Third and Long
It made my week. That the Eagles game was aired in Arizona this past Sunday.
Not only that it was aired, but that I got to see them win against the Steelers. Buoy-yah! Strangely enough, their punter Sav Rocca came up big and really made a difference in the game.
The only downfall of getting to see my team play was that I exhausted myself screaming in both elation and frustration, and my throat hurt the rest of the night. I had forgotten about the physical impact that watching the Eagles had on me. But oddly, I loved it at the same time.
Anyone who knows me knows that sports have been my foundation for figuring out many of life’s complexities and relationships. Situational tactics. Problem-solving. Rewarded intuition and analysis.
The timing of the Eagles game coincided with one of my friendships exploding. Let me use a football analogy to explain my point…
Relationships — much like football drives — have the tendency to wax and wane, and depend on many factors: the offensive coordinator, the execution of the play called, the strength of the defense versus the offense’s strategy, etc. If all goes according to plan, these are the main components that determine the outcome.
But there are these other…things. Things that you never expect to happen. Such as an interception, an injury to your star running back in a rushing-oriented team, a player being a foot off from where he or she is supposed to be.
Such things are unpredictable. And there’s no way to prepare for them.
Relationships are a lot like football drives.
Let me explain. There are those that advance quickly with a few rapid 20-yard completions that get you inside the red zone fast, but then oddly never cross the goal line. You settle for a field goal instead of a TD.
There are others where you are pounding out painfully small yardage but somehow moving the sticks, and eventually you make it into the end zone — as slow and long as the ordeal was.
Sometimes an efficient, reliable drive gets broken up by a fumble inside the 10-yard line. Sometimes when you’re down by five in the fourth quarter, a 40-yard pass gets you the victory in the final seconds of a game.
There are so many ways that things can go on a football field. And the unexpected can happen in a single moment.
A recent friendship reminded me how much football was like life.
I had met Annie at a drive-in movie theater. We had started out with fairly good field position, getting good first impressions of each other. But this was only to get backed up by abysmal miscommunication and misunderstandings. We continuously muddled through unsuccessful first and second downs — plagued by sacks deep in the backfield, and rushing plays that got walled before the line of scrimmage. As much as we wanted to go forward, we kept losing ground on the first two plays of the series.
But facing repeated third and longs — the underdog’s favorite down — we somehow, someway, kept clinching the long yardage needed to advance for another set of chances. Through doubt, insecurities and difficult conversations — we desperately moved ahead, barely converting on the third down.
By the time we gotten to the 50-yard line, the drive had felt like a million years. At yet another, third and long, me — the quarterback — had suddenly done something uncharacteristic.
During the huddle with demoralized yet hopeful teammates, I called a play I never thought I would. My offense looked at me with disbelief after I told them of my game plan. But I didn’t care because I wanted it.
I wanted it so badly that it hurt.
My teammates hesitantly approached the line, wildly questioning my call.
Waiting for the snap, I had my hands out from the shotgun.
The defense scrambled to adjust to the unconventional play.
There was no turning back now.
“Hut, hut, hut!”
With the game on the line, I had called a Hail Mary.
Abandoning all caution, I relied solely on my heart to guide me. Dodging linebackers, I darted outside of the pocket to her side of the field. Then, with everything in me, I let the ball ride toward my intended target — flinging it off faith alone.
After releasing it from hand, I watched the ball spiraling in her direction — somehow, I knew my pass would connect.
And it did.
The bomb landed in her hands, 52 yards downfield.
It was the sweetest pass I had ever thrown.
The referees’ hands went up to signal a touchdown. And I jumped higher than I ever had and pumped my fists in the air, as I bee-lined into the end zone to leap into the arms of my immaculate wide receiver.
My dramatic play call had paid off in the biggest way possible.
It had been risky. Perhaps even stupid.
But we scored.
And that was all that mattered.
Annie reminded me that sometimes the ends do justify the means. As ugly as the drive was, as many miscues as we had made, as illogical as my midfield play call had been — we scored a touchdown.
As ungraceful and erratic as the drive was, we had put six points on the board.
My point: When it comes to love, just score. It doesn’t matter how you get there — find a way to get the ball into the end zone. And when you’re facing third and long with someone, have faith in your receiver. That alone can make the difference.