But my enjoyment of the game went far beyond the excitement on the field of play. You see, for the first time in my life, I got invited into the press box! There, my brother-in-law and my other nephew (the coach’s father and brother) plus one other man and I undertook the running of the clock, the scoreboard, the play by play announcements over the microphone, and the computerized motivational music played over the public address system.
In addition to an excellent view of the game and the quart-sized diet colas we swigged, we also enjoyed air conditioning while the 300 or so other people present sweltered in the late summer Alabama heat and humidity. All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening.
Still, a couple of things nagged at me while I sat ensconced in my veritable lap of luxury. The first was a remark attributed to Bud Wilkinson. While we never met, he may have had people just like me in mind when he once supposedly quipped: “Football is 22 people on the field who need rest and 22,000 people in the stands who need exercise!”
You see, for all my comfort and enjoyment, as well as all my activity up in the box, when all was said and done, I was still merely a spectator. And this is the other thing that preyed on my mind as I sat watching the game: as a spectator, my level of satisfaction, no matter how high, could still not have come anywhere near that of those actually playing the game.
Whether it was the starters who rolled up the score in the first half, the third and fourth stringers who got into the game by the third quarter and gained real playing experience, or the coaches actively engaged in pursuing the victory from the sideline, those down on the field no doubt found the game far more rewarding than I ever could have up in the booth.
In life, real satisfaction, true satisfaction, only belongs to those who choose to jump in and actually get involved. Conversely, those who chose to sit back and spectate while others are actively participating are actually depriving themselves of unknown levels of satisfaction.
Perhaps Theodore Roosevelt said it best in his speech titled Citizenship in a Republic:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
His words here reflect those of an earlier speech he once gave titled The Strenuous Life, in which he famously stated:
"I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph."
His admonition included these words:
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
I’m quite sure every member of my nephew’s Junior Varsity football team would instinctively understand the significance of these words, even if they have yet to learn about Theodore Roosevelt. The mere fact that they chose to try out, to endure practice, to suit up, and then to step out onto the field of play has likely already yielded its very own reward, even at their tender young ages. Kudos to them and their parents and their coaches and all who have encouraged them to go out and give it a try!
And I hope they will be inspired by their experience to get involved in other activities in life as well. For no legitimate trophy ever came into one’s possession merely as a result of spectating. And no victory will ever be as rewarding to the one who views it as it will to the one who achieves it. In life, as in football, nothing ventured equals nothing gained. But good things do come to those who will only try!
What about you? Are you accustomed to sitting on the sidelines and merely spectating your way through life? You don’t have to be satisfied with this low level of achievement. No, indeed, you don’t. For you were made for so much more by the One who created you and endowed you with your own unique gift set.
And if you are still hesitant, then remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who confidently asserted: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!" You have been made, gifted, and empowered by Almighty God! If that is not motivation enough to suit up and step out onto the field and start participating, then, my friend, I do not know what is!