Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Spirituality of the Football Field

The Legends Weekend is born
The annual meeting of the Notre Dame and Stanford football teams is known as the "Legends Football Weekend." These two schools are proud of the success of their academic and athletic programs; the term "student athlete" is no misnomer. Integrity is the name of the game, many years in the making (the first meeting was in 1925!).

It provides me with an opportunity to see the Fightin' Irish close to home. Over the years, the Legends Weekend has offered some great games, unexpected reunions and chances of a lifetime. In 2009, I was on the field to present the Legends Trophy to the winning team. This year afforded what the Legends Football Weekend always does, and much more.

had the wonderful privilege of sitting in the skybox at Stanford Stadium thanks to an invitation from my student and his mom who works at the University. It proved to be an adventurous evening as I enjoyed a good game with this spirited crowd: my student, two of his friends (one of whom is another student of mine) his two younger brothers and his Godmother: Condoleezza Rice.

The five young men in our crowd were eager to walk on the field after the game. My student looked to his "Aunt Condi" for permission to head down. I could tell she didn't really want to make the trek through the crowds. It was awesome to watch this woman we know because of major decisions she made as Secretary of State, also decide to do this small act of love. She understood her Godson and she knew walking on the field is a big deal to him, a young man. 
With my student and his Godmother, simply awesome.
Full of excitement, they asked me if I wanted to go with them. I said "sure" thinking that might be fun. Experiencing the reaction from the crowd toward our group was fascinating. We got on the field without question. I suppose when you're the former Secretary of State your credentials speak for themselves. I followed our group not knowing what to expect or what to do. As soon as we walked onto the field, I thought What am I doing here? My team did not win. What should I do on the opposing team's turf? I just went with it.

I'm glad I did. I realized I could stand as an objective bystander. My vision was not clouded by emotional ties or connections to the players and coaches on the field. I had little to no expectations, which was almost liberating! I realized what I would encounter was a gift. I was able to enjoy the experience without anticipation of any given outcome e.g. Will I see the coach? Will I yell at Tommy?

And there is only one word to describe my experience on the field: spiritual. 

Condi congratulated several of the players who she knew by name. If anyone has concerns about her appointment to the Committee on the BCS championship, please rest assured. She knows football. The young men she addressed were honored by her presence and graciousness. Her presence affirmed the dignity inherent in good competition.

I took note of the sweaty, slimy spectacles in front of me. They were smiling. They were dirty. Some were still breathing hard. The cold of the evening was moving in, but these men didn't care. It was a spiritual moment.

I realized that for every the athlete on the field, this was the final home game of the season. It was almost as though some were lingering just to take it all in. I thought of the seniors who were recognized at the beginning of the game with their families. This "senior night" marked the end of their tenure. The gratitude and thanksgiving was palpable.

In football, teams will often come together in prayer after the contest. I've heard this can only happen in a sport like football because it's such a total battle. The exhaustion, the respect for all that was given, the sense that we challenged one another to great lengths allows two teams to come together—disarmed— to offer thanks and praise to God (not always, but more often than not). I got a sense of that as I walked toward the exit.

Richard McBrien says that spirituality is recognizing "there's more to life than meets the eye." This is what walking on the field of Stanford Stadium taught me..but so did sitting in an unlikely place—the skybox. If it weren't for the relationship that exists between a Godmother and her Godson, we never would have gotten there. I'm grateful for a chance to serve as a witness to it all.
Welcome to the ND Family: David Robinson
NB: have to admit though, personal HUGE highlight for me was after we walked through the tunnel, I saw a very tall man sitting in the shadows. It was "The Admiral" David Robinson. I flashed a huge smile and said "I love your son! I'm looking forward to the next three years with him." Objective bystander be gone!

Photo Credits
Rose Bowl: Legends Weekend #1
Legends Header

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