“OK, men, everyone gather around, and let’s get this football season under way,” Coach Paul deTarsus bellowed out.
As the young recruits swaggered over, jostling each other manfully, Coach deTarsus continued gruffly, “This year the school steering committee has asked us to try a totally new approach to the game developed by a new assistant coach they’ve hired for me—Coach Terry Trzwijiasck. He wants you to call him Double T, so do it.” With that, the grizzled old coach turned to a young fellow standing nearby: “Double T,” he said, “They’re all yours.”
As one, the recruits turned to give their attention to Double T.
The new coach smiled winsomely and began speaking. “I know that you’re used to working hard, striving to meet the team’s high standards, and knowing the rulebook and playbook from cover to cover. But this year, we’re trying a new approach,” he said. “And the key to the new approach is to remind yourselves over and again that your coaching staff accepts you no matter what. Win or lose, we accept you. Fumbles or first downs, we accept you. Turnovers or touchdowns, we accept you. And when you’re laying flat on your back after you’ve missed that game-saving tackle, don’t despair. Just remind yourself one more time that we accept you. Winning is fine, but when it’s all done, it’s not about what you do. All that matters is that we accept you. Any comments or questions?”
Puzzled, the players glanced at each other, not sure what to say. Coach deTarsus was a tough old bear, and they were not used to this kind of kid-glove treatment. Finally, Tim Wothe stepped forward. Tim was a senior linebacker and the obvious choice as defensive team captain, a position he had held for the past two seasons. “Yes, sir, Coach Double T, I do.”
The junior coach smiled and interrupted. “Just call me Double T,” he said, “and there’s no need to call me ‘sir.’” Then he leaned forward and added, “When I hear ‘sir’ I look around to see if my grandpa is in the room.” Everyone laughed tentatively.
“OK, D-double T,” Tim said, glancing over at Coach deTarsus to make sure he approved. deTarsus stared back with his gray eyes hard as flint, revealing nothing. Not sure what to make of his coach’s steely glare, but knowing he was the team leader, Tim turned to the new coach and asserted, “You got it, Double T. We’re with you 100%. So what’s the first step? Blocking? Tackling? Sprints? Ball Security? Let’s do this.”
“Let’s do this,” the upperclassmen echoed in a booming unison. They had been repeating this slogan for years now, and when they all said it together, it was very, very intimidating.
Double T held up his hand softly and wiggled his forefinger back and forth. “Uh-uh-uh,” he said. “Remember, it’s not about what we do. It’s all about getting used to what’s already done: we accept you. In fact, my first policy change—wait, check that: my first suggestion—is that we modify the slogan we use when we break huddle to those very words: ‘We accept you.’ And don’t say it with so much chest-beating bravado—say it…well…say it more authentically.”
Then, deliberately brushing Tim aside, Double T touched a wiry freshman on the shoulder and beckoned him to step forward. “What’s your name, son?” he asked.
“My real name is Antino Mahan,” the boy replied with a thick accent. “But since my family were just declared citizens of this great country last week, I want to go by the name Liberty instead.”
“That’s wonderful, Liberty!” Double T said with great sincerity. “But have you ever tackled someone carrying a football?”
“Nope,” he replied. “They don’t have football where I come from. We played with switchblades and brass knuckles.”
“Oh my,” Double T said with mild surprise. “That’s OK. We accept you no matter what.”
Then, placing a football into the hands of great lumbering fellow with the name “Samson” on his jersey, Double T instructed the big fellow to run past Liberty to see whether Liberty could tackle him. Samson smirked, gave a bellow, and rumbled toward Liberty. But just as the team was closing their eyes to avoid seeing Liberty get a medical redshirt on his first day of practice, Liberty rammed his knee into Samson’s groin, stuck a rigid finger under Samson’s helmet directly into his left eye, grasped Samson’s faceguard firmly with his other hand, twisted hard, and in a moment Samson was moaning on the ground.
“Perfect!” Double T said, picking up the ball that Samson had dropped. “With moves like that, I think we’re ready to handle just about anything!” Hearing these words of approval, several of the freshmen squealed excitedly. They clearly liked Double T a lot.
Not able to handle his consternation any more, Tim burst out, “That’s not how it’s done! Coach deTarsus has told us over and over that we’ll never win unless we play according to the rules!”
“Rules!” Double T ejaculated with a snort. “The sooner you stop thinking about rules, the better off this team will be. Now everyone pair off for some sharing time and think happy thoughts about your coaching staff.”
“No sir,” said Phil, gaining courage from Tim’s words. Phil was the senior starting quarterback and the team’s offensive leader. He had earned the respect of the whole team (including Coach deTarsus, who in his coaching career had kicked more players off the team than he had kept). “I’m very happy that you have confidence in us, Double T, but our team is not ready,” Phil said firmly, “and we’re surely not perfect. We’ve not yet lived up to the confidence that you’ve given us. We need to work hard and strive mightily if we’re going to win that state championship at the end of the season. I speak for all the seniors here, and that’s what needs to happen.”
“That’s right,” chimed in a talented transfer player, who hadn’t yet played for Coach deTarsus, but who had obviously received some very good instruction from some other nameless coach. “We need to work off that weight we put on this summer and re-establish disciplined habits, do those wind sprints, and everything else that Coach says we need to do to perfect our skills for a long season.”
“Yeah,” growled Big Thess, the starting tight end. “And whoever doesn’t work, doesn’t play.”
Just then, the school’s most famous alumnus, Abraham Fromur, stepped off the bleachers and walked up to the group. Abe had played for 13 years in the NFL, had played in three Pro Bowls, and wore a Superbowl ring on his right hand. But he always stopped by on opening day of football tryouts to inspire the young men. “Men, when I played years ago in this school, I started out as a skinny kid with no skills. But the fellow coaching here at the time accepted me onto the team like he did so many others. He called me one of his ‘project kids.’ I never figured out why he chose me and not some of the other, stronger fellows, but I didn’t sit around idly and think endlessly about that mystery. Instead, I worked hard to make him proud of me, and the more I worked, the more alike we became. And you know, I really think that this was my coach’s greatest joy in life—seeing his players following in his footsteps and forging friendships that have lasted to this very day.”
Striding to the center of the circle, tramping hard on Double T’s toes and eliciting a yelp in the process, Abe gathered the young men around him and said, “It’s true that once your coach picks you for the team, you have his acceptance. But don’t ever imagine that his acceptance means that you’re ready for the game of football. You get ready for football by learning the rules and cultivating the disciplines that make you game ready. These disciplines will be hard, but if you persevere, your hard work will pay off. But if you don’t pursue those disciplines, then I guarantee you that none of you will ever see a state championship.”
Then, looking straight into Coach deTarsus’s hard eyes that, try as he might, could not hide their appreciation, Abe barked out, “And now, let’s do this.”
“Let’s do this,” the young recruits roared back.
2 Tim 2:5
Rom 4:1ff with Jas 2:22–24.