Two freshmen, quarterbacks giving credit where credit is due

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Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is interviewed by ESPN’s Maria Taylor moments after throwing the winning touchdown in the National Championship game. Shortly into the interview and later at the trophy presentation, Tagovailoa would credit his Savior, Jesus Christ, for the opportunity. YOUTUBE/ESPN

I promise, Georgia fans, I’m not piling on with this. 

Had they faced any team other than the one I’ve rooted for since childhood, I would’ve been woofin’ and Go-Dawgs-sic-’eming along with you last night. I would’ve loved to see Nick Chubb, who grew up about 30 minutes from my hometown on the Alabama state line, lift that trophy.

I’ve lived through Atlanta sports misery. With the rest of my Little League teammates, I sat through games at the old Fulton County Stadium as the Braves successfully continued their streak of futility in the 80s. Then later, I traded that in for 14 years of Divisional dominance only to flame out – except for one season – in the playoffs and World Series.

Like you, I allowed myself to believe the Falcons were going to win the Super Bowl last year before … well, you know. The video of sports stores’ employees repackaging Super Bowl championship gear after it had been laid out will stay with me forever.

And because of those shared experiences, I’ve learned to look for the silver lining. I’ve depended on finding the good – however tough it may be to see — in a situation.

In the hours after last night’s National Championship game, we saw examples from two quarterbacks who far exceed the title of “freshman.”

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa lifted Alabama to another national championship with a 41-yard heartbreaker (for Georgia) to a streaking DeVonta Smith in overtime. Moments later and then on-stage while accepting the championship trophy, he thanked Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.

It’s nothing new for athletes to credit God after a big win. But let’s be honest, sometimes those shout-outs seem less-than-genuine when stories creep out regarding their personal lives. And given the platform athletes receive, a genuine witness becomes even more important.

For Tua, faith is important. It began with his grandfather, his parents, and family being together to sing and read Scripture in his native Honolulu. He felt Tuscaloosa a place where he could grow not just as a football player, but as a Christian. Reports are that the quality level of nearby collegiate ministries factored just as much as the Crimson Tide’s gazillion-dollar athletic complex.

Even before last night, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm was linked with Tua. After all, it was Fromm’s de-committing from Bama to go with his home state Dawgs after Kirby Smart became the new head coach that opened up the Tide’s pursuit of Tua. (On another note Smith – who hauled in the winning score – had originally committed to UGA before flipping to Alabama.)

Fromm’s season had been a dream of its own, from leading Georgia in a South Bend red-and-back takeover of Notre Dame Stadium to an out-of-body performance in the Rose Bowl. His family has strong faith roots at Southside Baptist in Warner Robins, an Independent Baptist church, as well as an endearing relationship with Pastor Jerry Walls, a die-hard Bama fan. As such, Fromm is quick to talk about Jesus and his relationship with God.

At 1:47 a.m. this morning, about an hour-and-a-half after the most gut-bombing loss of his career, he posted this on Twitter.

Praising God after a win comes a lot easier. Not so much, when things don’t go the way we want.

Tua’s post-game response is the one getting the YouTube shares today, but I’m just as impressed by Fromm’s. It’s a different representation of athletes told from a very young age how special they are. Today’s narcissistic world rewards self-promotion, and often sees humility as weakness. Combine losing on a national stage and, as Fromm does, keeping the big picture in mind. It’s a narrow road not so many choose to travel.

One thing I try to be careful of – and it can be argued whether or not I’ve done a poor job of avoiding it here – is creating rock star Christians, whether they be athletes or entertainers. Sure, there are people you can admire for their faith. But, don’t make them homiletic cyborgs incapable of a bad decision or, Lord help us, getting frustrated and losing their cool in a game.

Even though their teams ended up on different ends, both Tagovailoa and Fromm represented their faith well last night/this morning. It appears their platform will only grow in years to come. Both UGA and Bama are very well set up for future success.

And for all of us watching these 19-year-olds, that brings a very bright silver lining.

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