By David Hegg
On Sunday, two groups of hard-working men will face off for the top prize in the National Football League. Millions worldwide will tune in to watch our nation’s most extraordinary sporting event. The game will feature amazing feats of athletic prowess and devastating errors, leaving analysts to summarize the contest with “the play that won the game.” Ultimately, one team will hoist the trophy proudly, wearing shirts and hats specially designed for the moment. They will be heralded as champions for scoring more points than their opponents and winning the contest.
But the Super Bowl is more than a game. It is more than a one-off athletic contest. The Super Bowl is a case study on what it takes to be a winner, to keep fighting to the end no matter the odds, and to do so with integrity and grit.
What we won’t see are all the years of practice and the countless hours of physical and mental training required to reach the pinnacle of gridiron greatness. We won’t stop to consider how many times in their athletic lives these men have lost and had to choke down the bile of defeat and muster up the courage to retake the field.
On Sunday, while we gorge ourselves on chips, sliders, and taco dip and pay close attention to see if the score at the end of each quarter makes us winners in the office Super Bowl Squares, there will be more to see than great plays and the drama of winning and losing. We’ll have front-row seats to view the magnificence of grit.
And what is grit? It is that unstoppable passion to improve, to excel, and to finish the journey no matter how steep the hills may be. This Sunday, we’ll see grit packed into helmets and shoulder pads, but its true home will be the hearts and minds of the men who have come to give their all in pursuit of victory. So, as you watch the game, here’s what you’ll see. Grit comprises three equal passions, each of which is essential.
Surprisingly, the first essential is intelligence. While the beasts in uniform may be mistaken for lumbering hunks of muscle, their intellectual ability enables split-second critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity. And they must excel in these critical areas while their opponents assault them physically. The ability to keep going against all odds begins with the intelligence necessary to learn from their mistakes and plot the right course through the myriad obstacles, both known and unknown, that would overwhelm a lesser man.
But intelligence, while necessary, is not sufficient. The best wheels and most competent driver still need an engine to move forward. In life, that engine is the passion to persevere. It is the drive to power through fatigue and even failure. The maxim summarizes this passion: “When the going gets tough, the tough keep going.”
The final element in grit will be glaringly apparent as the teams fight to victory. Men in a different kind of uniform with whistles will make sure of that. They will ensure that the players’ intelligence and perseverance will be maintained within the ethical framework of integrity. Ultimately, victory must be gained within the rules of the game.
So, as you watch, consider this: How does our society match up? As we live out the Super Bowl of life in a competitive and dangerous world, what kind of athletes are we?
Are we a people who understand we must be men and women with grit? Are we championing intelligence and truth or bowing to the narrative that demands we appease the delusional dreamers lest they be offended? Are we a persevering people, or have we become a nation of critical, blame-shifting, comfort-seeking, sweat-avoiding weaklings? And lastly, are we people of integrity who demand of ourselves the highest levels of human dignity and live up to the most rigorous ethical standards?
At the end of the game, when the last seconds have ticked off and the final whistle has blown, we’ll see one team unabashedly celebrating victory while the other is forced to acknowledge defeat. Yet, in the end, no one will have lost except those who thought it was just a game and failed to learn the critical life lesson that intelligence, perseverance and integrity are essential to a thriving society.
I’m praying our nation will prize intelligence over delusion, perseverance over comfort and convenience, and especially integrity over compromise and corruption. If we can do that before the final whistle blows, we’ll have finished our game as champions.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.