Saturday, December 10, 2016

Football Wins!

Not much about the Oakland Raiders has ever resonated with me. As written in the article "Fade to Black?" Austin Murphy writes, "All this leather and face paint! So many spikes, chains, and skulls! It's as if Dia de los Muertos parade wandered into a biker bar, and they all decided to check out the underground Goth discotheque next door. If this were a movie, it would be a collaboration between Steve Sabol, the late co-founder of NFL Films and George Miller of Mad Max fame." So when a friend asked me if I would like to join her and two others to Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, I might have surprised even myself when I gave an emphatic "yes! I'd love to go." 
On Sunday December 4, 2016 I entered into new culture...a place known to most people as Raider Nation. The official language they speak—football— isn't unfamiliar. Nor is their home turf. I grew up going to baseball games in the multi-purpose facility known as the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, my high school's football team played several NCS championship games inside the home of the number one team in the AFC. RAIDERS! Still, I felt a little bit like a stranger in a strange land.

As a sports fan, it's not often that I am able to attend a game with little to no expectations. Too often, emotion, irrational allegiances, biases and heated rivalries get in the way. So as I hopped off the BART train, I realized I was able to spend my Sunday with eyes wide open. Wearing only silver and black, I realized any blinders I typically wear were not with me. Without them, I saw a lot and felt even more. But I walked away thinking: today, football wins....especially when shared with family and faith.

Faith: Every time I enter the games at a sporting event, my adrenaline runs high. Therefore, I usually have a pretty good sense of what is going on around me. Not on Sunday. As we were waiting to get into the stadium, my friend pointed out that the entire Carr clan was standing in front of us. Of course, they were...every single one of them including Dallas—the three-year-old son of Raiders' quarterback Derek Carr— was wearing his jersey.
I came to find out that Carr is a devout Christian in the article "Faith, Family, and Football." The opening quote caught my attention.
“And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
—Hebrews 5:4
But one week ago, had you asked me who either Derek or Aaron is or was, I could probably muster a good guest. Literally one week later, I have a much stronger sense of both leaders.

Aaron makes the Jewish Master Story possible. The Israelites are freed from the bondage of slavery in Egypt because of a great leader: Moses. However, we often forget that Moses felt unqualified for the task. He implored the Lord, seeking an assistant. Aaron, his brother proves worthy and became a great prophet. He was called to serve in a special way, as was Moses...I would like to believe we are too. 

Many football fans are familiar with David Carr, Derek's older brother. Taken as the number one pick in the 2002 draft, he completed a successful 10-year career in the NFL. Both men have committed their lives to Christ. Their gifts and talents, which football fans revere are the ways they seek to honor God. 

I see something different in Derek Carr. I believe he would want me to...the honor is not for himself, but for the Lord.

Family: My favorite sports cocktail involves an exciting game, sharing it with good friends who are also great fans. I'm not going to lie, warm weather OR an extreme weather condition (think Snow Bowl...Notre Dame beats Penn State in 1992) mixes well.

Sunday had all the right ingredients as I attended the Raiders game with two longtime friends with whom I went to both high school and college, and one friend's lovely 12-year old daughter. Over the years, I think we have grown to appreciate and recognize just how special it is to have a friendship consisting of such significant, shared experiences. While they truly are family, they happen to be cousins, they feel like"family" to me, too. 

Although my own family isn't that big, I have always believed I have another family that is quite sizable. This family spans the country and even more, the world. I usually see this family over the Thanksgiving break at Stanford or at USC for the last football game of the regular season. It's the Notre Dame family. Though I didn't go to the LA Coliseum this year, I did spend the day with other members of my ND family. And this past Sunday, after looking at both team rosters for any player from Notre Dame, I realized that the people I was sitting with were my friends long before we all traveled from the Bay Area to South Bend. Years later, we remain connected in Notre Dame, in football and much more....that's family.
This might have been one of my favorite moments in the
game. Cooper lept into the arms of adoring fans

Football: No time to mince words. I saw a great game. The Raiders outright WON that game. Down by one point at the half, they did The silver and black ran into the tunnel at halftime down by one point. They did not score a touchdown in the first two quarters, just three field goals. The Bills returned in the second half and the point spread only increased. But what was so memorable and exciting about this game is that is reported by Jimmy Durkin for the San Jose Mercury News. He writes
A 15-point deficit quickly turned into a two-touchdown lead Sunday and the darlings of the NFL extended their winning streak to six games with a 38-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills. 
 “We’ve been really good about staying the course and staying in the fight and finding a way,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “Today was another example of that.” 
In what seemed like a flip of a switch, the Raiders (10-2) showed the rest of the league just how dangerous they can be. Facing a 24-9 deficit with nine minutes left in the third quarter, Oakland scored 29 unanswered points and dominated each phase of the game to do so. 
 “We feed off each other, that’s for sure,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “You can always tell when someone makes a play, the stadium gets going, the momentum starts swinging.” 
It was the offense on Sunday that got it going in the right direction. Following the Bills’ second straight touchdown to open the third quarter, Carr shook off an unimpressive first half to lead a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and the offense suddenly had its rhythm going.
I would like to testify that rhythm found its momentum; this team could not be stopped. Equal parts offense and defense led to 29 unanswered points. 29! God, I love unanswered points; it's such a strong statement. Those points were made possible by the efforts of incredibly talented athletes like Latavius Murray, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to name a few. I literally saw them pull the pigskin down from the sky, I saw another leap into the air as if he had springs in his shoes. They looked hungry and gritty. When they made mistakes, they regrouped quickly. They let Carr lead and the Raider machine took flight.
Sitting in a stadium that may not host this team in a few years, I thought about all the challenges that the game of football faces today: the NFL's leadership, concussions, domestic violence, the rising costs for fans, and more. I realized all of the problems and challenges aside: whether or not you have the worst stadium in the NFL or one of the newest and most technologically advanced (Levi's), quarterbacks who sit, kneel or pray, when the game is good, sure the scoreboard indicates that one team wins....but really, it's football that wins. On Sunday, football won....and maybe that's what fans really want to see. Keep the faith.

Photo Credits
Black Hole
Amari Cooper

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