What you think about an old sports adage determines where you come down in one of the hottest debates in the northern half of Texas for the past few days: How do you rank the career of retired (for now) Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo?
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
If you agree, then Romo’s a lock to be one of your all-time favorite Cowboys. He owns the team’s records for passing yards, passing touchdowns and quarterback rating. In fact, the Dallas Morning News reported only two NFL players—certain Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers—ever recorded a higher QB rating than Romo’s. Across the years, he led the Cowboys across the goal line more than anybody, offering fans and his team numerous exciting moments.
If you disagree, then you’re likely to look upon Romo as a disappointing dud. In 14 seasons with Romo at the helm, the Cowboys only won two of six playoff games and never played in a conference championship, much less a Super Bowl. Compared to Roger Staubach’s two Super Bowl victories in four appearances and Troy Aikman’s three wins in four tries, Romo’s winning performance seems paltry.
Where is the focus?
Of course, football is a team sport, and a quarterback doesn’t win or lose alone. Romo rarely, if ever, enjoyed the support that surrounded Aikman and Staubach during their heydays. And like all athletes, quarterbacks perform within the limits of their bodies. For all his talents, Romo broke his back—Broke. His. Back.—more times (3) than he won playoff games (2).
One fascinating-and-disturbing aspect of sports is our human inclination to focus on winning rather than on the beauty and excitement of the game itself. We do this in other areas of life, too. We focus on short-term success to the detriment of the endeavor itself, as well as the reputations of the participants.
Remember how “Deflategate” took the shine off of a New England Patriots’ season. Think of the asterisks beside the records of baseball players who wowed us with their might, only to sicken us with revelations of their cheating. Consider the tarnish of CEOs who produced magnificent profits but departed shrouded in scandal. Or the shame of “successful” TV personalities who will be remembered for how they abused women. You can think of your own illustrations.
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In this context, Tony Romo will be remembered as one of the most interesting and likable NFL players. Although Cowboys fans groaned at a bobbled field-goal hold and underperformance in a particularly big game, we’ll also remember inspired play and unexpected touchdowns. And, to quote an old George M. Cohan song, Romo “has a name that a shame never has been connected with.” He played fairly, inspired his teammates and, particularly late in his career, reflected wonderfully on his faith in the Lord.
What’s the point?
This isn’t a sports column, so what’s the point? We all—as individuals and congregations and collectively as Christians—ought to think more about the old sports adage. It’s not whether we win or lose, but how we play the game of life.
On the individual level, we’re tempted to measure ourselves by the outward appearances of others. We might look at one-time peers who climbed far higher up the ladders called “success” or “importance” or “achievement” and wonder what’s wrong with us. Yet we have known quiet, unassuming people, often of modest means, whose lives produced significant blessings to the people in their smallish spheres of influence—family, students, church members, folks in their communities.
History will not record their names, and yet their lives mattered deeply and lastingly. Their virtues were and are less shiny than financial, academic, athletic or political gain. And yet those virtues are no less significant and, frankly, far more endurable. I’m talking about kindness, trustworthiness, humility, honor, integrity, attention to others. That’s not to say the people who live shiny lives can’t or don’t possess virtues, but shiny success is not required for authenticity and value.
And the same goes for churches, nonprofits and other groups. A church doesn’t have to be so big and famous to be known by one word in order to matter. Congregations barely hanging on to pay the light bills and keep their pastors are blessing lives and infusing hope in neighborhoods and advancing communities.
As Texans, and particularly as Baptists in Texas, we tend to think bigger is better. And, for sure, bigger often is fun. But bigness and outward measures of success aren’t what matter most.
The way you “win” is by playing the game of life with faith and authenticity and, not to be forgotten, stubborn persistence.
Follow Marv on Twitter: @marvknoxbs