- This is Part 1 of a 2-Part Series…
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, passion is defined as “ardent affection; a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” My first thought when I think of passion as it relates to sports is that it is a good thing. Players need to play with passion if they hope to win. Fans show passion in their unrelenting commitment to cheer their team on to victory. What could possibly be bad about that?
If you follow U.S. College football then you will recall that the Auburn Tigers won this year’s national championship by defeating the Oregon Ducks back in January. As exciting and magnificent as that prime-time victory was for Auburn fans, it was almost anticlimactic compared to the epic drama that unfolded in the 2010 “Iron Bowl,” the annual grudge match between same-state rivals Auburn and Alabama. Everyone knows that Alabama is the franchise with more national championships, but this is something different. As Sports Illustrated writer, Tommy Tomlinson said in the August 15, 2011 edition of Siabout the Iron Bowl:
“It is the most intense three hours of the sports calendar. It’s the hard, hot ember of a feud that burns all year long.” Unlike other College football rivalries, this one is unique. Tomlinson continues, “Alabama people and Auburn people grow up together, go to church together, shop at the same malls, eat at the same catfish joints. They share one state with no pro teams and not a square foot of neutral ground.” Folks, this is a sports war zone!
What I am about to tell you baffles even the most hardcore fan’s mind. It defies the very outer limits of what could broadly be accepted as “taking a loss hard” and propels it into the forbidden field of criminal behaviour. That fateful day in Alabama’s picturesque fall saw the mighty Crimson Tide collapse like a cheap suit under the relentless comeback efforts of the Auburn Tigers and their Heisman-in-waiting quarterback, Cam Newton. A 24-0 ‘Bama lead eventually gave way to a fourth quarter lead of 28-27 by Auburn, and they never looked back. That was two days after U.S. Thanksgiving.
Two months later 62-year-old Harvey Updyke, as ravenous an Alabama Crimson Tide fan as you’ll ever see, called in to a Birmingham, Alabama sports talk show to confess… a crime. After several days of listening to Auburn fans on this talk show brag away, Updyke couldn’t take it any longer. He called that January day and identified himself as simply “Al.” Right there on live air Updyke admitted to poisoning 2 of the 130-year-old, 30-foot oak trees that are the signature of the entrance to Auburn’s main entrance. Soil samples proved that the level of poison was 500 times what it takes to actually kill a tree.
Harvey Updyke could face up to ten years in prison for his crime, but it still won’t save these historic trees. Did this rabid football fan go too far in his “payback” of arrogant opposing fans? You can be the judge, but I think this is exactly what sports is not about. True sportsmanship means knowing how to be a good loser (and winner, for that matter). If Jesus was coaching football today He would include this priniciple in every pre-game pep talk, I’m sure of it.
Thankfully, there is some good news in all of this. Not every Alabama fan behaved as maliciously as Updyke did. In fact, Crimson Tide fans raised $50,000 to help save the oaks. Wow! Oh yeah, and Auburn fans later raised funds to help April tornado victims in ‘Bama’s hometown of Tuscaloosa. Charity and good sportsmanship isn’t dead, afterall. I think the apostle Paul says it well in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”