Former Lakers coach and current president (and former coach) of the Miami Heat Pat Riley, who has coached five N.B.A. championship teams, is known to have said that “there is winning and there is death.”
Football’s Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach and the man for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named (after having been the winning coach of the first two Super Bowls), is also famous for his quote that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
The late sportscaster Jim McKay was famous for capturing the essence of our fascination with sports in his iconic opening of ABC's Wide World of Sports..."the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat."
Sports fans seldom agree on much of anything. There is at least one thing however, upon which they all agree; and that is the fact that few things in life are as thrilling as watching "your" team win a championship.
As a New York Yankees fan of long standing, I can tell you that no matter how often the Bronx Bombers win, it never gets old; the thrill is always new. The (only) problem with being a Yankees fan is that the disappointment is perhaps more profound for us when we don't "win it all." The expectation (not the hope), is that "we" should win the World Series every year. This may seem unrealistic to some, but it is an expectation founded in reality. The reality is that we traditionally have the highest payroll of any Major League Baseball team. You see, "our" principal owner, George Steinbrenner, has always had his priorities in sync with that of his team's fan base; i.e., that winning is everything.
So then, even when you expect your team to win, the thrill is still great when they actually do fulfill your expectations. What is obviously even more thrilling however is when the team, or the individual for whom you are rooting, wins unexpectedly. The thrill of either an upset or a come-from-behind victory is unparalleled.
Perhaps the single greatest thrill I've ever experienced as a sports fan was the result of Muhammad Ali's "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman in 1974 (in what was then Zaire, Africa); witnessed live, via closed circuit television, while I was in college. The aura of invincibility that once had surrounded Ali was, by then, long gone; even for his biggest fans, of which I was certainly one. "The Greatest of All Time" (as he often referred to himself) was no longer the heavyweight champion of the world. He had in fact not only lost to Joe Frazier in March, 1971 in Madison Square Garden in the first of their three epic bouts, but had also had been defeated by Ken Norton in 1973; and gotten his jaw broken in the process, no less.
Meanwhile, of course George Foreman the champion, had very easily defeated (actually, destroyed would be more accurate) both Frazier and Norton--and everyone else he had fought, for that matter. He was younger, stronger, and meaner than Ali; and no one who knew anything about boxing (with the possible exception of Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee) thought that Ali could, or would, actually beat this guy.
Once the fight commenced, it seemed our (Ali's fans) worst fears were being realized. The so-called rope-a-dope strategy had not yet been employed or established as an "official" strategy. We thought that Ali was against the ropes being pounded upon because he simply had no choice; that he was just trying to survive against a human wrecking ball.
So, when Ali knocked big George out in the eighth round, the thrill--the unexpected euphoria--of actually seeing an outcome that you had hoped for but could not even envision was literally incredible!
Well, I heard something recently in a sermon by Elder Benjamin Jones of First SDA Church in Huntsville, AL that really hit home, so to speak.
When we get to heaven and are actually standing on the Sea of Golden Glass, and then come to a full realization of the obvious fact that we don't deserve to be there, the sense of gratitude that this realization will bring for The One who is totally responsible for this, the upset-come-from-behind-victory of (and for) all time, will be too much to even try to contain. This same overwhelming sense of gratitude will cause the proverbial crowns to be "cast at His feet."
Coach Riley was literally right after all; there is only winning and death. Our Owner has paid the Price for winning. We will experience the ultimate Thrill of Victory, occasioned solely by the agony of His feet.
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