By now you’re probably familiar with most of the major storylines for the college football national championship game Monday between top-ranked Clemson and Alabama. You’ve no doubt heard all about how Dabo Swinney, Clemson’s popular head coach, shared an apartment with his mom while he played for Alabama in college. You are well aware of the proliferation of babies born in Alabama being given the name “Saban”, in honor of head coach Nick Saban. You have been inundated with the simplistic storylines of this being the matchup between the traditional power and the rising star, between Nick Saban’s “process” and Dabo Swinney’s “dabbing”.
Clemson and Alabama have faced the media blitz that occurs in the build-up to the biggest game in college football each year. Writers have given these monolithic teams a more human side, offering glimpses into the backstories of coaches and key players. But as the game draws nigh, it’s easy to forget that any and all sports competitions come down to a few significant plays that tip the balance in favor of one team or the other. We may scoff at trite sports clichés, but there are kernels of truth inside that help simplify complex competitions. With that in mind, here are three aphorisms that help explain this year’s college football national championship game between Clemson and Alabama.
“Hunger is the best spice”
We all know that both teams really want to win this game. Who in college football doesn’t want to win a national championship, after all? But it goes deeper than basic desire. What matters it the ability to channel that hunger away from the distractions that inevitably come upon each player during the weeks leading up to the game. The temptation is to make the hunger all about personal accolades rather than team achievement. It’s all too easy in the week leading up to the game, with all the cameras on you, to become satisfied with all the attention. You and your team have worked relentlessly all year, spent hour upon hour running the same plays till they are burned in your memory. But at this critical juncture, the players that can push away the distractions of the build-up will have a much better chance at succeeding than those that get lost in the noise.
“You don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training”
In the heat of July, when you’re exhausted after another day of learning plays, you don’t immediately think about the payoff for your hard work. But the entire reason you’ve worked hard as a team and as individuals is that once the lights go on and kick-off happens, you fall back into the habits that have been ingrained in you, for better or worse. As fans, we see the big plays and marvel how a player seemingly “rose to the occasion”, but most often great plays are made because a player was in the right place and was doing something ingrained from hours of practice. In the heat of the game, you don’t have time to think through adjustments as much as you have to rely on the training you’ve done to get you to this point.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”
Games of this magnitude come down to key plays. Both Clemson and Alabama have NFL-caliber players, so the talent divide is not as wide as it may have been up until this point. Since both teams are immensely talented, it comes down to the team that will be able to execute properly, and all it takes is one player who’s not focused to be the reason a play fell apart. Players and coaches will have to help each other hone their focus and remain attentive to the next play.
Sports is a microcosm of life, and all of these aphorisms can apply to anyone’s life. We love sports not just for the entertainment that the big games provide, but because we see the value in teamwork, goals, and striving for excellence. As you enjoy the national championship game Monday night, let the occasion remind you about the journey of your own life. Following Christ is much larger than sports metaphors and aphorisms, but it is also true that we can learn from almost anything if the eyes of our hearts are open to the lesson that we need to learn. A heart of attentiveness and a disposition of being teachable are necessary ingredients in the life of every Christian.