The outcome had already been determined. Waverly 42 — McDermott 0. Time for one more play; a simple hand-off from the McDermott quarterback to a no-name running back that resulted in a game ending touchdown. In the simple context of wins and losses, it was a meaningless touchdown. In the context of life, a touchdown that brought a community to it’s feet and according to a mother… changed her son’s life.
It was the final game of Jake’s final season at McDermott. It was also the first football game where he actually played. Jake Porter had a disorder called “Chromosomal Fragile X,” which meant that Jake
was mentally and developmentally challenged. But he loved football. For three years, all the way through high school, he practiced with his team. He dressed for all the games, knowing he would never get to play… not ever.
But in the last game of Jake’s senior year, his coach, Dave Franz, wanted Jake to get in the game. Before the game started, he talked to the opposing coach, “If the score is lop-sided in this game, would it be OK if I put Jake in the game for just one down? We’ve practiced the play. He would take a knee immediately, so there is no risk that anyone would hurt him. Would it be all right?” Coach Dewit from Waverly had met Jake before the game, and the kid’s attitude and personality had made him smile. Sure, he said, absolutely ok.
Put yourself in the stands that evening. With seconds left in the game, Jake’s team was losing 42-0. So McDermott calls a timeout and the coaches meet at midfield. “I’m gonna put Jake in now.” “Ok, no problem.” The coaches head back to their sidelines and Jake heads into the game. But the opposing coach stops, wheels around and calls for a 2nd time out. He starts across the field to meet Jake’s coach. At midfield he says, “Touching the ball isn’t good enough. He has to score.”
You don’t have to do that, Jake’s coach says, you have a shut-out. We’ve only practiced the kneeling play. We haven’t practiced a scoring play. The other coach shakes his head, Just give him the ball, we’ll all make sure he scores. Jake’s coach goes back to the huddle, points to Jake and says, “Big Boy. You’re gonna score.” Jake starts jumping up and down. The teams line up. The ball is snapped. On the video you see Jake’s initial confusion. He’s looking for a safe place to kneel. That’s what he practiced. His teammates are yelling, “Don’t go down.”
He stops, takes a few steps, looks around. There’s 21 other players on the field and every single one of them are pointing to the end zone and yelling, “Run, Run!” Even the referees are pointing. He starts to run. The Waverly defense parts like the Red Sea. And Jake is off to the Promised Land. At the 35 yardline he slows and looks back over his shoulder only to see players from both teams following behind him.
He never looks back again and when he crosses the line, the crowd rises and roars. Players are jumping up and down… women are crying and men are pounding each other on the back (which is how
men cry at a football game). and Jake is surrounded with young men whose hearts are so full, it feels like they are going to explode. Wouldn’t it have been great to have been a part of that? To be one of the coaches… or one of the players… or even someone cheering Jake from the stands…
If life is like a game of football, how do we get more Jake-touchdowns? Well here’s my thoughts…
1) It helps if the final score has already been determined. Isn’t that what we have as Christians? We know who wins. Jesus wins. It’s okay to let everyone play, in fact it’s what the coach wants. This game is not just for the stars, it’s for everyone. And we can give the ball to anyone because we already know who wins.
2) It requires humility. Wow does it ever require humility. It requires the kind of humility that says, it’s not all about me.
3) It’s requires a belief that the people in the game, matter more than the rules of the game. No, of course there was nothing illegal about Jake’s touchdown, but the rule of the game is that if you are on defense you do everything you can to keep the offense out of the endzone. In this case, breaking the rules gave the opportunity to love a person.
Watch the video, put yourself there, think of the Jakes in your life and ask God for an opportunity to cheer them on.