by Jonathan Harrison
The world of sports tends to be a bastion of superstition. Many unsuccessful teams blame misfortune on curses. Most teams gets lucky once a every other decade so if you're team doesn't, then they must have pissed off the owner of a goat (The Chicago Cubs), traded Babe Ruth to finance a Broadway show (The Boston Red Sox) or done something else so malicious that supernatural powers continually punish them in the most ironic way.
While the basketball team of the University of Kentucky has been successful for decades, the SEC has pummeled University of Kentucky football for decades. Since the 1980s Kentucky has owned the second and third longest losing streaks to a single team (Tennessee and Florida respectively). Kentucky snapped the first losing streak at 26 games on November 26, 2011 when they used a wide receiver to play quarterback. The second losing streak still stands, perhaps they should try punting on every down.
During the 26 years that Kentucky lost to Tennessee, Kentucky found every way imaginable to lose: they lost in triple overtime on missed ten-yard field goals and they lost by huge blowouts (59-0 in 1994). Before the streak was snapped in 2011, I had never been alive to witness Kentucky beat Tennessee in a game of football. After 26 years, superstitions reigned supreme. Most Kentucky fans thought that a higher power was punishing Kentucky football for running off Bear Bryant in the 1950s. We didn't deserve to win in football if we couldn't keep the most successful college coach of 20th century. Apparently God really likes houndstooth.
I prayed on the day that Kentucky beat Tennessee. I prayed hard. "Lord. They've won 26 years in a row. Show us grace and mercy by letting us beat them once every 26 years." Of course, I had prayed the same prayer the last weekend in November since I was old enough to understand how football works. God remained silent.
In the beginning, I figured that God was either cruel or putting off gratification until losing to Kentucky meant Tennessee would miss out on a national championship. Justice would be sweet. By the end of the streak, I came to the conclusion that God didn't care about the outcome of a football game or how it affected the thousands and thousands of people who idolized winning to the extent that it came between them and their relationship with God. Clearly, God has never heard "Rocky Top" sung by 70,000 UT fans after Kentucky lost to Tennessee on the last play of the game or He would smite the city of Knoxville off the map for their idolatry.
In all seriousness, why do casual fans pray more for the outcome of a game than for the people playing the sport? Football is a rather violent sport, so praying for the players would seem intuitive. Why do we care so much about a bunch of people adhering to contrived rules? Why do the actions of a bunch of 18-21 year old males dictate the happiness of so many people? And why do we believe that God has such a big influence on something so arbitrary?
I think we feel that since we care about the outcome of the game, then God must have an overwhelming interest in it as well. I don't know enough about the nature of God to reflect on how much God cares about Kentucky beating Tennessee in football. I assume that the angels sang for a whole week after it happened, but Tennessee fans probably believe that God showered them in love by letting Tennessee continue winning year after year after year. Logically speaking, God can't be partial to one sports team over another. Unless it's the Green Bay Packers, but I digress.
You can apply this same lesson to any competitive arena. Academia, job promotions, etc. We're all built to want to outlast everyone else, which is what makes the gospel so revolutionary. Not only does the most powerful being in the universe care about us, but God, almost paradoxically, seems to care more for the poor and less fortunate (e.g. Kentucky Football). The entire idea of getting ahead or being better doesn't exist in the Kingdom of God. If you want to be great, you must serve. If you're judging your success by wins and losses, then you've failed. Trust me, I know. I'm a fan of Kentucky football, I know something about failure.
Jonathan is a former aspiring librarian who has recently decided to take up farming because Paul Harvey's ghostly voice made it sound so wonderfully noble. He also feels compelled to buy a Dodge pickup. I'm sure the two are unrelated. You can follow him on Twitter @jonateharrison.
You can follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OnPopTheology.
You might also like:
- Consuming Manti Te'o
- What If Denominations Formed Athletic Conferences
- Yes, I Am Rooting For Laundry