With the dawn of every football season, every team (however unrealistic it may be) begins with hopes of claiming the BCS national championship. As the season progresses, they desire to maintain a position whereby they “control their own destiny.” This term, often used in sports, means that a team relies on no external factors for their ultimate fate: if they win their own games, they will make it to the national championship game.

That fateful Saturday inevitably comes for nearly all programs, where the team loses their first game, and the second season of the “scenario game” begins.

After Alabama lost to LSU this season in this year’s game of the century, the Tide no longer “controlled its own destiny.” After seeming invincible through the first eight games of the season, the Tide was now relegated to the powerless position of hoping and praying that other programs, such as Oklahoma St., Oregon, Boise St., and Oklahoma, would lose a game, paving the way for Bama to make it to New Orleans with a blemished record. Bama depended on external factors.

In reality, however, every single team that wins a national title depends on a multitude of breaks in order to win a national title. One needs no further evidence than the last two teams with “perfect” records who won the BCS championship:

Case #1: 2009 National Champion Alabama
Here is a catalogue of incredible breaks Alabama received on its way to a “perfect season”:

  • Alabama v. Tennessee- Tennessee’s usually outstanding kicker has an injured hamstring and misses two field goals- one a chip shot- that help Alabama escape near upset.
  • Alabama v. LSU- LSU has three stars get injured in the course of the game, including quarterback Jordan Jefferson and running back, Charles Scott, who was thrashing Alabama when he sustained his injury. Even worse, All-American corner Patrick Peterson went out of the game with a cramp for one play. On that play, Alabama receiver Julio Jones runs 70 yards for a touchdown against Peterson’s back up. Also, Alabama receives a favorable call on an interception late in the game, which the replay officials chose not to overturn, in spite of evidence that LSU caught the pass end bounds.
  • Alabama v. Florida- Florida’s star defensive end, Carlos Dunlap, was arrested the week of the game, leading to his suspension.
  • Alabama v. Texas- The pinnacle lucky break came when Texas star quarterback, Colt McCoy, injured his shoulder on the first drive of the game, forcing the Horns to play a true freshman with no experience against the top defense in the country.

 

Case #2: 2010 National Champion Auburn
A catalogue of breaks for the Tigers in their undefeated campaign:

  • Auburn v. Clemson- Clemson cannot complete a wide open pass in the end zone in overtime which would have resulted in an Auburn defeat.
  • Auburn v. Arkansas- Two very questionable fumble calls, which lead to Auburn touchdowns, were not overturned by replay officials.
  • Auburn v. Alabama- In the course of the game, Alabama sustained injuries to their quarterback, #1 and #2 receivers, and star safety. The star safety realized his pectoral muscle is torn on a sure interception which he cannot catch due to pain from the injury and results in 80 yard Auburn touchdown. Auburn also watches a ball roll inches from the side line for 25 yards until passing through the end zone, turning sure Alabama points into an Auburn possession.
  • Cam Newton- The NCAA observed a loophole which kept eventual Heisman Trophy winner eligible in spite of an admission from his father that he shopped his son to colleges for money, in violation of NCAA rules. Newton remained eligible under the cloud of scrutiny.

 

The chant that Alabama does not deserve to go to New Orleans erupted when the Tide snuck into the the BCS title game on the last week of the season. Because Alabama lost to LSU in November, many fans do not believe Alabama deserves a second chance. The realistic response: of course, they don’t. They are recipients of incredible grace.

Football programs expend hours of effort and millions of dollars in an effort to maximize control. A team that loses becomes clear that they are dependent on external factors for redemption and glory and that they do not necessarily deserve to make it to the big game. Teams with “perfect records” rarely see the incredible breaks they received along the way to advance to the title game.

So goes success and failure in life. Success — perceived perfect records — affirms our delusions that we are the author of our fate, that we control our own destiny. Failure and weakness opens our eyes to reality, that we do not have ultimate control of our lives and the truth that we are people desperately dependent on external grace for redemption. Thus, failure provides fertile ground for living in reality and understanding our need for One who is good, sovereign, and merciful to intervene and lead our lives.