Relearn the Game – Vic Beasley Jr – LB – Atlanta Falcons


Vic Beasley Jr – LB for the Atlanta Falcons, led the NFL last season in sacks

Things looked great for the Atlanta Falcons to win their first ever Super Bowl last February 5th in Houston Texas. They had taken a 21-3 lead into half time and were surprising many as the Patriots were favored to win the game. The Falcons would score first  in the second half, too building a 25 point lead midway through the third quarter. But then, the unthinkable happened. The Patriots calmly started to catch up. They scored 19 a third quarter touchdown and then 19 points in the 4th quarter to send the SuperBowl to its first ever overtime game. The Patriots won the coin toss and drove down the field to score the winning touchdown. It was a remarkable comeback that was celebrated all over Patriots Nation. But in the other locker room, the agony of defeat was immense. They had a chance to defeat the mighty Patriots and win a championship, but couldn’t hold the lead. It was the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.

I’ve tried to come up with some scenario from my life that would help me relate to this situation, but I came up empty. All I can say is that it had to be a stinging loss.  Victory seemed imminent but ultimately was not to be. I can only imagine the sick feelings that filled that Falcons locker room on that day. As you can read in this article from the Christian Post, even in the midst of that tough loss, Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley was keeping his mind and thoughts on God. Shortly after the game, he tweeted “Some things in life you never FULLY UNDERSTAND!!! BUT in the midst of all God is still good!

Beasley (center) with parents. His father passed away during Beasley’s senior year at Clemson.

Vic Beasley was finishing up his second year in the NFL. An 8th overall pick out of Clemson, it was the end of a breakout year for him and a sign that great things are to come for this Atlanta Defense. During his college days, he faced the challenge of learning different positions. Since starting high school, Beasley has played 7 different positions. His final position change was after joining the Falcons who turned him from a Defensive End to Linebacker. He was named an All-Pro last season after leading the league with 15.5 sacks. This season he battled injury early on, but has been an important part of the return to the Playoffs for the Falcons.

Beasley hits Tom Brady for an incompletion during Super Bowl LI. The Patriots completed and epic comeback to defeat the Falcons

The Super Bowl loss was no doubt tough, but Beasley had battled even tougher losses than that one. This Christian Index article  and This Washington Post article tell us about how that “during his time at Clemson Vic’s father and brother both died and he had to be strong and a source of strength for his mother and other family members. They discovered they could draw from his faith and dependence upon God. Dunne declares, “He (Beasley) persists as a source of joy to everyone around him. The call him ‘a different bird,’ a ‘devout Christian’ … and a ‘beacon of light.’” He is also quoted as saying “God has strengthened me through the death of my dad. He’s been my armor the whole time, all the time I grew up and my mother taking me to church and stuff. He’s always come through for me. I might not have always done the right thing, but God has always been on my side.”

Here are my takeaways from Beasley’s story.

Beasley scored a TD on a fumble recovery earlier this season. The Falcons are hoping to get back to the Super Bowl again this year.

1- Praise God in adversity – I heard a speaker once say that faith is like a muscle – it grows when it is exercised. Faith is exercised when we need to depend on something to help us because things are out of control. We put our faith in lots of different places. We put faith in ourself, our money, our family, and when all else fails, we put faith in God. We seem to have this backwards. The reality that this life teaches us over and over again is that  we are not in control of anything except our decision of whether or not to put our faith in God. Beasley shows through his story that faith in God is all that consistently supports and sustains us.

2- Relearn the Game – I mentioned that Beasley has played 7 different positions. He started as a defensive back and wide receiver, transitioned to tight end, linebacker and running back (his preferred position) he even returned a punt. When he changed position, he had to learn some new things about football. His coach Marion Hobby said “(the) first mission… was to completely rewire the way Beasley thought about football. Beasley needed to learn the proper stances, how to play the six- or five-technique, react to the ball movement, reading keys, taking angles, recognizing formations. Everything. It was basically Football 101 from the beginning, It was a process that I knew was going to take some time.”

I find it interesting that it seems the more I learn about God, the more I see that I don’t know. God reveals more about himself to me and as I learn, I know that I will never understand how God works or why he chooses to stop some things or allow some things. But I learn more about the depths of his love and the vast reach of their grace. Each time that He challenges me to follow the example that Jesus lived, loving others around him, serving others and living righteously, I have to reset my mind to follow that example. But He is a patient coach and wants us to succeed.Dig out your playbook and let the coach help guide you.

Turnaround – A.J. Klein – LB – New Orleans Saints


Saints analyst Buddy Diliberto started the paper bag movement in 1980.

I make no attempts to hide the fact that I am a huge New Orleans Saints fan. Have been since my youth – almost as long ago as when Buddy Diliberto donned the grocery bags and started the `Aints movement. But with that comes the understanding that there is more history of bad football than good football in the Big Easy. Things have been better since for the last decade or so, even winning the SuperBowl 44 in 2010.  But since then, the offense has been fine, but the defense has been bad – historically bad. They replaced much of the defensive coaching staff, keeping coordinator Dennis Allen but he had to be feeling the pressure. And then the Saints started off this year 0-2 and it seemed like the defense was not yet fixed.  But solid draft picks and key free-agent signings began to gel together and figure things out. In the past 6 seasons, the Saints defense has never ranked higher than 27th. This year, they finished middle of the pack – a vast improvement over recent years and a hope that things are trending in the right direction.

Despite an 0-2 start, Klein and some other new Saints turned the season, around to win the NFC south

One of those key off-season signings was A.J. Kein, a linebacker that had been playing with division rivals (and today’s Saints opponent Carolina Panthers). Klein was a 5th round pick by the Panthers out of Iowa State. In 4 seasons with Carolina, Klein had risen from ranks of a special teams player to reliable linebacker, gaining much experience filling in for injured players ahead of him on the depth chart. He was part of a deep Panthers playoff run, playing with them in the SuperBowl. The Saints had taken notice and signed him on the first day of free agency last offseason. They put him in their starting lineup and named him captain before he played a game for the Saints.  He played very well until an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He will be missed in this playoff run for the Saints, but expects to be ready at OTAs in the spring.

Klein’s tattoo pays tribute to “faith” and “family” important parts of his life on and off the field

The injury is, of course, not the first adversity that Klein has faced.  As you can read in this article from the Advocate, Klein’s father lost a battle to cancer 4 games into last season. Klein said “Last year was not a good year for me; I’ll be completely honest. I don’t want to say I was struggling on the football field, but last year was the most I’ve struggled with off-the-field issues, whether it be my emotions or all that stuff.”

And when the hard times came, Klein knew where to turn for help in dealing with it. He says “My faith is the most important thing to me. I was raised in a Catholic household and a Catholic family. My parents taught me the values of humility and character, obviously faith, and never to stray from your beliefs.” His time in the NFL has also strengthened his faith. As you can read in this article from Cross the Line, he found his niche as a faith leader on the Panthers. He says “Every week I get up and do the readings… I try to share my experiences of what I have been through, with and without God to answer people that have questions. There are a lot of things I can’t explain, but I always go back to having blind faith and I actually just finished reading a book called ‘Proof Of Heaven’ by Dr Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who was an atheist but then had a near-death experience. The book is amazing and like I said you just have to rely on God’s love and know that no matter what happens to you in your life, he is always there for you.”

Klein won’t get to play against his old team today in the playoffs, but he will cheer them on, and look to be ready again next season.

Here are my takeaways from Klein’s story:

1- A Crutch – In hard or confusing life circumstances, it is comforting to know that God is by our side and will be with us through whatever life brings. Some detractors call faith in God a crutch. But as a speaker once said “Yeah, but when you are crippled, a crutch is not a bad thing”. Of course we lean on God in hard times. ANd with so much of life being challenge after challenge, we have to use this crutch constantly. That is the way it should be. We need Him and He is there for us. Sounds like a lifesaving relationship to me. Last season, as Klein’s father battled and eventually died of cancer, faith in God is what sustained Klein. I know that in the struggles my life has brought, I can say the same thing. God’s unquestionable presence and comfort in my most heartbroken moments proved his existence again and again to me. Life is hard and beats us up constantly. He will support us, love us and sustain us. Lean on Him!

Klein’s team leadership and play on the field as well as life off of it is all guided by his faith in God.

2- Use your gifts – Klein says “Football for me is a blessing but it’s what I do with that gift from God that determines whether I am using it for right or for wrong. You definitely have to put in the hours yourself but the whole foundation of it comes from him, in any aspect of your life God will give you gifts and blessings. It is then up to you whether you use them or not, I have made the conscious decision to use my gift.” I find this very challenging and important to remember. God has given us so much. We are so selfish by nature, we lose sight of all that God has done and is doing in our life. But he equips us not just to survive, but to be used by Him, too. What gifts has God given to you? Will you choose to honor God by using the gifts He has given you?

Teachable – Marcus Mariota – QB – Tennessee Titans


Football players go through “2-a-days” where they have a practise session in the morning and another one in the afternoon. It is a gruelling time of training camp, and leaves most players tired from all the work. The playoffs will bring me to my blogging equivalent. Welcome to Living Up to My Name’s “2-a-weekends” Each weekend, during the playoffs, I will publish a post on Saturday morning before the weekend’s games and one Sunday evening featuring players that will play during the weekend’s games. So grab your water bottle and your athletic tape, cause here we go!

Now that the regular season has ended, some talk about the draft has begun and tends to include discussion about Heisman Trophy candidates. Well, the Tennessee Titans offense features not just Heisman candidates, but 2 of the past 4 Heisman winners – Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota. Today, we will look at the 2014 winner – quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Titans Quarterback Marcus Mariota

Born in Honolulu, Hawai’i, he wasn’t a starter until his senior year. He went to University of Oregon where, after redshirting for a season, he was a 3 season starter, putting up very impressive passing and rushing numbers. He won a host of college football awards in 2014 and was the 2015 #2 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans.

And while the on the field accomplishments and the awards that he received make an impressive resume, as you can read in this article from refreshed.com, football and its accolades doesn’t define Mariota.  He says “Coach Frost has helped me learn that football doesn’t define me. It’s just what I do.”  

Mariota and his Heisman Trophy, one of 7 major awards he received after the 2014 season.

You can read more about Mariota’s faith in God in this interview from FCA magazine. In it he talks about dealing with adversity that comes. He says “Knowing that no matter what, you can dust yourself off and be okay. And you know you do it for [God’s] glory.” He also shares about his faith journey and the role that FCA has played in his growing faith. He says “Since I’ve been here at Oregon, I think my faith has grown tremendously. In high school, I learned about God and Jesus Christ, but I wasn’t really invested in it. I think coming here I got involved with FCA and [FCA’s] Tony [Overstake] and it really introduced me into my walk and into my journey. I’m not perfect, but I’m encouraged everyday to continue to open up in my faith.”

He also acknowledges his faith in God, and a tribute to his family whenever he scores at TD, as you can see in this video

Mariota just finished his third season with the Titans and while, statistically, it was his lowest TD total and highest interception total as a pro, the Titans finished 9-7 – their best record since 2011 and their first playoff birth since 2008.  Today they travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs.

Mariota seeks to honor God through his life and through his play on the field.

Here are my takeaways from Mariota’s story:

1- What defines you? –  In 2014, Mariota won the Heisman award , the Maxwell Award, the Archie Manning Award, the Walter Camp award, The Davey O’Brien Award, The Johnny Unitas Award, and 3 separate player of the year awards. He was the number 2 pick in the draft a few months into 2015.  If anyone met the definition of football player, Mariota fits that bill. However, there is more to him than football. The same is true for all of us. We are not defined by the sum of the things that we do. Our life and purpose run deeper than our job and our list of accomplishments. Because honestly, if we are going to prop ourselves up on our list of things that we have done in our life, then we will also have to admit and recognize all the bad things we have done in our life. And that list is a lot longer than the good. But our life and purpose is not tied to what we have done, it is instead set for us by the One whose very words and hands created the universe and everything in it. God loves us so much that he made a way for our rebellion, selfishness and bad choices to be dealt with and forgiven. He then invites us to join Him on an adventure of serving others by serving Him and following His plan for us. So what is it that defines us? We are His!

Mariota leads the Titans to their first playoff game since 2008. They play Kansas City later today.

2- Teachable – Mariota is a student of the game. He works hard to be the best that he can be at all aspects of quarterbacking at the NFL level. In order for any football player to be successful and to improve his game, he must admit that there is still much to learn. Mariota speaks highly of his coaches throughout his career, even back as far as Pop Warner. He learns from them and applies what they teach him to game situations. Success comes from continued improvement and growth and learning from mistakes. Mariota talks about lessons he has learned from his college coach, Scott Frost. He also talks about connecting with FCA staff and being helped on his spiritual journey by other people who have challenged him and guided him to owning his faith and making it top priority in his life. Who has helped you on your journey of faith? Have you experienced the importance of being teachable as you seek to live for Him? Are you growing in your faith, learning from your mistakes and seeking the help and wisdom of others who can mentor you? And lastly, are you prayerfully asking God to make you more teachable as the Holy Spirit guides you daily through life? The path is set for you. Trust God and let Him lead you to the best life possible.

Roadkill


Today’s “tangible truth” was one of the first times Jesus words, when truly considered, caught my attention. It is a parable that Jesus used – the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.

Now to set the stage for Jesus’ storytime, we have a crowd gathered and the story immediately gets interesting.  Luke 10.25 tells us that an “expert in the Law of Moses stood up to test Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Immediate tension.

Jesus tests back, asking for the man’s opinion, which he shares by quoting Leviticus 19 – Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him “do this and you will live”, but the man presses Jesus with another question “Who is my neighbor?”

And the table is set for Jesus to teach.  Here is a review of the facts of Jesus’ story:

A man is going from Jerusalem to Jericho – a journey of about 18 miles. It was a rough, mountainous journey, reputed to be dangerous because there were many places where robbers could lay in wait. And that is what happens in Jesus’ story. The man is attacked, robbed, beaten and left for dead.  A priest and a levite come along separately, and they cross the road and pass by, leaving the man in the same condition. Then, a Samaritan comes along, sees the man, bandages his wounds, helps him to an inn and takes care of him through the night.  The next day, he pays the innkeeper to take care of him. And if the cost to do so goes beyond what the Samaritan initially leaves, he will settle the account when he returns. Jesus then asks which was the neighbor to the man. The expert in the Law says “the one who had mercy on him.”

On the surface, it seems like an easy lesson about helping those in need, going above and beyond and noticing those around us. But here is the piece that I missed. Jesus is telling this story to a Jew, likely in the midst of several other Jews. And he makes the hero of the story a Samaritan!  The Jews and the Samaritans have a long history of detesting each other. Hundreds of years. One article I read compared it to the discord seen more modernly in the conflicts in Bosnia or Ireland that were both ethnic and political. For me, here in Minneapolis, it would be like a Vikings fan gets beat up and the only one that would help him would be a Packers fan. (OK, the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was even more strained than that!) To his audience, the story Jesus’ told, with its Samaritan hero, would have dropped jaws. It was surprising, offensive and attention-grabbing. Why would Jesus choose this plot twist for his story?

Here are the tangible truths that I have learned from this parable:

1- Jesus really meant it when He told us to Love our enemy – He tells of the Samaritan loving the Jew enough to help him, care for him and even sacrifice for him. He made the Samaritan in his story a likeable guy who helped way more than those who were “supposed to help”. The Samaritan loved his enemy and the story invites the Jews listening to love the one who was “their enemy”.  Who is your enemy? How does it make you feel to know that Jesus expects us to love those “neighbors” as we do ourselves. Are you ready to help and show love to others – even the “enemy” around you.

2- Not just a one time thing – It may have been attributable to conscience if the Samaritan helped the attacked man left for dead on the road. Enemy or no, he didn’t want to see anyone die. But for the Samaritan in the story, his actions are motivated by something more. He pays for care for the injured man, and vows to come back to check on him and settle accounts if the cost of care was greater than what he had left.  Likewise, we are not called to simply tolerate our enemies for the minimal amount of time – we are called to love our enemies (which we discussed in the last Tangible Truth post). It isn’t enough to not show hatred towards others, we are called to love others, and the “whenever possible, live at peace with EVERYONE.” (Romans 12.18 emphasis mine)

3- Roadkill – The reality is that we are the ones on the side of the road. We are destitute, hopeless, beaten down and this world has left us for dead. The man and the Samaritan were enemies, just by the nature of their ethnicity. We, by our nature are enemies of God. We rebel against him, defy him, ignore him or consider him irrelevant. And while we were still in that state, doomed and destitute, Jesus died for our sins. He, in essence, found us on the side of the road, bandaged us, cared for us and rescued us. Jesus’ tangible truth here challenges us through this story to love our neighbors, even ones that hate us. He not only asks us to do it, He shows us that it can be done when He died for his enemies – us!

It’s Not Rocket Science – Josh Dobbs – QB – Pittsburgh Steelers


Steelers rookie QB Joshua Dobbs

When something is easy to understand, you often hear it said “It’s not rocket science”. Well Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Josh Dobbs can refer to football, even with all it’s nuances, strategies, rules and schemes using that same descriptor. You see “rocket science”, or as it is known academically “aerospace engineering” was Dobbs’ major at the University of Tennessee. And as you can read in this article from SEC country, he carried a 4.0 GPA through the program.

So far, Dobbs action has been limited to preseason, but he was good in those games, even winning a team player of the week award.

Dobbs was the starter for his final 2 years at Tennessee, leading the Vols to matching 9-4 records each season. The Steelers made Dobbs the 135th player chosen in the 2017 draft – a fourth round pick and currently sits in the third spot of the Steelers Depth Chart behind Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones, both of whom I have blogged about in these virtual pages. But there is a plan to have him be the next in line for the #1 job in the not-too-distant-future. And while he continues to learn the NFL game, and await his opportunity to lead the Steelers, he is learning the game and taking it all in.

As you can read in this profile from University of Tennessee, faith in God is very important to Dobbs.  When asked what role spirituality plays in his life, he replied “Wow, I don’t know if there is enough space in this article to fully cover that subject. My personal relationship with Jesus Christ means everything to me. Everything that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to God and my parents. I try to live my life in a way that it glorifies God in everything I do. I was raised in a Christian home, where my parents grounded me in principles that help me deal with the demands of life. I believe in the power of prayer. Whether a situation is good or bad, I am guided by my faith.”

Also, check out this video of Dobbs talking about his faith and priorities.

He talks about how his parents were “hard” on him, not nitpicky, but holding him to a high standard.  They reminded him that sports “won’t last forever or define you, so be strong in your faith, your studies and your community.”  He discusses his faith and it’s importance as well saying that at home, you go to church because you always went, and when you get to college, you learn how important it is to your life. Will you make it a priority when the choice is up to you?

He also talks about making the most of the platform he has to pour into the lives of others. Like he has done for the Cucksey family in Knoxville, and their son AJ.  Check out this video about that story:

Here are my takeaways from Dobbs story:

Dobbs says that his faith in God is most important.

1- How do you know what your priorities are?:Dobbs talks about how growing up in a Christian home, he went to church because that is what the family did. But then when he went to college, the decision about whether or not he would go to church was completely on him. I know that I was in a place in my teenage years, where I likely would have not gone to church if given the choice. I am grateful that my house, like Dobbs’, was one where it really wasn’t a question.  But I have learned (as I am sure Dobbs would agree) that it goes beyond simply attending church.  It is about making your relationship with God a priority, spending time daily reading and learning from the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to guide you through life and the decisions that come your way.  How do you know what your priorities are? What will remain important to you as you decide how you will spend your time.

Pittsburgh believes they have their next starting QB in Dobbs

2- Not Rocket Science – I mentioned at the top of this post that we often say that something simple is “not rocket science” which Dobbs studied in college. When talking about faith in God, I could also say that it is “not rocket science”. It is actually a very simple story. We are sinners, we are far away from the standard of perfection that God requires. There is no checklist of things that we can do to save ourselves, nor is there a checklist of things we need to do to get God’s attention so that he chooses to save us. We simply need to understand that we have been enemies of God, rebelling against Him and His desires for us. And that while we continued to oppose Him, motivated by his indescribable love for each of us, He put in place a plan to rescue us. Before we even asked for it to happen! He sent Jesus to live a perfect life on earth and then pay the penalty of death for our mess ups and our rebellion. That is what we celebrate at Christmas time, and if our priority list truly puts God at the top, then it is something that we can celebrate every day of our lives. Let’s embrace the simple truth of the Gospel message – We need a Savior and He loved us enough to pay our debt. He offers Himself as our Savior, a gift that brings purpose to our life if we accept it.  Let’s make God the number one priority in our life, and let’s allow Him to lead us onto the best path He has for us, knowing that there will be difficulties along the way, but that He can overcome anything the world throws at us. And  let’s make the most of our platform to share his love and life with those around us.