ATLANTA — By now, you know the story.
If you were cheering for the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, you’ve parsed through throwing it on 3rd and 1. You’ve pondered losing a cement-the-first-championship-in-franchise-history field goal opportunity after having the ball on the 22-yard-line. You’ve punished yourself on thinking about Atlanta having a 99 percent win probability several times during the game, only to leave Houston Lombardi-less.
Sometimes the lasting lessons are the more painful ones. And if that holds true, Falcons fans received plenty of them Sunday night. One week after what many consider the most Atlanta-y of all Atlanta sports team performances, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear an associated sermon illustration or two from a pulpit.
“On Sunday I wore red and black, but other than that didn’t mention the game,” said Darren Talley, pastor of Jefferson Street Baptist Church in Dublin. “I did make a joke on Facebook beforehand wondering how many pastors that day were going to work in the phrase ‘rise up.'”
Talley describes himself primarily as an Atlanta Braves fan (which can easily be an accompanying article to this one) who celebrates each win tweeting a picture of his golden retriever, Coda, wearing a Braves hat. Like any other sports fan, though, he can’t get the Super Bowl out of his mind. Like a lot of pastors, he can’t help but see the spiritual connections.
“This Sunday I’m preaching on the Transfiguration. I can’t help but think of how Peter wanted to stay on the mountain, but couldn’t, and how Falcons fans must feel that way. They were on the mountain and wanted to stay, but couldn’t.”
Bart Ponders, a Falcons fan and evangelist, hurt for his team. Nevertheless, he noted the emotional attachment to sports and wished for the same devotion to evangelism.
“My deepest passion comes from my salvation and the desire to see people come to know Jesus!” he wrote in a message on Facebook. “When it comes to the most important thing you can ever do – come to know Jesus – we settle for mediocrity. I want people (including me) to cheer, cry, shout, and get pumped about serving my Savior and celebration with great ovation when a soul changes its destiny!
“You are your habits and Jesus should be your number one Priority!” exclaimed Ponders, who also serves as president of Georgia Baptist Evangelists.
A common theme to one’s Christian testimony could be found in the loss, many said. The Falcons’ 28-3 lead in the third quarter led to them taking their foot off the gas and not finishing out the game, opined longtime Georgia pastor Norman Yukers.
“Life is not a dash but a marathon,” Yukers posted to a discussion about the topic on Facebook. “Football isn’t a 30 minute game but 60 or more. We have to fight til the very end.”
“Complete and secure victory from the beginning to the end [is] only en Christ,” Aleman wrote. “Do you want to finish your Christian journey in victory? Be a real disciple of Christ and embrace Jesus’ words until the end! John 8:31”
“Don’t try to live the 2nd half of your life content with only the successes from the 1st half,” added Duggan, citing the story of Caleb in Joshua 14.
For many parents, it appeared safe to send children to bed with Atlanta looking strong and holding a three-touchdown lead in the second half. But, the end result had to be faced. For some, it took longer to accept.
Fred Parker’s eight-year-old son, Xavier went to sleep with his Falcons on the way to their first Super Bowl. His favorite jersey laid waiting the next morning for what was sure to be a school day where Rise Up! would be heard throughout the halls. Instead, Parker, pastor of Antioch #1 Baptist Church in Eastman explained to his son how the Patriots had come back to win.
Young Xavier had none of it.
“My wife and I tried explaining it to him, then showed him the news reporting it. He declared the news people were lying,” explained Parker. When pressed by his son, Parker fibbed and didn’t technically say the Falcons had lost.
That was good enough for Xavier. When a teacher tried to explain the game’s result, he just said his daddy had told him the Falcons had won, so they’d won. Everybody was wrong. Daddy was right.
But, the reality finally had to be accepted. And with it, the lessons to be learned. “There are disappointments in life. We have to learn how to meet those disappointments,” Parker reasoned. “Also, I was keeping up with the game on social media and saw fans grow confident, then arrogant. There were Tom Brady jokes going around and that came crashing down pretty quick. On the other side of it, you have to look at the perseverance the Patriots showed. Most teams would’ve crumbled and they never quit.”
Good lessons, to be sure. But that didn’t move Xavier. Eventually, his parents got through to him that, yes, somehow his Falcons had lost the game. “We went on the computer and watched the highlights,” said Parker. New England running back James White’s touchdown in overtime ended the game, and began Xavier’s acceptance of the bitter truth.
For around 18 hours, he’d stubbornly lived in a world where Falcons Super Bowl Champions gear hadn’t been placed on, then yanked off, Atlanta store shelves. His next statement reflected the raw emotion of watching red-and-blue confetti mingling with celebrating Patriots players, and perhaps directed to a whole other set of illustrations for his dad.
“I hate them.”