Praying for perspective: It ain’t over til it’s over

Yogi Berra was right when it comes to sports…and life; it’s never too late to come back

By George Valadie

I’ve been a sports fan, more like a sports nut, I guess, from my youngest days, though I’m not entirely sure how or why. I know it’s not genetic because my dad could have cared less and my mom only went to watch “her baby.”

I’m guessing a major contributing factor was the competitive culture of the neighborhood in which I grew up, with our afternoons of backyard kickball and wiffle ball, the summer evenings of kick-the-can and blind-man’s-bluff.

All of that was mixed with the dreams of being what was never to be but still fun to play anyway. From when I was 9, my folks sacrificed much to allow me to play on baseball, football, and basketball teams, though I showed no promise in any of them.

I’ve also been forever grateful that they let me begin to participate when I got around to it and not on their time frame.

Since it’s currently college football season, I’ll confess I’m a bit of a junkie. Notre Dame is my team, and our Saturday living room is where we tailgate. Our girls knew the Victory March long before they could recite the alphabet or “go potty” on their own.

But it’s more than that; I stay up on the various league standings, I can discuss conference realignment, and I know most of the pros and cons of the new playoff system.

I’m a jock at heart, but sadly, nowhere else in my body.

This year, as the first few weeks of the season have unfolded, I’ve been amazed at the unusual number of teams with come-from-way-behind victories.

Teams have been down 15, 20, 25 points or more, with time dwindling off the clock, but they’ve played on, apparently unfazed. And remarkably, they have overcome lottery-type odds to prevail anyway.

For the true “fan” (short for fanatic), it’s a real rush when your favorite team manages what only moments before you were convinced was impossible.

But beware, such comebacks don’t only happen for your team – but also to it – as they have to our team on more than one occasion. Dancing around our television one moment, cursing it the next.

If I knew how to conduct a formal psychological study, these back-from- the-dead moments would seem the perfect lens through which to analyze what motivates some competitors to not only persevere, but also to reverse their field, especially when events don’t look all that promising.

Why is it that some teams cave in the presence of adversity? And why are others blind to how adverse their circumstances really are?

When the odds and gods stack up to predict failure, did they find it more difficult to overcome the other team or the state of mind within their own?

Physics aside, is there really such a thing as momentum? Does it change? Does it swing? Can you get it back? Can you give it away? Why do some continue the struggle, and why do others just quit?

But more importantly, this study should extend beyond teams and games and fun on the field.

We’ve all seen these same sorts of come-from-behind scenarios occur on other highly publicized stages, as well as in the privacy of every living room in every home. Not to mention at our jobs and deep within our souls.

In short, some people come back and some don’t.

How is it that some disaster victims recover from losing their all while others remain emotionally crippled, unable to imagine what can someday be again?

Why do some marriages return from the brink to be better than ever while others melt away — legally or otherwise? And why do some addicts arise from their virtual graves while others make a lifelong home there?

Those might be the miracle sorts of stories. But not all are so dramatic. In fact, for most of us, our marriages are good, and our addictions won’t kill us.

More often than not, it’s as simple as trying to understand why some students bounce back from lousy grades while others are convinced that’s all they’ll ever do – or be. Why do some of us finally shed that excess weight after years of the battle? Or finally defeat the smoking demon we first met as teenagers? Big things, little things, it’s amazing what some people can do.

And what some cannot.

Still, if the Lord keeps a scoreboard for souls, I think I’m behind a little. Or a lot? How about you?

There’s still a person out there I’ve hated much too deeply and far too long. I’m faithful to Sunday Mass, but I don’t study Scripture nearly enough. I spent too much time at work and not nearly enough with a wife who missed me and my children who are now grown and gone.

Is it ever too late to come back from these?

I’m guessing the one Great Scorekeeper would say, “Not as long as you’re still in the game.”

I need the clock to keep ticking.

Dear God – Keep us ever mindful that we cannot know the day nor the hour our most important game will end. Amen.

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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