His red jersey, with the white no. 5, blended perfectly with the green carpet. It was the first real football game I’d ever been to, November 30, 1974. My father and I drove down to Norman, Oklahoma on the coldest day I ever remember. We would watch our beloved Sooners try to nail-down a perfect season.
When we were making our way to our seats, the game had just started. Steve Davis was the first player I saw and it took my breath away.
Steve Davis was a hero of mine, like he was for so many boys. The quarterback of a marvelous team, a mop of brown hair, sideburns, he had never lost a game. He was also a licensed Baptist preacher who flew his own plane!
And this is my Resurrection Sunday story for today, by the way. An “Easter” offering.
After the game—in those days the fans were allowed to flood the field—we were moving from hero to hero; I had my program and ink pen in a death-grip.
There was Davis. He was mobbed by so many fans we couldn’t get to him, but for a moment, I was frozen (not from the cold), to see him up-close.
Many years later, I interviewed him and afterwards, he sent me a most gracious email. I treasure it just like I treasure the image of him from so long ago, galloping across the field, flicking the ball back to a trailing halfback. Davis, you see, ran what was called the Wishbone offense, in which the quarterback primarily ran the ball himself or gave it to a back. There was little throwing. The plot-line was this: Davis would take the snap from center, turn right or left, and keep the ball in the fullback’s stomach for an instant. If the defensive tackle slanted in, to take the fullback, Davis would pull the ball out and continue down the line.
If a defensive end, linebacker, or safety made a play to tackle Davis, he would flip the ball back to a trailing halfback. If those defenders were poised to take the pitchman, Davis would keep the ball. It was a lethal choice for the defenses, and a main reason Oklahoma was so feared in those days. The Wishbone, or the triple option offense, was designed to create “mismatches” for the defense. Put your best runner against a great, but indecisive defender and the result was usually a long gain or touchdown.
Davis was a master of it.
I remember all this, especially today, because Steve Davis was killed in a plane crash a few days ago. It is so painful to accept. Two of his former teammates, Jaime Melendez and Ken Jones, also passed away recently. All these players’ deaths affect me the same way—and my fan family, too—because part of me is still on that frozen field. We all need good memories, and that’s why football fans treasure their heroes.
For a bit of time, something is good in the world and we hold these close.
The real reason, though, I am thinking long and hard about Steve Davis this sunny morning is because for all his wondrous football accomplishments, he rested most on his belief in the Resurrection. In a cruel world, we are told in the Bible that the Redeemer came to offer Himself as an atonement for the sins of mankind. The crucial point of the story, the pivot-point of all history, is when Jesus Christ emerged from a stone-cold tomb three days after dying on the cross. The God who has the power of life over death is the ultimate source of love and redemption.
And He simply cannot be beaten.
In the biblical record, an adversary always sought to disrupt God’s redemptive plan. Think about the decision of Herod to have baby boys murdered in Bethlehem, because he’d heard a King was coming, and he wanted to eliminate the competition.
Yet at every point in the story, God created mismatches. Two thousand years ago, ahead of the terror in Bethlehem, God made sure a simple carpenter took his wife and infant son to safety in Egypt. The adversary chose wrong again.
A friend once gave me a perfect description of Satan, the adversary of both mankind and our Creator. He said, “You know, the devil is brilliant and cunning, but in an insane sort of way. He’s like his ‘little satans’ down through history: brilliant until that moment when his insanity causes him to make a fatal mistake. Think Hitler at Dunkirk. He seems to be winning, then a tactical error causes him to lose it all.”
I never thought of Satan the same way again.
Over time, I have come to realize that God has always been the ultimate mismatch for our adversary. It has never been possible for Him to lose. On the cross, Jesus appeared to lose, and His adversary no doubt relished the scene (see Psalm 22).
Yet from the moment Jesus exited the tomb, Satan has been out of options. The clock of History now is simply running out. Love wins on the biggest stage of all.
I loved Steve Davis and his teammates. When I was 45 years old—and a small part of me was still a kid—Steve signed a football for me, and I drove him to his waiting plane. I said, “You be careful up there!” He smiled and flashed an index finger, and then he was off.
Steve Davis died a few days ago. Yet his legacy far beyond a football field will be that he fervently believed he would one day be resurrected to new and eternal life.
Death is still our enemy. But Scripture says one day it will be defeated once and for all.