'He's a Champion'

for the week of January 28, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

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Ever have the experience of being upset with fuller information? You think you've won the big prize at the company picnic only to discover that it was "Clyde Jones" instead of "Clyde James" whose name was called? (I hope you hadn't already screamed for joy before somebody told you of the mistake!)

Even worse is to admire someone from a distance, get the chance to know him or her personally, and find out your hero isn't really so heroic after all. Right?

Last week's "FAX of Life" was about the amazing comeback of the Texas Longhorn's in a bowl game under the leadership of a quarterback who had lost his starting position this season only to swallow his pride, stay with the team, keep practicing, and come through to lead his team to a win in their big game. But the Major Applewhite story just seems to get better as I learn more about him.

After writing last week's piece, I was able to watch a videotaped replay of ESPN's post-game interview with Applewhite. In what everybody says is typical humility for him, he gave the credit for everything that happened that night to others. He said it was a "team" victory rather than a personal achievement. And he quoted Scripture and gave credit to God before a huge television audience.

When asked his feelings about what had just happened on the field, he quoted a personal hero who once cited this verse from the Bible: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5:6). In Applewhite's view of things, God had exalted his team that night for the way they had stuck together and played through the tough times.

It was interesting that, when the interview was over and as he went to join his teammates, ESPN's commentator tagged the broadcast and proclaimed him a "champion" for his unselfish performance. "Applewhite did things right handled himself the right way off the field," he said. "When a lot of other players wouldn't have held their tongues and would have complained."

Perseverance in adversity. Accepting a demotion and holding his temper. Keeping a leash on his tongue. Doing his job. Keeping sharp. Staying free of bitterness. Earning the respect of his team. Stepping up at the critical moment. Leading his team to the biggest win in their history. Having his best-ever game.

A friend of mine thought it over and said, "Well, I'm not sure the Bible was referring to football games in that verse!" I'm not so sure, however, that it doesn't refer to football, work, dating, teaching, and everything else we humans ever do.

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