The Devastating Mississippi Miracle

I am not a sports writer, but I am sort of pretending to be one today.

I am a football fan. (Admittedly, sometimes fickle in my devotion. Yeah, I’ll just go ahead and own that.) But a fan who has never changed her original allegiance. I come from a long line of fans. I am married to a fan. I have fans for children. I love football weather and the thrumming, anticipatory drum line beating in the distance. I might not know the technical definition of “holding,” or be able to spot it myself, or explain exactly what happens in overtime, or what constitutes illegal procedure, but I can certainly hold my own in following a game.

Those are my qualifications, paltry as they are, and thus, I begin.

millsapsThis past week, I was reminded of something big that went down on a fall afternoon four years ago. Something incredible that has since made its place in the annals of football history, something that stunned the football-watching world and will no doubt live on for all eternity on youtube.

The Miracle in Mississippi.

It was Trinity University vs. Millsaps College. San Antonio, TX vs. Jackson, MS. Division III. ESPN junkies will remember. Trinity’s last-minute play, almost laughable in its far-fetchedness, left everyone’s jaws on the ground and everyone’s heads shaking in disbelief. Once the explosive footage made its way to youtube and ESPN, it became evident that the impossible had suddenly…bizarrely…become possible.

Now, all of you pseudo-football-fans (i.e. girls like me) need to understand something technical about football before you watch this play. You need to know what a lateral is.

In American football, a lateral pass or lateral, officially backward pass, occurs when the ball carrier throws the football to any teammate behind him or directly next to him (i.e. on or behind a line running through the ball and parallel to the line of scrimmage). A lateral pass is distinguished from a forward pass, in which the ball is thrown forward, towards the opposition's end zone. In a lateral pass the ball is not advanced, but unlike a forward pass a lateral may be attempted from anywhere on the field by any player to any player at any time.
Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/lateral-pass#ixzz1cPcAsFTb

Got it, girls? It means you can throw the ball to somebody behind you or beside you, but not in front of you. Trinity was down, they had one chance to win, 2 seconds left in the game, and they executed 15 laterals. FIFTEEN! A miracle! What are the odds? And, the real question, why am I sharing this here?

Because for the guys on the Millsaps team, it was not a miracle at all. It was utter horror and devastation. One of those linebackers was my brother-in-law Canaan Farris, who stood on the sidelines when it all unfolded. I remember him saying later that it literally made him sick. Recently, he was quoted several times in an ESPN article about the anniversary of that fateful game…how he desperately wanted to run on to the field and tackle somebody, but couldn’t. His hands were painfully tied as he watched a train wreck of a game-changer happen, described in the article as a “circus,” and he had no way to prevent it.

See it happen here. Take note of the announcers who lose all dignity and self-control at the end, and the poor Millsaps players who litter the field like fallen soldiers as the play culminates in a game-winning Trinity touchdown.

There is no way those Trinity players could have practiced such an intricate, nuanced play. It just happened! One lateral after another. Those guys found themselves tossing that ball, and tossing that ball, and tossing that ball again…and somehow, every time, it stuck into the hands of a teammate. Like glue. Surely the players were as disbelieving as the opposing team, who chased them like frustrated predators whose prey continued to elude capture.

My hubs likes to say that football is like life. When I am not rolling my eyes, I am admitting that I can see why he says that. So what have we learned about life today?

From the Trinity perspective, we’ve learned that when the chips are down, it is pretty plain to see that those chips just might not be the last word. There is always hope, no matter how far-fetched or unreasonable it may seem. Especially when there’s a good friend around who has got our back, who will catch our desperate ball when we toss it to them, a teammate and fellow pilgrim on the journey who will carry that load with us in a Galatians 6:2 manner. I am grateful to have some people like that in my life who catch my laterals when I lob them wildly. They know who they are.dominoes

From the Millsaps perspective, we’ve learned that sometimes, good days can quickly turn bad, and bad days can quickly get worse, in a piling-on sort of way, and you watch helplessly as the dominoes fall. Boo. It happens. But when the world is running circles all around you, all over the place…you can’t seem to catch a break…there’s only 2 seconds left…you’re missing tackles and lying spread-eagle on the field on defeat, get back up. You’ll live to fight another day. Millsaps did. They had to put aside stinging heartache and pull themselves together to face Trinity the following year, in which they carried out sweet vengeance upon their opponent.

Now…stay with me…instead of viewing these as mutually exclusive, let’s put the two lessons together, since we have now witnessed the perspective of both the winning team and my valiant-hearted bro-in-law from the other side. Both cases are true. Both happen to us. Neither happen all the time. If one is witness to some amazing answer to prayer…dare I say, a miracle…then, by definition, it only comes on the heels of desperate circumstances. And if, on the other hand, one is in the throes of despair, then there is generally nowhere to go but up. That’s why I like this story so much, even while my heart goes out to Canaan’s team.

So, you see, I have to say it. I can’t help but see it, even in a football play. We take our knocks, but the knocks are not the last word. And this is what believers know.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:9

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