, David and Goliath – promise Florida fans that he would bend his Heisman-winning body and soul towards victory like no one ever has in the history of the game.
“….I promise you one thing… you have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season…God bless.”
And Tim Tebow’s season ends… with Oklahoma.
Which means that Tim Tebow – missionary of muscle, Samson of the Spread – is without a doubt going to ask the God of heaven, Chaffin’s God, to help him smite the philistine Sooners.
So… is it slightly, entirely possible that God… could want… Florida… to win?
Chaffin, in his Oklahoma shirt and jacket, leans back and stretches.
“I don’t believe God alters the outcomes of games, if that’s what you’re suggesting,” he says. “But does God care about football? Yeah. Because he cares about you. And if that’s part of your livelihood, then yeah, he does, but especially if you’re going to use it to glorify him.”
Using football to glorify God is all Tim Tebow does.
Video sharing website YouTube swarms not only with highlights of his football conquests, but his evangelical fervor.
There’s Tebow smashing across the goal line for a touchdown.
There’s Tebow, rushing off to the Philippines after winning the Heisman Trophy to remove cysts from orphans.
Stick a mic in front of him, on the field or off, and Tim Tebow talks up his Lord and Savior like few athletes ever have.
The implications are obvious.
“I don’t know if God’s favor would rest on the whole team,” Chaffin says. “I think it would rest on him…”
“But Bro. Chaffin,” I say, “Tebow is the team.”
Chaffin’s cell phone rings with the Oklahoma fight song. He doesn’t answer it.
“Well, he’s a person that would willingly give God glory whether he won or whether he lost,” he says. “I really believe that about him. I believe he’s the genuine article. His since of self worth doesn’t come from being successful on the football field. I think it comes from his relationship with God. Obviously, he cares about football and he wants to win, but I don’t think he feels any less blessed by God if he doesn’t.”
But you want him to get sacked?
“I want him to get sacked early and often. Of course, with this whole OU theme we’ve got going on in the photo shoot, I’m going to look like a total buffoon if Oklahoma loses. ‘Look at that loser. I’m not going to buy his book.’”
Chaffin’s book, published by Oklahoma-based, Christian imprint Tate Publishing, and dedicated to the memory of the late, great Reggie White, the Green Bay Packer’s “Minister of Defense,” is a 200 plus page collection of pigskin parables intended to help illustrate gospel truths via the gridiron.
Kind of like the Bible itself.
“Paul is the one who most often used athletic metaphors,” Chaffin says. “Paul speaks of himself as a boxer. In 2 Timothy 4:7, he says ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’ He compares the crown in heaven to the perishable crown given in the Grecian games. Athletics was a very big deal, even back then. I think it was one of those things where Paul used something that was culturally relevant to drive home a point. It’s the same thing I’m trying to do with this book.”
But Chaffin, a former team chaplain for the Lubbock Renegades, doesn’t just talk about “Going Deep” with God; he delves into the fun stuff, like the one question that every football fan knows the answer to: Does God Care Who Wins? (Chapter 9).
“Do you think there are players who pray ‘Lord, please bless us with victory before a big game,’” Chaffin writes. “Of course there are. There are probably even Christian players who are praying for God to bless their team, yet feeling conflicted because they know full well that there are players on the opposing team beseeching God for the same thing: victory.”
Texas Tech running back Baron Batch says he does it about 50 times a game.
“I pray before every game, and all throughout the game, I’m just praying, praying, praying,” says Batch, who finished the 2008 season with 758 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. “I truly believe that the success I’ve had and that this team has had hasn’t all been us.”
Broadview Baptist member and die-hard Texas Tech fan Bryan Grimes can’t help but to agree. He’s already devoured the audio version of Chaffin’s book – “Christianity and football are two bedrocks of West Texas,” he says, “that’s why so many people around here will like it” – and he was there in 2005, section 121, Jones Stadium.
Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma.
“It was late November, senior day,” Grimes says. “I was watching that game the other night on my DVR. We needed a touchdown to win. There was about 1:22 left. People talk about this season’s Texas game being very dramatic and exciting and it was, but quite frankly, if Crabtree hadn’t scored a touchdown, you can probably win the game with a field goal. Against OU, you had to drive the length of the field to win and there were a couple of very controversial calls.”
That they went Tech’s way Grimes kinda maybe sorta credits with divine intervention; Tech won the game whenTaurean Henderson’s knee somehow stayed afloat as he stretched the ball in for the go-ahead touchdown.
“I said about a million prayers that game,” Grimes says. “I was a nervous wreck. I just kept praying ‘give me peace, give me peace.’ Of course if you follow Tech history of all, you’ll know there’s been a ton of unanswered prayers in that stadium.”
Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach says that’s because when it comes to the gridiron, there are no chosen people.
“I don’t think God has a favorite team, but He is glorified as people test their limits and strive to do their best,” Leach says. “I think God cares about anything that builds character and enriches the lives of people. Football does both.”
Exactly, Chaffin says. “Wow, that’s a good quote.”
“Does God care who wins? There are two schools of thought,” Chaffin says. “There’s one that says God doesn’t have anything to do with football whatsoever. And then there are those that say ‘oh, I’m blessed by God.’ Somewhere in the middle is the truth.”
Would Texas’ Quan Cosby have been as outspoken after Monday night’s Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State had he dropped the game-winning touchdown pass?
“First and foremost, I have to give glory to God because it if wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have had a game like this,” Cosby gushed in a post-game interview.
It’s tempting, Chaffin says, to read God’s hand into victory and blame defeat on your humanity.
“Like, ‘oh, I hurled a swear word at another player, so God’s favor is no longer resting upon me,’” he says. “But God does care about people who would give praise and glory to Him.”
People like Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who, reportedly, has never cussed.
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