Monthly Archives: January 2019

America’s Team(s)

nfl playoffs“They appear on television so often that their faces are as familiar to the public as presidents and movie stars. They are the Dallas Cowboys, ‘America’s Team.’”
– Dallas Cowboys 1978 Season Highlight Film

The Dallas Cowboys: You love them or you hate them. Me, I have done both, often during the same game.

Bob Ryan first called the Dallas Cowboys “America’s Team” when preparing the team’s highlight film following the 1978 season and defended his controversial term by saying that they were the most popular team in the nation both in fan support and television appearances. In the forty years since, the franchise has maintained a huge fan base in good times and bad times, for better or worse, ‘til death do they part. The franchise is now worth $5 billion—the highest of all NFL teams.

I am afraid that I am one of those people. I joined the bandwagon at the height of Tom Landry and Roger Staubach in the late 1970s and survived until Emmett, Troy, and Michael in the glorious 1990s and then survived again until the late 2010s with Dak and Zeke. It has surely not been an easy ride, but it has never been boring.

The first time I saw the Cowboys play in person was a Christmas Eve road game at the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints in the closing days of 1999, which happened to be the game that snapped a streak of 160 games the Cowboys played before sellout crowds. My wife and I were in the stands that day to see Aikman, Irvin, Smith, and Sanders play in person. But we lost.

The second time I saw the Cowboys in person was a Monday Night Football game against the Giants in old Texas Stadium in 2006. It was so awesome to be in a place I had dreamed about as a child with my best buddy, Dave, and see colorful characters such as Parcells and T.O. in action. In the first half things went poorly and the hometown fans jeered starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, and chanted their desire for backup quarterback “Ro-mo, Ro-mo, Ro-mo.” When the second half opened and Tony Romo ran on to the field for his debut as quarterback the crowd went wild! He threw an interception on his first pass. And we lost.

Last Saturday was my latest opportunity—a playoff game at the famed L.A. Coliseum against the Rams. The playoff atmosphere was electric, and I loved hearing the roaring voice of the Rams’ stadium announcer (who also happens to be my Pepperdine friend, Sam). I am not sure why I was surprised at the massive number of Cowboy fans at the game or how vocal they were—from my seat it was hard to tell which team’s fans were loudest. But it wasn’t hard to tell which team was better. I was proud that our overmatched team made it a game in spite of our two major weaknesses in the game: offense and defense. We lost again.

Maybe I should stop attending games for my favorite football team.

I got to thinking. American football really is American in all sorts of ways, particularly the way it displays the adversarial nature of our society. We compete head to head in business, politics, the justice system, and many other ways—even in our entertainment. And the more I think about it, maybe the Dallas Cowboys really are America’s Team. More than any other franchise, they inspire people to choose sides and root one way or another.

Competition isn’t necessarily evil. And yet, it is one thing if we shake hands after we compete and another entirely if we just keep on shaking our fists at one another. I have been watching the news lately and continuing to wonder: What kind of world will we choose to be?

Educated

tara-westover-educatedI love reading books but hate writing book reviews and yet I must take the time to recommend Educated by Tara Westover. Not since reading Angela’s Ashes years ago has a memoir so affected me. Read the ridiculous list of accolades to discover that I am not alone.

The story is almost too much to believe, much less summarize. Tara grew up in the Idaho mountains with survivalist parents and six older siblings. Her mentally unstable father was the unmistakable (and very religious) family leader who operated a junkyard and prepared his family for the end of the world by stockpiling food, fuel, and weapons. He distrusted all things government as well as the medical establishment so, shielded by their isolation, none of the children attended school or visited doctors. With time and forced practice, Tara’s mother became well known as a midwife and healer. Miraculously, with not even a semi-serious attempt at home schooling, Tara got into college at Brigham Young University—and to shortcut the full mind-blowing story, now has a Ph.D. from Cambridge. But it is the full story, and in fact, the journey itself, that produced words in the promotional blurbs like remarkable, breathtaking, heart-wrenching, inspirational, brave, and naked.

I dislike clichés like “it’s a must read.” So I will quote what Bill Gates said about the book instead: “It’s even better than you’ve heard.”

What I am struggling with now is what to do with this powerful story. It has thrown me for a loop, and in my disoriented state I am trying to recover some measure of equilibrium to see what it has done to me.

My life in no way resembles Tara’s life. I can’t even imagine. And yet we read ourselves into every book—or at least I do—and I suspect that part of its power is my identification with growing up in a rather self-contained world and later moving to radically different worlds and trying to make sense of it all. I, too, love my roots and yet have been “educated” by a journey that I never even imagined. Further, I continue to work in the heart of an institution of higher education and see this sort of thing play out day after day. As the book review in The New York Times concluded back in March 2018, “She [Tara] is but yet another young person who left home for an education, now views the family she left across an uncomprehending ideological canyon, and isn’t going back.”

Tara shares mixed feelings, and I get it. Not only does she value education, she values her education. Read the story: Not only did it probably save her physical life, but it also saved her—her very self. But the sacrifice was great — and painful.

I check the box for “Christian” on surveys, but the word the Bible uses for self-description instead is “disciple,” a word that means “student.” Jesus made it quite clear that the call to discipleship requires sacrifice, possibly sacrificing your very family. Jesus didn’t even pretend this would be easy. But he said it was good. And ultimately worth it.

Maybe that’s what Tara’s story is doing to me. Thankfully, I never had to give up family on my particular journey, but maybe her story serves as a dramatic illustration for Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship.” An education can cost you everything. At times that may very well be worth the price.