Many of you who live in the Columbus area are passionate about high school athletics. I don’t think I have ever lived in a community where folks take so much interest and pride in their local sports teams.
With that being said, let me ask you a question: if you are a Columbus East fan, how would you react if coach Bob Gaddis sent in a play that required one of his players to run the wrong way? Same goes for you Columbus North fans: how would you react if coach Tim Bless sent in a play like that?
I am sure the stadium would go nuts and the Columbus Police Department might have to be called in to protect these coaches. And don’t tell me it’s impossible.
The scenario that I described earlier really has happened — in my youth. And if you’ll stay with me for a moment, I think it helps put a classic spiritual story into perspective this weekend.
With only 5 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Milton High School in Alpharetta, Georgia, was leading Roswell High School from Roswell, Georgia, in 1994. Milton and Roswell have been arch rivals since Moses was still in diapers. This was a district playoff game.
The winner was going to advance into Georgia’s state Class 4-A playoffs. I was the quarterback at Milton High School, and we had the ball on Roswell’s 35-yard line. All I had to do to take the snap and take a knee and let the clock run out, and we would have won the game by 2 points.
Like most high school football players, I idolized my high school football coach. He was a father figure in my life because my own father was always at work, and I never got to know my dad until I became an adult. High school football coaches play much more of a role in a young man’s life than just teaching them about football.
A good football coach teaches young men about character, integrity and personal discipline, which are traits they will carry with them far beyond the football field. I truly believe I am the man I am today because of my high school football coach.
So, my coach, whom I idolized, Coach Peter Paul, gave the play to my best friend, Jeff Woods, who was the tailback and later played college football at Southern Methodist University. I saw Woods and coach Paul arguing on the sidelines, which startled me, because I had never seen anyone ever talk back to Coach Paul.
While they were arguing, a delay-of-game penalty was called against us. Coach Paul finally threw Woods’ helmet towards the bench and put in Jeff Klein, the back-up quarterback, who later became quarterback at Auburn at tailback. So Klein came into the huddle and gave me the play.
It called for me to hand the ball off to Woods and for him to run as fast as he could — to the wrong endzone. I then knew why my best friend, Klein, was in a shouting contest with Coach Paul. In the huddle, I can’t spell out exactly what Jody Moss, our left guard, had to say because it contained quite a bit of profanity.
But to give you the Cliff’s Notes’ version, Moss basically was saying that Coach Paul had lost his mind and that there was no way we were going to follow his orders and run that play. So I did what any good leader would do. I called a timeout.
People in the stands were scratching their heads as to why all the confusion was going on. I ran over to Coach Paul and asked him if I had heard the play right. He started screaming at me, he said, “Scott, if you don’t get in that huddle and call that play, I’ll sit your behind on that bench and put in another freshman to take your spot.”
I simply said, “Yes, sir,” buckled my chin strap and ran back to the huddle.
In the huddle, I said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but we are going to run a 34 Trap.” That’s a play where the three back (tailback) runs it into the No. 4 hole.
As soon as we broke the huddle, I pulled Klein aside and told him to disregard the play I just called. I told him that as soon as I handed him the ball to do what Coach Paul wanted and run the ball the opposite way into the end zone. This was my way of following Coach Paul’s instructions and still have my teammates block so Klein could have enough time to run the other way.
Plus, I’ll admit, it was a way to throw a freshman under the bus and have my teammates mad at him instead of me. A quarterback has to be a politician.
We lined up. I took the ball from my center, Matt Sullivan, and I handed the ball to Klein. He then ran the ball 60 yards the wrong way. Klein was so scared of what our upperclassmen would do to him, he never quit running after he got in end zone.
He ran all the way off the football field, passed the track, jumped the fence and ran to the doors to the locker room because that was where our school resource officer was standing. He wanted protection.
So the referee scored the play a 2-point safety for Roswell. The score was now tied. There was no time left on the clock. The stadium went nuts. Parents who happened to be leaders in our community — doctors, lawyers, clergy, business professionals including an insurance agent and a vice president of the Kimberly Clark Corp. — were yelling at Coach Paul.
They, like Jody Moss, and several other teammates of mine, thought coach had gone completely insane.
Had our leader had some sort of mental lapse of judgment? Had this well-respected public educator and football coach checked his brain at the door when he left the locker room at halftime? Had Coach Paul gone crazy? Like a fox, perhaps.
In order for Milton to have advanced to Georgia’s 1994 state Class 4-A playoffs, we had to beat Roswell by four or more points. After contemplating the decision of going 45 yards on one play or kicking a field goal from that long distance, Coach Paul figured that overtime was our best bet to advance into the postseason.
Had tailback Klein been chased, pursued and tackled, Roswell would have lost but still would have advanced into the postseason. But not one of the players on Roswell’s defense went after our man. They were just as confused as everyone else.
They didn’t pursue. They just watched Klein run like Forrest Gump into and out of the wrong end zone.
You might be wondering how the game turned out. Well, first of all, coach went and got Klein and put him back in the game while keeping my best friend and starting tailback, Woods, on the bench. My team, Milton High School, won in overtime, 22-16, on a third-down, 3-yard run by Klein. So the wrong-way runner finished the night with minus 39 yards rushing.
To me, this story sounds a whole lot like the cross of Calvary to me. The creator of the universe came to earth as a man, he was mocked and bullied by his enemies and eventually was executed like a common criminal by the Roman Governor.
Jesus was dead. He was gone.
All of His followers had ditched him. God had been defeated. Or had he?
Three days later, Jesus was alive. He had risen from the grave. Over the course of the next 40 days, Jesus showed himself to a multitude of folks. Fifty-one days after that, the apostle Peter shared with the people and with us that this had all been part of divine strategy.
Wow. Isn’t this an amazing story?
The cross and Resurrection, much like the Milton-Roswell contest, had a game plan that appeared to the entire world as idiotic. And yet this event stills mesmerizes and impacts disciples in our church huddles and spectators in the world/stadium alike. But the son fulfilled his father’s play-calling to perfection.
This Easter, even though 2,000 years have passed, churches all over Bartholomew County and throughout the world will preach that foolishness to be the foresight, knowledge, tenacity and vitality of the creator.
Scott Murphy is pastor of Memorial Baptist Church. He can be reached at 812-376-6800 or email@example.com.