February 10, 2017

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Comeback Super Bowl victory offers a lesson in persistence amid hardships

Sean GallagherI’m not a fan of the New England Patriots. Never have been. Never will be.

My NFL blood runs Indianapolis Colts’ blue. I can’t say that it always has, since I’m old enough to remember the time before the Colts moved here, and I was a Cincinnati Bengals fan (sorry all of you Bengals fans in the Batesville Deanery). But I’m confident that I always will be a Colts fan into the future.

Nonetheless, I could not help but admire the way in which the Patriots, led by 39-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, came back from a 28-3 third quarter deficit in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime.

I admired it for the virtue of persistence in the face of hardship that their effort so dramatically displayed for countless people around the world who watched the game.

After falling behind 21-3 at halftime, then seeing that deficit increase halfway through the third quarter, it would have been understandable if the Patriots thought that their chances to hoist the Lombardi Trophy were finished.

ESPN certainly thought so. It sent out tweets at various points during the game showing the decreasing chance for a Patriots’ victory according to their computer analytics. After the Falcons went up 28-3, ESPN said the Pats had only a .5 percent chance of winning.

The Patriots’ mindset wasn’t ruled by computer analytics, however, but by confidence in their abilities and their coaches’ game plan. Their defense kept Atlanta’s hot offense off the field, and forced a key turnover in the fourth quarter. And Brady had a game for the ages, passing for 466 yards, and being nearly perfect in the fourth quarter and overtime when the margin for error was razor thin.

In the end, he won a record-breaking fifth Super Bowl and fourth Super Bowl most valuable player award.

But none of that would have been possible if he, his teammates and their coaches would have thrown up their hands and hung their heads when they saw 28-3 on the scoreboard. Instead, they were determined to do their best one play at a time and see where the chips fell in the end.

That kind of persistence, fueled by God’s grace, has driven Christians throughout history to cling to their faith and live it out with determination no matter how bleak their situation appeared. That attitude came from Christ himself, the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2).

Think about it. The Romans would have put Christ’s chances at victory at about .5 percent when he was carrying his cross up to Calvary. And the same would go for countless Christian martyrs from the Church’s earliest days to the present. Yet the Church has continued to spread around the world, no matter how close to defeat it has appeared again and again.

St. Paul used various athletic images to help early believers understand the life of faith. As a Colts fan, it cuts against the grain to see a positive lesson of faith in the Patriots’ historic Super Bowl comeback victory. But the truth and drama of it cannot be denied.

In the life of the Church and in our individual lives of faith, we’re faced daily with many small and sometimes large hardships. At the time we experience them, they can seem overwhelming and hopeless.

Don’t give in to despair in such dark moments. Cling to the light of Christian hope and the sure power available to us in God’s grace. Victory will come, even if in a form we might not have wanted or expected.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.)

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