Hope, faith, and triumph


Someone asked me what my favorite season was. I responded by saying, “It depends on what you mean by season.”

As far as the four seasons go, I like a cold winter the least. Summer used to be my favorite but, as I have grown older, the cooler temperatures in spring and autumn compete for the top slot. But if the question is broader, then I would have to say the current season is my favorite. And by that, I mean football season.

When I was in the 7th grade, my father took me to see the local high school, Dobyns-Bennett, of Kingsport, Tennessee, play Jellico High School. It was the first high school game I had ever seen, and D-B beat Jellico in the season opener, 54-0. I was fascinated by the bands, the crowds, and the whole atmosphere. I decided I would play football.

The next season, 1964, Dobyns-Bennett smashed Jellico in the season opener 89-0 and I was the alternate third string tackle at Ross N. Robinson Junior High. Having no athletic bone in my body at the time, I barely made the team. But it was enough. I had a jersey and I was on a football team.

The next year, I was the starting offensive center for Robinson and the next season, I had made the varsity and started for the junior varsity at Dobyns-Bennett. Ultimately, I became the starting varsity center at D-B.

What I like about football is that, on any given day, one team can beat another, despite who seems to have the better team. In 2007, Appalachian State University in tiny Boone, NC, shocked The University of Michigan 34-32 in Michigan’s stadium, in what many called the “upset of the century.” In 2022, Appalachian State did it again by beating the #6 ranked Texas A&M 17-14 in College Station, TX.

In the 2022 season, The Indianapolis Colts led the Minnesota Vikings by 33 points. But in the second half both the Vikings defense and offense caught fire and stormed back. In what was the greatest comeback in the history of the National Football League, quarterback Kirk Cousins led his team to a 39-36 victory as Greg Joseph’s 40-yard field goal with three seconds left in the game won both the game and the NFC North Division.

One of my fondest memories is from the season of 1989. Newnan High School, Newnan, GA, was on the way to the playoffs. Their final game of the season was against McIntosh High School of Peachtree City, GA. McIntosh was 1-8, their only win coming from defeating a team that was 0-9. McIntosh had experienced a difficult and disappointing year.

My wife and I attended the game mostly out of loyalty to our son, Jason, who was a senior and a starter for the McIntosh Chiefs. At halftime, the score was 18-7 in favor of Newnan. I said to my wife, “I wish the game were over now because that’s at least not a humiliating score.” As the second half began, I grabbed my camera and went down to the fence around the field to get shots of our son’s final game.

I don’t know what happened during halftime, but the McIntosh players began to play with renewed vigor. Then McIntosh gained a touchdown, and the score was 18-13 as the Chiefs missed the extra point. The Newnan coaches realized something was happening and screamed at their players.

One big tackle said casually, “Oh, coach, don’t worry. This is McIntosh. No sweat.” It was true that McIntosh had never won a football game with Newnan and while the coaches screamed, the players strolled.

And then McIntosh scored again, missed the extra point, and McIntosh suddenly led 19-18. It was now late in the game as the Newnan players finally rallied. The clock was ticking but Newnan began to march down the field. Then, a pass play. The receiver broke into the open racing for the end zone. The Newnan quarterback turned and planted his feet and — just as he threw the ball, he was smashed by a McIntosh player — my son.

The ball departed from the intended trajectory and settled into the arms of a Chiefs defender. The offense ran out the clock and McIntosh won. The stands erupted and one would have thought they had become state champions instead of finishing 2-8. It was the only high school game that ever made me cry. You see, anyone can win, even against all the odds.

Real life is like that too. Anyone, whatever their circumstances may be, can see things turn around and become a winner at the game of life. Over the years, I have been privileged to witness many instances in which people who seemed to be headed down a dark path to defeat pull out an improbable victory — a victory that changed the entire course of their future.

On October 29, 1941, Winston Churchill visited the Harrow School to give a speech to the students. Great Britain had been pummeled by the Nazi war machine and the United States had not yet entered the war. In a very real sense, the United Kingdom stood alone.

Here is a brief portion of that speech: “…this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.” (https://www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org)

But as we know, Great Britain and the Allies prevailed. Football is not war, of course. It is a game. But it is a hard game, a game that may bring pain, a game that requires strength, or speed, or skill, or all that and more. It is a game that requires commitment, a giving of oneself to a goal, and it requires hope. And so does life.

A loss this week? There’s always next week. A losing season? Another season lies just ahead. Defeat is certain? Well, perhaps not. Life and football are filled with surprises.

Unranked Duke University was not expected to beat #9 Clemson a few days ago in the season opener … much less by a score of 28-7. It was Duke’s first win against an AP Top-10 team since 1989. It was their first win against Clemson since 2004. The score was the largest margin of victory against a Top-10 team since 1942, the year Duke won the national championship. It was Duke’s second largest margin of victory against a Top-10 team ever. It was also the largest margin of victory against Clemson since 1936. Who expected that to happen? But football and life are full of surprises.

I am a Christian. Several decades ago, the church I was serving seemed certain to be facing difficult days … perhaps even failure. I made a trip to a monastery to pray about the situation. There, I encountered 2 Cor. 2:14 which said, “Thanks be to God who always causes us to triumph in Christ …” Hope rose up and gave way to faith. All these many years later that church is a great church and serves God and the community faithfully. As believers we are meant for hope, for faith, and for triumph. And that’s much more than even football.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]