Monday, February 6, 2012

On the nose!

I'm taking a momentary (only momentary, as you'll see) break from writing about things Baptist, because there was a monumental occurrence last night that has prompted me to come clean about a secret known heretofore only to my very closest friends and family members.

Yes, the truth can finally be told, and I'm relieved to get this "burden" out into the open. I . . . am . . . a . . . prognosticator. My descent into this life of prognostication began when I was only 12. At least I've brought it under control in recent years . . . from over 50 times every fall weekend when I started to only 11 times a year for the past few years. As for the On the nose! title of this blog post, just stick with me a little bit, and I'll get to that.

Anyway, I began predicting (prognosticating) football games as a 12-year-old growing up in Kansas City, MO, in the fall of 1963. I had just gotten my first subscription to Sports Illustrated. Back in those days, SI listed every major (and some not so major) college football game scheduled the coming weekend, and I fell in love with predicting the games. So I picked them all . . . no matter how little (or, in most cases, nothing) I knew about the schools or their football teams. I picked them all, from OU-Nebraska to Bucknell-Lehigh. Every Saturday afternoon, I would be sprawled on the bed in my parents' room (that's where the phone was), calling the local radio football scoreboard call-in show, asking for the scores I hadn't yet heard them call out on the air: "How did USC-Oregon come out? How about Slippery Rock versus Susquehanna Tech?"

I picked all of the pro games, too, which meant both the NFL and the AFL (where the Chiefs, my then-favorite team, were playing their first season after moving to KC from Dallas).

I kept meticulous records of all my predictions and my "winning" percentage from week to week. In 1966, I wound up going .650 (65%) on my predictions - can't remember whether that was college or pro, but I was pretty proud of myself. I wrote a letter to the sports editor of The Kansas City Star, Joe McGuff, telling him of my success. He replied, promising me "a plug in the paper" if I could repeat that .650 percentage the following season. So I sent him my predictions weekly the next year, and I wound up at (drum roll, please) .647! No plug in the paper, sonny boy! Nevertheless, Mr. McGuff and I continued corresponding even into and beyond my college years. He always responded with a friendly and encouraging word.

In 1974, I met Bob Morris, who quickly became my best friend. Bob was Best Man in my wedding 2 years later, and we are still best friends after almost 38 years. It wasn't long after we met that I pulled Bob into my life of prognostication. Bob and I have been predicting football games against each other all these years. We've predicted the NFL playoffs against each other for, I guess, just about every year for these 38 years. I have no idea what our overall record is, because those records are probably in scraps of paper scattered in file drawers and closets . . . maybe his are better organized than mine, but I doubt it. But we've had a lot of fun competing all these years.

A few years ago, we began including my family, and this year I brought another friend into the fray. This year was probably the closest "race" we've ever had. As the last minute of the Super Bowl ticked down, three people still had a chance for this year's "championship": my son Travis, my son-in-law Adam, and Bob. Adam wound up on top for the second year in a row, barely edging out Travis by 4 points on a tiebreaker (they both went 8-3 in the 11 playoff games). If the Patriots had won last night, Bob would have won the "title."

But even though I wound up 7-4, in 3rd place (Bob, who came so close to winning it all, wound up 4th), and had already been eliminated before the Super Bowl, I came up with a singular achievement. After having predicted 46 Super Bowls, I finally predicted the final score "on the nose" (there it is) for the first time: Giants 21, Patriots 17. I've come a long way from that first Super Bowl, where I predicted my Chiefs to beat Lombardi's Packers, 20-16. (Some of you may recall that the Packers whipped the Chiefs, 35-10.)

But last night's 21-17 score certainly wasn't arrived at in a traditional manner. When you see 21-17, you figure it's three touchdowns beating two touchdowns and a field goal. The Patriots got to their 17 in the usual way, but the Giants? Instead of three touchdowns and three extra points, it was a safety, a touchdown & extra point, two field goals, followed by a touchdown and a failed two-point conversion attempt.

But it didn't matter to the Giants how they got to 21 (I will keep my Baptist moorings in mind here and avoid any blackjack analogies), and it didn't matter to me, either - just as long as they got there.

Much the same with our Baptist life. (You knew I'd find a way to bring it back to that, didn't you?) Sometimes we're so enamored of our own experience with God that we start trying to make sure that others have the very same experience in the very same way. But, just as the Giants found their own way to 21 and to victory, people need to find God where THEY are, not where WE are. We can be thankful that God looks for us where we are and meets us there. If that's good enough for God, it should be good enough for us. That's why we're Baptist . . . we believe in the freedom that God gives through Christ, and we resist the urge to pour others into our mold.

That's one thing I'll never be able to predict - how God will relate to another person. But I can ask God to love others through me . . . where THEY are. That's a godly relationship that's "on the nose."

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