I wrote a post a few weeks ago after the devastating loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl encouraging the players to keep their heads up and urging us as fans to remember that, at the end of the day, this is still just a game. But apparently the Lord decided to call me on it and put my resolve to the test.
Last night was tough. I hate to lose as much as anyone. It hurts. But it also helps to bring things into perspective in a way that winning rarely can. And this loss is no different. What’s most interesting is what exactly this loss helped to bring into perspective for me. It helped me to understand better my place in this thing called rivalry.
There has been a lot of talk floating around the Internet about the rivalry between the two SEC schools nestled 150 miles apart in the Heart of Dixie. It has been called (rightly so, in my humble opinion) the greatest rivalry in college football. What other rivalry is still being talked about on a national level weeks after it was played?
A lot of that talk has centered around the subject of loyalty. The question has been asked to many an Alabama fan: Who will you be rooting for in the BCS National Championship game? Many have weighed in, from Alabama’s quarterback to Internet bloggers and every social-media-qualified aficionado in between. So why not add one more voice to the deafening roar?
I read the article entitled “WHY I WILL NOT CHEER FOR AUBURN IN THE BCS CHAMPIONSHIP” and actually agreed with pretty much everything this blogger argued. Except his conclusion. But before you jump to your own conclusions about the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind my disagreement, let me say it may not be exactly what you think.
As I said, I actually liked the article. And I agreed with the reasoning behind the article’s conclusion. Rivalries are meant to be more like war than a pillow fight that ends with hugs and hot cocoa. But at the end of the day, I am still choosing to cheer for Auburn on Monday. Do I have a reason? Certainly.
I could choose to cheer for Auburn based off my loyalty to my team. I want what’s best for Alabama football. And the best thing for us is for the team that kept us out of the National Championship game to win the game and show everyone that we lost to the highest quality opponent. It is also good for Alabama football if the years to come promise to have high-stakes, exciting match-ups between quality opponents. The better they are, the better it will be when we beat them.
But as much as I love cheering for the good of my team, this is not why I choose to support Auburn on Monday.
I could make an argument from the conference loyalty position. The SEC, the GREATEST conference in all of college football, has won the last seven BCS National Championships. It would be great for our conference to win an eighth crystal football in a row. It would also be great for the state of Alabama to lay claim to the previous five crystal footballs.
But as much as I love the SEC and would love to keep it in the family, and as much as I would love to keep it in the state, that’s not my reason either.
The reason I’m going to cheer for Auburn on Monday is pretty simple: I’m a Christian.
Before you blow up with assumptions about what I mean by that, allow me to clarify what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that Auburn is God’s school or Florida State represents the devil or any asinine thing like that. I don’t believe God roots for any school, despite the seemingly clear divine intervention that some schools have enjoyed this season.
I am also not saying that Alabama fans who are Christians are obligated to root for Auburn. Like I said before, I believe the blogger who argued against cheering for Auburn did so with clarity and reason that I don’t necessarily disagree with. A fan has every reasonable right to desire to watch their rival’s hopes and dreams dashed upon the rocks of failure. I don’t believe this blogger’s argument says anything about his religious beliefs, one way or another. Regardless, I don’t believe that any Christian is in any way obligated to root for their football rival.
And that is exactly why I am choosing to support Auburn. Because I don’t have to.
As a Christian, I am called to be set apart, to be different than most people. What, then, sends a clearer message: to hope for a rival’s despair, just like everybody else, or to show grace and class by wishing even your enemies well in their endeavors? What better way could a Christian show that he or she has allegiances above football than by choosing to show through their class that they believe there are more important things in life than winning and losing a game?
So, even though I have no obligation to cheer for my rival, I am choosing to do so. Because I want to show through my choice that I am more interested in supporting people within my sphere of influence than I am in building walls between us based off the color of our Saturday t-shirts.
In my context, cheering for Auburn is the best thing I can do to set myself apart as different. Does that mean that I don’t like Florida State or wish them and their fans any ill will? Absolutely not. I happen to have some very close friends who support FSU. Does that mean that other Christians in other contexts should do the same as me? Nope. But for me, the strongest Christian statement I can make is by swimming against the current of modern rivalry standards and show that my allegiance to Christ and my relationship with the people around me is far more important than my desire to see the other team do poorly.
Christians, it is easy to forget our greatest allegiance on game day. It’s easy to get so caught up on one side of a rivalry or the other that you get a little carried away. Don’t be like everybody else. Whether you root for Alabama, Auburn, or some other school with some other rival, don’t let that rivalry cause you to do or say things that may hurt your ability to represent your greatest allegiance.
Choose to show the kind of class and respect that can only come from Christ in you. Because I believe that God does, in fact, care about football. He cares about it as much as He can redeem it and use it for His glory in the millions of people such a medium can reach on any given game day. Choose to show that because of Christ in you, you are above petty rivalry. Feel free to have your fun and needle your friends on rivalry week. But make a statement and set an example every other week of the year.
Sure, you don’t have to. But that’s what makes it so powerful. That’s why, on Monday, I will be showing my true allegiance. I’ll be representing the crimson blood that allows me to look on an auburn sunrise and know that I have hope beyond football.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27