God is with us, whether we win or lose. In sports, the scoreboard isn’t what matters to Him, it’s the effect of the outcome on each player’s soul. And when someone wins, and wins big, and then gives all the glory back to God, you know He’s smiling.
Something happened tonight in Minneapolis that almost defies explanation. In a playoff game that saw the lead swing back and forth between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings, with dramatic reversals and twists of fate, as time ran out on the clock, quarterback Case Keenum threw what only could be considered a Hail Mary … if the play didn’t already have a name: Seven Heaven.
The idea behind “Seven Heaven” was for Keenum to hit the furthest receiver down field, have that player get out of bounds and bring out the field goal unit to kick the game winner.
Behind 24-23 and with seven seconds left, Keenum heaved a 61-yard bomb to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who simultaneously managed to land in bounds and not get tackled.
Looking up, Diggs saw clear field ahead, and ran in for the touchdown. Stripping off his helmet and tossing it aside, he spread his arms for the glory of the crowd.
But he didn’t keep it.
In part, he said:
I still don’t know what just happened. I really don’t. All I can say is ‘Give it to God.’ Because, without Him nothing is possible, and I wouldn’t be here so…damn that s— feel good.
Since I first got here, I never stopped working. Today was when all that work paid off. God put me in a position and I just try to take advantage of my opportunity…
A graduate of prestigious Catholic prep school Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md. — where his late father wanted him to go — Diggs then took to Twitter:
As for Case Keenum, he’s been around the NFL for a while, played for a few different teams. Most recently, he lost out to 2nd-year QB Jared Goff for the starting job at the Los Angeles Rams (which he got in 2015 after the then-St. Louis Rams benched Nick Foles, whose took over in Philadelphia this season for injured 2nd-year phenom Carson Wentz, and led the Eagles to playoff victory on Saturday).Traded to the Vikings, Keenum got the starting spot when Sam Bradford got injured. The Vikings fans, snakebit after playoff disappointments, looked in amazement as castoff Keenum made their dreams come true.
Then, as you’ll hear at the end of this interview, this was only the third-best day of his life — after the day he gave his life to Christ, and then his wedding day …
A few years ago, I talked to former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, a Catholic revert (he joked that when he married his wife, he got a drug problem — “she drug me to church.”).
Now a passionate pro-life advocate who’ll be speaking, with wife Adrianna, at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Jan. 19, Birk told me about the surprisingly spiritual side of football — which produces more vocal Christians than almost any other sport.
“The NFL team,” he said, “it’s probably the most spiritual workplace in America. Every team I was on had a team chaplain who was available almost all the time, had an office there; the door was open. We had player Bible studies Monday; had a couple Bible studies during the week; had fellowship service and Catholic Mass Saturday night or Sunday morning. Where else are you encouraged to grow like that in your faith?
“If you’re feeling a calling, you have an outlet there to nurture that. The culture of football is very spiritual; I don’t think most people realize that.
I’ve always said football’s a very spiritual game,” he said. “The game will bring you to your knees, so you might as well start there. It’s just because football’s so difficult, and the highs are high, and the lows are very low, and it’s so much work and grinding and dedication.
“You have to have a spiritual experience or awakening while you’re doing it. You just have to, otherwise it’s like you’re not even alive.
With all its faults and failings — and they are legion — the NFL is also full of men living out their Christian faith and giving glory to God.
And whether it’s a “Seven Heaven” or a “Hail Mary” play (the creation of Catholic Cowboys QB Roger Staubach), you know God appreciates the witness.
Image: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons