“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase
— Vince Lombardi, “America’s Quarterback” p. 81, by Keith Dunnavant
Today’s post was inspired by Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the man who inspired the movie “Rudy.” Surely you’ve seen the movie. (Read about it here.)
Released 20 years ago this month, “Rudy” is the inspiring story of a young man with a heart the size of a football field, a dream the size of planet earth and what happens amidst persistence, consistency, commitment, passion, loyalty, respect, and encouragement. The answer is: a series of unforgettable, life-changing experiences.
- Fortune: Hey kid! You’re not supposed to be here!
- Rudy: Hey this place is really something else huh? Someday I’m gonna come out of that tunnel and I’m gonna run onto this field.
- Fortune: Well it ain’t gonna be this day…
- Rudy: I’m here to play football for the Irish!
- Fortune: Coach Parseghian know about it?
- Rudy: No… not yet.
- Fortune: Well maybe you best tell him first…
Late in the story, Rudy is in his final year of athletic eligibility at Notre Dame. He has spent countless hours on the practice squad and he’s never suited up to play. With the final game of the season just days away, his dream is slipping away and his reservoir of hope is empty. So he does what ordinary people do. He quits! Well, almost.
Rudy is no ordinary person. He has earned the respect of many and built a substantial circle of influence. One of these within his circle is his mentor who intervenes with the following story of regret…
Fortune: I rode the bench for two years. Thought I wasn’t bein’ played because of my color. I got filled up with a lotta attitude. So I quit. Still not a week goes by I don’t regret it. And I guarantee a week won’t go by in your life you won’t regret walkin’ out, letting them get the best of ya. You hear me clear enough?
With hope restored, Rudy returns to the team. If you know the story, you can already see the smallest guy on the team standing in the tunnel next to the team captain, suited up and ready to enter the field.
Steele: Rudy, are you ready for this, champ?
Rudy: I’ve been ready for this my whole life!
Steele: Then you take us out on the field.
By the time you read this I will have enjoyed a day with the real Rudy. Here’s my prediction. The movie is great, but meeting the man in person will give his story greater relevance with my life. The experience will also top off my reservoir of hope. Best of all, this day will inspire me to ask game-changing questions like, “Do I have a Rudy’s heart-sized Impossible Mega-Dream?” and “What am I doing now to turn my dream into reality?” Here’s the easiest prediction of all. Before this day with Rudy, anticipation will inspire me to write about it on my blog.
In America, fall is the season for football. Here in the Buckeye state, that means Ohio State football. Go Bucs! So, it’s no surprise that Pastor Jim mentioned football today during a rousing sermon about the New Covenant. Indirectly, he invited our response by suggesting that we oughta celebrate Jesus like a Buckeye touchdown. There was a noticeable tension in the air and a handful of amens scattered about the auditorium.
I sensed his disappointment that people didn’t rise to their feet and share high-fives. I’ll admit my first thought was to stand and give the touchdown signal. I resisted the temptation. And I had visions of others doing touchdown celebration dances in the aisles. Apparently they resisted, too. I wonder, would the response have been different if Pastor Jim had been more specific about his expectations? That is, did we need permission to act outside of our conservative church protocol?
Instead of acting like a crazy sports fanatic in a place of worship, I remained safely within established church protocol and channeled my enthusiasm into jotting down the following thoughts about this metaphor:
- Thought #1: The touchdown signal resembles arms reaching up to God. (There once was a giant statue on I-75 between Dayton and Cincinnati nicknamed “Touchdown Jesus.”)
- Thought #2: 2000 years ago, Jesus touched down on earth so that we might touch God.
- Thought #3: As our beloved Buckeyes march down field toward the endzone, anticipation turns to cheers of excitement when the ball crosses the the goal line. Jesus was God’s offense against sin and death. His death and resurrection are a spiritual touchdown that cannot be matched by any other event.
- Thought #4: We celebrate football touchdowns. Therefore, we should celebrate Jesus even more, even in church!
Protocols reflect culture. Cultures change one person at a time. Would a more demonstrative response this morning from one inspired person have kicked off a cultural change in our congregation? I don’t know. What I do know is that touchdown celebration dances have been added to our church’s playbook. Who will be the first to call that play?
“Take your eye off the ball” is bad advice in sports, but a great metaphor for the biggest barrier to success. When a football player is seeing his endzone celebration before seeing the ball safely in his hands he is likely to see the ball on the ground. “Hearing footsteps” refers to a situation where a player anticipates getting hit by the opponent, loses focus and makes an error. We might say the player “takes his ears off the ball.”
A tactic in basketball is to do something like a head fake or a look-away pass to cause the opposition to focus on the wrong thing. A player with the ball can cause a momentary distraction with a simple turn of the head. In the diagram below, Ronnie (44) had the ball in the corner. Before passing it to Zach (20), who was headed for the basket, he turned his head left toward the stands and fired the ball to Zach on his right, who caught the perfect pass and made the easy basket. Here’s the interesting part of this particular play. Who or what was on Ronnie’s left to look at? He’s in the corner, where there is no basket and no other players to pass to. Still, the defender froze, lost focus for a fraction of a second, and allowed the ball to get by him. Loss of focus, even briefly, can be a game changer.
These examples illustrate the importance of short-term focus. Now, let’s consider focus from a long-term perspective. Do you know where you are going? What is your purpose for being here in this world? How does your vision of your future align with your sense of purpose? As purpose and vision take form, perhaps you can “see” an image of your preferred future. If so, put it into written form or draw a picture. This is much more than an academic exercise. Taking time to visualize your purpose-driven future and create a visual representation of it helps you stay focused on what matters most.
“I dream my painting and paint my dream.” — Vincent Van Gogh
“The Three Armies can be deprived of their commanding officer,
but even a common man cannot be deprived of his purpose.”
With a vision, you can plan. With a plan you can take action. Action creates momentum, which gets results. But, always remember to keep your eye on the ball or you might get the wrong results and that would sabotage your future.
“You cannot change your destination overnight,
but you can change your direction overnight.”
— Jim Rohn