The Truth, Mainly - 11/17/1997

Nebraska pride is one thing, God's sense of irony is quite another
by Leon Satterfield

We've pretty much reached consensus, haven't we?

The Cornhuskers didn't beat Missouri because of Tom Osborne's decision to punt with three minutes left, or because of Ahman Green's running for 189 yards or Scott Frost's five completed passes in the last minute or even Matt Davison's sticky-fingered catch in the end zone.

No, the consensus is that the Cornhuskers beat Missouri because God wanted it that way.

It's an understandable consensus.

There was that double rainbow that showed up late in the third quarter of the Oklahoma game—Tom Osborne's 250th win. It was widely interpreted as a sign that, in the words of one of the Nebraska players, "God was smiling on him or something."

So if God smiles—or something— on the coach, we shouldn't be surprised that Divine Intent somehow propelled the ball off Shevin Wiggins' leg into Matt Davison's sticky fingers.

One player said it was because "the Lord was watching over me."

One coach said "I do not believe in luck but in a sovereign God….there were many prayers and God heard from a whole lot of people at that time."

One alum wrote a letter to the newspaper saying he "is now convinced that God does indeed exist and…lives in Lincoln, Nebraska."

And more than one television sportscaster, finely attuned to signals from Above, agreed with Lee Corso that "God is a Nebraska fan! God was watching up in Heaven and it was Divine Intervention!"

It's a marvelous thing for the state to have The Chosen Team reside here. Can we get it on the license plates? "Nebraska: God is our Cheerleader."

Too bad about those poor folks in Missouri though. Makes you wonder just what they did to displease God that way. What awful sin could warrant such a cruel snatching away of glorious victory?

I suppose we'll never know. Even if they told us, as Nebraskans we'd never be able to fathom the depths of Missouri's depravity. All we can do is look—and shudder—at the punishment. It was much worse than a 56-0 whupping because with a minute to go the Tigers had the game in their pockets.

God, the Celestial Pickpocket. God, the Heavenly Trickster who had Jonah swallowed by a big whale. As a little joke.

Makes you stop and think, doesn't it?

What it makes me stop and think of is that God—at least the One who controls the outcome of college football games—is a little like the old Greek gods who delighted in luring us into a state of overweening pride and ambition, just so they could guffaw when our hubris would lead us to certain catastrophe.

It also makes me stop and think of the Colorado Buffaloes who, back in 1994 under Bill McCartney, defeated Michigan 27-26 with a 64-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game.

That too was seen by coach and players as Divine Intervention.

"Those guys out there asked for a miracle," said a player on the sidelines, "and God decided to give it to them."

A week later the notion of being The Chosen was reinforced when Colorado defeated the infidels from Texas 34-31 on a field goal with one second left.

But before the month was out, God turned that Ironic Sense of Heavenly Humor loose on the Buffaloes when they came to Lincoln—undefeated, proud as popes of their Divine Favor.

They got ground up 24-7.

Nothing's been the same for Bill McCartney since then; he's now reduced to bringing Promise Keepers into the fold.

(It's not clear whose side God is taking on that one. God may be a She who's annoyed by ex-football coaches who preach that men must resume their leadership of families.)

So even though I sometimes invoke the Deities myself when I watch football ("Good Lord!" I may shout at the television, or "Ye Gods and little fishes!"), I'm uneasy about making claims concerning God's gridiron allegiances. I'm uneasy about suggesting God is so bored with the infinite variety of the Creation that He reaches down and creates unlikely bounces of an oddly shaped ball in a violent little game played by a miniscule minority on a little bitty part of a tiny blue sphere orbiting a smallish star in an insignificant galaxy.

If God reacts at all to such activity, it's probably to be amused at our presumption that His Divine Underwear is all in a knot over the outcome of such contests.

Mindful of Greek tragedies and Colorado catastrophes, we know what God, the Cosmic Ironist, is capable of when He's full of Celestial Amusement over our presumption.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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