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Auburn coach Gus Malzahn
Associated Press/Photo by David J. Phillip
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn

Auburn and the gift of grace

College football

When Tim Tebow was quarterback of the Denver Broncos during a stretch of last-second wins at the end of the 2011 season, one descriptor, “divine intervention,” always nagged at me. I did not have a problem believing that God was the author of the Tebow story; I had a problem with the implication that He was not the author of everyone’s story.

This train of thought reoccurred to me Nov. 16, shortly after Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s desperation fourth-down pass ricocheted off two Georgia defenders and into receiver Ricardo Louis’ hands for a game-winning touchdown. As Louis walked into the end zone, many of the descriptors used in the Tebow story could have described what happened that evening. But the word I kept coming back to was “grace.”

The misstep in the Tebow narrative was that it often was delivered with an air of exclusivity, as though God has not written all narratives, such as Alabama’s historic run of three national championships in four years. The failure to attribute stories of “the grind” to God in the same way we attribute stories of wonder is why some people get turned off. God becomes something of superstition and magic, and disconnected from things that are all of His creation: dedication, commitment, hard work, and “the process.” Narratives of failure and tragedy are His, too, from Auburn’s 3-9 season last year to the devastating tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa in 2011, the latter showing His goodness and ability to heal in a broken world.

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The experience of Auburn’s run at a national title this year makes me think of a line from a movie I once saw, “… but one day you’ll know what love truly is. It’s the sour and the sweet. And I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet.” The caveat vital to that sentiment is that the sour is often of our own doing, and the wonder of grace is most powerful—the sweetest—in those circumstances.

Auburn has created its own sour over the years, with its history of probation and bad behavior. Hard work and commitment from the players and their coach, Gus Malzahn, are the main catalyst for this remarkable turnaround. But then I see Chris Davis running again in my mind, and he is sprinting down the left sideline after fielding a missed field goal. Alabama players barely lay a hand on him as he walks into the end zone for the Auburn win, 109 yards away from where he started, and only 14 days after the Louis catch.

And when interviewed afterward, Davis said, “When I was running, I said, ‘God is good.’” And as an Auburn fan, I am thankful to have taken this ride. To have been given this grace.

But Lord, come tonight in Pasadena, a little more of the sweet would not hurt.

Editor’s note: The Auburn Tigers take on the Florida State Seminoles tonight in the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. For a perspective on Florida State, see “Florida State and the mystery of providence.”

Jason Peevy
Jason Peevy

Jason is an attorney-turned-college counselor.

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