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Faith, Football, and the Final Game

Updated: Feb 13

If you or a family member is a football fan, you likely either saw or heard about when the 24 year old Buffalo Bills player, Damar Hamlin, went into cardiac arrest on the football field on January 2, 2023. It was a sobering moment captured on live Monday Night Football television. While CPR was administered, dozens of football players from both teams knelt in prayer and support surrounding the fellow player while the medics worked on him. He was resuscitated and then taken by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

The next evening on NFL Live television Dan Orlovsky, an ESPN sports analyst and former quarterback, referred to this event and the power of prayer, and then proceeded to lead his two co-hosts (and all who were watching the show) in collective prayer. The public prayer on behalf of another human being whom we all saw go down on the field into sudden death was very moving, regardless of one’s personal faith views (as noted in the comments below the YouTube video of Orlovsky’s moment of spontaneous prayer on NFL Live).

Just moments before Damar’s heart stopped causing him to collapse, millions of fans were focused on the intensity of the game, most of them actively involved in cheering for or against the Buffalo Bills. As soon as it became apparent that there was a serious incident, everyone’s focus shifted. Probably the only people who weren’t primarily concerned for the well-being of the young player were those who had heavily bet on the game. For everyone else, the main focus was hoping for the revival of this man back to life. Players dropped to their knees, many in prayer, fans in the stands clasped hands to pray, and the majority of people became concerned for Damar, his family, and his teammates.

There was no super-star football player to turn to in order to fix this situation. In a moment that really mattered for life and death, they stopped looking to their football heroes and humbled themselves before God, praying while the medical team worked. The hush of a crowd of 65,000 people spoke louder than the roar of their cheering did just moments before. Every praying football fan around the country, regardless of what team held their allegiance, prayed for Damar.

Thankfully we know now that Damar is alive, out of the hospital, and two weeks away from his brush with death. The CPR worked, the hospital medical teams he received care from were successful in their jobs, and God answered the prayers of millions of us on behalf of this man. Looking at Damar’s twitter account, he tweeted “God Behind All This No Coincidence” and “…thankful for everyone who has reached out and prayed. This will make me stronger on the road to recovery, keep praying for me!”

What will be the response of those who have been touched by this wide-spread shared experience of seeing someone die suddenly on a football field and then revived minutes later? Does it cause us to reflect on our fragile lives and our eternal destiny? Does it make us pause and think about who is really the powerful one to be excited about and worshipped?

Football is a mighty force in many respects, and we are counting down the days until the BIG Sunday game where most everything else stops, we eat salsa and chips, and wear our favorite team’s jersey. But really, how many of us remember who played two years ago, and which team won? Was it really that important? We emotionally immerse ourselves into a game that typically is soon forgotten.

One-time years ago when my husband was coaching an intense football game for Wasilla High School against a Fairbanks team his players were engaged in an epic battle with multiple lead changes, causing cheering from fans to register off the charts. Nathan was standing on the edge of the field engulfed in the moment surrounding him, as only the emotion of an intense high school game can do to a team and a coach. He recounted to me later how he looked up at the cheering crowd in the stands and it gave him a fleeting vision of what Heaven might be like someday, worshipping Jesus. He’s never had another “vision” to speak of, but in the past when he has shared this story with friends, each recounting of it choked him up and brought tears to his eyes, which attests to the depth of his experience. The memory of the details of that story has begun to fade for him since it was over 20 years ago now, but I still remember the impact it had on him, and subsequently on me when I heard him repeat the story to others.

His personal experience was mainly a revelation allowing him to have a glimpse of the incredible set-apartness of Christ and the glory He is due. If football players can receive praise and cheering that causes us to lose our voices and go “all out” with our fan-ship, then how much more will Jesus deserve a deeper, more intense, and total adoration? Jesus is the victorious Savior who has rescued us from an eternal consequence apart from God’s presence. We will be done with the fight, the pain, the moments of failure, and disappointment. There’ll be nothing left but goodness to be savored and celebrated.

As the country moves into the final phases of another NFL season, we can enjoy it. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a game. It can also serve, though, as a reminder of the greater day ahead of us when Christians will see Jesus face to face, and will enjoy a celebration even bigger than the winners and fans of the 2023 Super Bowl champions. Think of it for a minute as you cheer or just observe others cheering. Let’s not give our hearts over to the worship of football icons or a particular team. They are just men, after all, and no matter how strong they are, they can just as easily be slain by their sport because of their frail humanity.

One day the current players will be gone from the field and others will move in to take their place. When put into perspective for the Christian, we need to take a moment to honor our real hero, the one who has the power to save. For the non-Christian, I hope you’ll contemplate your own eternal destiny and what you really need to know before your own life ends here on earth. Most of us are given only one chance to live. Damar got two, and maybe it was for the purpose of causing football fans to stop and think about what really matters once the game of life is over.

Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

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