Chad Chambers and I decided to celebrate the National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn University (of which we are fans respectively) by answering a few questions about the game itself and the connections between football and theology. You can find my answers to his questions on his blog – Cataclysmic.
1. Given FSU’s recent success coupled with starting an unknown redshirt freshman at quarterback, what were you expectations for FSU coming into this season?
My expectations for FSU this season were they would have a good, not great, season. I thought a 10-2 record was most likely, with us losing to either Clemson or Florida and one game we shouldn’t.
Although 11 players were drafted from last year’s team, my optimism came from the simple fact we have better players than just about every team we face (Clemson and Florida being the possible exceptions). I thought even if Winston struggled at times, like most first year starters, the talent surrounding him would be enough to win most games.
2. At what point during the season did you begin to think, “This team could be really good?” And then, “This team could play for a National Championship?” Why?
I will highlight four things:
A. Winston’s performance in the 1st game of the season against Pittsburgh was extraordinary (25-27, 356 yards, 4 TDs/0 Ints). After the game, many FSU fans, myself included, thought if this a true picture of what kind of QB he would be then this team would be really, really good.
B. After the Boston College game the defense made several changes, most importantly moving Christian Jones from LB to DE. Up to that point, the defense had been good but not great especially against the run. After the personnel changes, the defense became dominant. The one concern was meeting a big, physical power running team because the defense is built to stop spread offenses. That concern was highly diminished as Florida’s season crumbled (and perhaps after Auburn beat Alabama see prediction below).
C. In the first quarter of the Clemson game, it became obvious this team should finish the regular season undefeated. It was no guarantee, but it was assumed FSU would be a double-digit favorite in the rest of their games (and some have them as double-digit favorites against Auburn).
D. It has been the cumulative effect of winning big every week. This team never let down, never played down to competition or had an off week. Basically, it had one off quarter all year against Boston College and trailed by 14 points, but it responded with a 35-3 run in 2nd and 3rd quarters. The ability to focus on every game and not just win but win big reminded me off the great FSU teams of the 80’s and 90’s.
3. As a Southerner, I am very familiar with the way sports, especially football, and religion are intertwined. As Christians and football fans, how should we respond to those who integrate religion with sports? Does this mindset open doors for honest discussion or make discussion more difficult?
The saying “Football is religion” is burnt into my head from my upbringing. I can remember playing games on Friday nights and even as an arrogant and stupid teenager thinking this is crazy! Don’t get me wrong I lived for Friday nights and reveled in the attention but I still knew something was wrong.
To fully answer this question the way football and religion are intertwined would take way too much space (this is a blog post not a book!) because there are so many different layers to it. I want to discuss only one side, the sense of belonging or participating that comes from following football or sports in general. Being a fan involves a collective emotion as you witness your team’s fortunes rise and fall during a game or season. It sparks conversations, relationships as you share in ecstatic moments of joy and despair but more than that it involves a loss of one’s self in a ‘higher’ purpose. The me becomes we, and it is not just us fans banding together in support of a team; we as fans we feel like we become part of the team.
It is this experience of becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves that in part drives us to talk about sports like they are religion. Religion is meant to offer meaning and hope to the whole of life, but all to often Christianity has become me and Jesus and it loses the communal, the me becoming we. So sports are often used to fill the void. They are used as a way to find a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, a purpose, and a hope. All religious language. All longings that cannot be filled by sports, even if your team wins the National Championship.
Therefore, how should we respond as Christians? More of our churches need to move out of the simple come to Jesus and go to heaven mentality. We need to become places that reach the whole of life by being places of belonging, meaning, purpose and hope centered around the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Our places of worship must mold us in a community of living witnesses to the transformative power of the gospel. And we should foster active communities who seek to understand scripture more fully and witness to it more clearly.
4. What do you think about the current move to pay college athletes? Is this a case of systematic injustice or is the system fair? Is this a moral issue the church should be discussing?
As someone who was ‘paid to play’ baseball in college, I have thought about the question a lot because I get asked about it quite often. But to be honest, I do not have an answer. The world of college athletics is different now and the money is so much more, I can’t relate to the experience of today’s athletes. Furthermore, the difference between being a player at a big-time football (even some basketball) program is a world away from playing in a non-revenue sport. I will say, if it becomes a situation where universities are required to pay every athlete in every sport it may very well be the end of college athletics as we know them.
As to the last part of the question, yes the church should be involved in discussing these issues because it should be interested in discussing all moral issues.
5. There has been an intensifying discussion recently concerning the physicality of football and the relationship to Christian ethics. Do you consider football inherently “violent”? What is your definition of violence? Does the Bible address this issue, and, if so, can a Christian faithfully participate in football as a player or fan?
Answered by Mike Skinner (contributor at Cataclysmic who writes a lot about violence. And as you can see also a football fan).
I confess I would have to answer this question with an asterisk: I am a football fan. So upfront, I fully own up to a bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to my nonviolent christological commitment and my love of football. My ad-hoc definition of violence would be: “an intentional action against another in which permanent (or lethal) physical, spiritual, and psychological damage is a real possibility.” I do, however, think there is a tension between the physicality (/violence) of football and the call to Christian living embodied by Jesus and encouraged by the Scriptures.
I think the tension is found in three places: 1) football has the tendency to glorify violence (who doesn’t get a little satisfaction out of a BIG hit), 2) it has a tendency to promote a hyper-violent/angry/competitive vision of masculinity, and 3) it is a sport that often dehumanizes the athletes at the expense of entertainment (long-term damage to bodies/minds, etc). [I think there is a spectrum here – with sports like UFC being on one end and sports like basketball being on the other end – in terms of violence]. I think questions of intentionality (are the players really “trying” to hurt each other? are we really “attempting” glorify violence, etc?) and inherency (does it have to do these things? Is it inherent to the sport itself or simply inherent to individual/corporate nature of humans?) are legitimate responses to my above analysis, however.
Ultimately, I think the Bible does call us to an awareness of how our lives are shaping our own moral character and affecting those around us. The things that we watch, pay money to attend, cheer for, and spend time doing are always forming us as virtuous creatures (whether we want it to or not). Indeed, out of all the popular sports in America, football has a very distinct liturgical shape to it. Thus, it shapes our own character, our society, and has long-term effects for certain men who are “sacrificed” for our entertainment. All of that might seem a tad “much” for the average Christian – and I again want to acknowledge that I enjoy being a fan of football. There are many good things that football does as well (particularly in shaping discipline, teamwork, critical thinking, community among fans, etc). And on a list of what is wrong with the world, I would consider it towards the bottom (if indeed it is a problem). As a nonviolent Christian, I’ll worry about the violence of football when we can stop things like unjust drone strikes. Until then, I’ll be praying that the Texans draft Johnny Manziel.
6. What are the keys for FSU to be successful against Auburn in the National Championship game? What is your prediction for the game (winner and score)?
The key for FSU is slowing the run. I know this is obvious, but that does not make it less true. Auburn’s game plan seems to be simply to outscore the other team and it has worked because Auburn’s running game, especially in the last half of the season, has been unstoppable. I am still not sure whether to call it a power running game since it relies more on zone blocking schemes rather than power blocking, but regardless it works. Yet, I do not think FSU has to stop Auburn because they should be able to score on Auburn’s defense, but they do need to slow them down.
I can see the game going three ways:
A. FSU slows Auburn early and jumps out to double-digit lead. From there the two teams trade scores with the FSU winning something like 42-28.
B. Neither team is able to consistently slow the other and we get a good-ole Western (Pac-10 football since in California) shootout. In this case, I think FSU has the better defense and will make the one stop needed to make a difference. Prediction in this scenario, FSU wins 45-42.
C. Very similar to the last version except both teams come out tight, rusty after 30 days off and so the score ends up being in the 20’s rather than the 40’s.
Since you asked for my prediction not predictions, I think the first option is more likely, so I will go with FSU 42 and Auburn 28.