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Beyond the Gridiron
A Thanksgiving Reflection

It has been a year since last Thanksgiving. And I will forever hold in my heart that wonderful November day in 1994. I led a devotional service for the Green Bay Packers, just before they went out onto the field to play Dallas. I'm a closet Green Bay supporter (the only safe kind of Green Bay supporter that can live with community acceptance in Dallas), and yet I am impressed by the Christian demeanor of Mike Holmgren. His walk of faith in Christ has led me to the kind of admiration I generally give to my literary heroes alone. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pray even noble teams to victory in Dallas. Lamentably (as far as I was concerned) Dallas lost.

But as I watched the game in that wonderful Irving Stadium with a hole in the dome (some Texans say that God ordered that hole in the dome so He could keep His eye on His favorite team), I thought of some old Kavanaugh lines:

"The gods assemble on the gridiron, to sanctify Sunday for the lonely ..." (James Kavanaugh, There are men too gentle to live among wolves)

Indeed, the Green Bay athletes were as god-like as athletes should be. But it was Thanksgiving. And I was aware that being a professional football player on the holiday would leave these men battling their doubts about themselves. For most of them, there would not be time again this Thanksgiving to be truly thankful. I'm pretty sure that they could win no game because they were too confident — but because they couldn't lay aside all the emotional baggage that they were forced to carry on to the field with them. I reminded the Packers that if they could only be grown up men who played football as purely as they had done when they were little boys, there was not the slightest chance of their losing. I counseled them to get in touch with that little boy they each one used to be — and perhaps playing with such single simplicity they could win — even beating Dallas while God looked on through His hole in the dome.

But where was that little boy? It was for each one only a matter of searching yesterday's sand lots till they found him playing football and quarreling over every decision.

Where are you, little boy?
I've been looking everywhere for you.
I need you back.
I gotta play a big game today and I want
To play football like you do.
What I really liked about you, little boy,
Was that you who got excited about the right things?
Like flexing that little lump of a bicep and asking your Dad to feel it,
Like sawing back and forth over the center bar of your bike,
And wobbling your way to the market with your jeans rolled up so
you wouldn't get your denims in your chain and sprocket.
Back then you cried about the right things,
Like crying when your puppy got run over,
Instead of when you read the sports page after a dumb play
That your critics wouldn't let you forget.
Plus, you ate back then — you really ate.
You didn't limit your French fries
'Cause grease and salt tasted good together.
And you didn't worry about what people you didn't like said about you
'Cause it was real stupid to try to please the people you didn't like.
You kept your goals simple too
'Cause you knew that the things you needed
To make you really happy
Were pretty simple,
Like finding that first dark hair that told you you'd someday be like your daddy
or
When the corner grocer gave you a king-size Baby Ruth because you played so well
or
When your junior high coach told you that you "looked great out there!"
and welcomed you into manhood in the 8th grade by using
that not-too-bad slang word that said it's somehow a word we men
gotta use so we won't sound "too much like girls."
I need you back, little boy, I've been looking everywhere for you,
'Cause I can still remember your thin little arm in your oversized sleeve
Throwing that ball, 'cause you wanted to win.
You threw good back then, even if your pass wobbled a little bit,
and you couldn't get it far enough down the field.
It was how you felt when you threw it and how you dreamed.
You did it 'cause you loved it,
Not 'cause you signed a contract to do it.
You played football real good back then,
Cause your mind was clean, and your heart,
and nobody had junked it up by peddling a bogus national image,
Or television angles, or instant replays.
I need you back, little boy, 'cause I've gotten too concerned about how I look
or whether or not I'll get off the bench and how I'll explain myself to the board
Or whether or not I'll get invited to the press conference.
I've forgotten how to do my own driving,
I've forgotten the simplicity of being my own man,
I need you back, little boy,
Where are you?
It's Thanksgiving.
I gotta play a big game,
I've been looking everywhere for you.

(Calvin Miller, November 20, 1994)

Thanksgiving has come again and this year, while the gods assemble on the gridiron, I think I'll do a little celebrating of the full list of all of God's great blessings to me. There is a God who lives above the gridiron, who had a Son who has made all things possible to me. Thanksgiving isn't primarily about winning or losing a game. It is primarily about God and his gifts, the greatest of which was Jesus. I will read to my little family the old 100th Psalm and contemplate again all the things for which I am most thankful. F.B. Meyer said it so well a century ago:

Oh strong Son of God, who is like the sun coming out of his chamber, and rejoicing as a strong man to run his race, draw me into fellowship with you in your strength and love, and in your tenderness to all the weary and the weak. To you, Heavenly Father, I commend my comrades and friends on every part of life's great battlefield. Let no defeat discourage them. Let no sudden temptation overcome them. Let no long-continuing sorrow wear their loyalty or discourage faith ... Though my outward life be a desert march, may my heart live in the heavenly places, which Jesus the Forerunner, has entered. May I eat of the fruit of the land and drink of the river of God, and have unbroken victory of all opposition. (F.B. Meyer, Daily Prayer, Shaw, Chicago: 1995)

Maybe the only thing better than playing the game of life with childlike simplicity is to celebrate the God of Thanksgiving, remembering that "every good and perfect gift comes down from the father above (James 1:17)."


Calvin Miller is a professor at Southwestern Seminary.

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November 1995 Edition
Volume 4, Issue 2
November 1995