aub angel

Auburn University is playing in the National Championship game this year. That statement was highly improbable in the beginning of the college football season this year. It definitely would’ve been an inconceivable thought last year, as Auburn went winless in SEC. This year, however, has been quite a different story. The day after Thanksgiving, Auburn faced the University of Alabama in the “Iron Bowl” and the season took a turn.

Tie game. One second left. The Crimson Tide’s last drive comes to an end and must attempt a 57-yard field goal (which would have resulted in an unbelievably iconic ending to college football’s fiercest rivalry). What followed, though, is truly unbelievable: the kick was short, and Auburn’s Chris Davis Jr. caught the ball and ran over one-hundred yards—the entire length of the field—for a game-winning touchdown. The stadium erupted. I felt like I was watching a sports movie; didn’t you? I agree with my friend, and life-long Auburn fan, who said this is the greatest football game he’s ever seen.

Auburn’s win over Alabama clinched a spot in the SEC West for the conference title game against Missouri, whom they defeated this past Saturday. After beating Missouri, and Ohio State losing to Michigan State, Auburn is on its way to the National Championship to face Florida State. There’s no way there won’t be an ESPN 30 for 30 film on this year.

One will soon run out of adjectives in describing Auburn’s wild ride. Living in Alabama, I’ve felt as though I’m in the middle of all of the well-deserved hoopla surrounding Auburn football. The reactions—from Auburn’s coaching staff, players and fans—have consisted of shock, mixed with a kind of uncontainable giddiness.

The nature of the discussions and reactions surrounding Auburn football as of late has caught my attention. Most games, sports experts and fans discuss x’s and o’s to predict most accurately what is about the take place on the field. After the game, analysts break down how the victor won, and how the loser lost. Post-game discussions are more than often similar to the pre-game discussion. Not this Iron Bowl. Not this miracle year. Sure, the experts have attempted to analyze the game (and season), but strategy and x’s and o’s can’t even begin to do Auburn’s season justice, especially their Iron Bowl victory.

As I’ve thought more about Auburn’s dramatic win over Alabama, and their miraculous comeback year (coupled with the fact that it’s Advent season), I’ve thought about a few things concerning the nature of grace. One of my favorite elements of Flannery O’Connor‘s stories is the ways in which grace plays a part–”violent grace,” if you will. A wonderful example of this is in O’Connor’s “Greenleaf,” in which Mrs. May (a textbook self-righteous OC archetype) is killed by a bull. The bull, of course, is the very thing she despises the most. Living on a farm, the stray bull proves to be quite the pest Mrs. May can’t seem to be rid of. In most dramatic fashion, the bull charges toward Mrs. May and kills her–an as it happens, an inexplicable epiphany occurs:

“Here he is, Mr. Greenleaf!” she called and looked on the other side of the pasture to see if he could be coming out there but he was not in sight. She looked back and saw that the bull, his head lowered, was racing toward her. She remained perfectly still, not in fright, but in a freezing unbelief. She stared at the violent black streak bounding toward her as if she had no sense of distance, as if she could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed–the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky–and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.–”Greenleaf”; The Complete Stories; page 333

What is significant about the act of grace is that it can happen in no other way. If it didn’t occur by surprise, it wouldn’t be so amazing. These moments take one outside their immediate circumstance, or perhaps deeper into them with changed eyes. Weddings have this effect, as do funerals. Certain moments in sports provide this experience–moments that cannot be explained away by statistics and strategy. One can only shrug their shoulders in shock, or jump up and down like a kid on Christmas morning.