I love an underdog, especially when it comes to football. I have been a fan since before the then (and again now) Oakland Raiders won their first Super Bowl with John Madden as head coach and Ken Stabler at quarterback. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we also had another professional football team across the bay, the San Francisco Forty Niners. Although the roster consisted of a number of very good players, it wasn’t until the Raiders attempted to move to Los Angeles (in 1980, finally moving in 1982) that the Forty Niner dynasty began. Many in the Bay Area, myself included, became disenchanted with the Raiders and their defection. No longer a “dual fan,” I was left with only a loyalty for another underdog, the Forty Niners.
Over the next several years, the Niners went from a Cinderella team to a dominant force in the NFL. The Raiders had some degree of success, at did others in the NFL, but those years that produced five Forty Niner Super Bowl victories were ours. In fact, the days when the team was just a hapless also-ran are rarely ever mention anymore. There are now just three teams that have won the ultimate prize five times. The Niners did it first and in the shortest period of time – and are still the only franchise that can boast of a perfect record in the Super Bowl. If the Pittsburgh Steelers win the AFC Championship game today, they will have the opportunity to become the first to win six.
They will be playing the Arizona Cardinals, who just beat the Philadelphia Eagles to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. It will be the Cardinals first Super Bowl appearance. Founded in 1898, the Cardinals became one of the charter members of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920, which morphed into the NFL in 1922. In all the years in the NFL, the Cardinals have but one single championship title - a 1947 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles… years before the American Football League/Conference, never mind the Super Bowl, was even thought of. They are the quintessential underdog and even going into the playoffs this year, not many gave them a chance.
So much for history and underdogs. I didn’t come here to write about football history or the warm fuzzy feeling one might get from a team earning some long overdue recognition. I could go on and on about my team and their equally long deserved recognition. Rather, I want to speak on something a little deeper than that; and I want to ask this question. Is it God’s will that the Cardinals have finally succeeded? I ask this because yet again a little pet peeve of mine surfaced during the ceremonial awarding of the conference championship trophy, the corresponding accolades and expressions of gratitude from the victors.
One expects the players and coaches to thank their teammates, the fans, the management and the team owners - giving credit where credit is due. But it irks me probably more than it should when they thank God, or in this case, specifically, “my lord, Jesus Christ.” I didn’t know JC was a Cardinals fan. And if he were, why make them wait all these years to make it to the Super Bowl. I wonder if those same expressions of gratitude would be forthcoming if the Cardinals should lose the Super Bowl? I don’t get it. Wouldn't you think that God (or His agents) has far better and much more important things to do than to pay any attention to a football game? The Cardinals beat the Eagles for a number of reasons, none of which had anything to do with God.
As I said, it probably bothers me more than it should, and after I finish this little rant, it will take its proper place in my list of priorities – last. Just as I am sure that there is no supernatural influence on the outcome of any sports contest, I am equally sure that my opinion is no more than simply that. But it applies, at least in my life, to so much more. God does not somehow “favor” the U.S. over any other country; does not reward good guys or punish bad guys; does not create war or peace. We do all that, and so much more. Perhaps with credit or blame more realistically assessed, we can strive for those qualities that actually do produce champions.