March Madness, underdogs, and unlikely heroes


Sport is athletic narrative. Every season, every contest consists of plotlines woven together into a single story. Like in a good book, small characters and single moments that combine to shape the outcome affect the sporting event's story line. As a sports fan, it is wonderful to untangle the web of plots and characters in a given game or season in order to learn what made the outcome so. There is so much character, drama, sequence, and dynamism to be absorbed from sports in much the same we absorb them from good stories.

The underdog story is a narrative that captures imaginations like few others. And few sporting events depict this narrative like March Madness. For three weekends in March sports fans and non-fans alike are captivated by the possibility of an upset, of the little team slaying the giant. For the first four-day stretch of basketball we are treated to the utter chaos of unpredictability, and when it is over there are a handful of triumphant little guys in the middle of a slew of behemoths. And we love it.

We love it because it is rare and undervalued in our society. Society favors the powerful. Sports favor the larger-than-life. The underdog is the forgotten one. But we relate to the underdog. When we watch the overmatched, undersized lower seed leave every drop of energy on the court we resonate with that-all the better when it actually leads to victory. We know the nature of hard work, of striving to overcome, and we love it when the narrative tells of victory and pay-off.

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For Christians, though, the underdog story should be even dearer to the heart. Unlikely heroes are the threads of our narrative. The Bible is full of flawed characters who achieved great things. Abraham the liar and Moses the slave child join David the adulterer in anchoring the Old Testament, while Peter the petulant fisherman and Paul the zealous Pharisee hold down the New Testament. Even these, the best characters in our story, are flawed through and through. If this is the best we've got, then we are, by all means, an underdog team from the world's point of view.

But we know one thing, a thing in which we can have absolute confidence. We know how our narrative will end. The captain of our team, while He may appear flawed to many, has never failed. In spite of His lowly and questionable birth and His humble tradesman upbringing, He is much more than meets the eye. Christ may appear unlikely to many, but there has never been a surer thing than this: When He takes the last shot, victory is ours.

Listen to Barnabas Piper's commentary on this topic on WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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