The new NFL season opened last night in grand fashion: a rematch of this past February’s Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.
Super Bowl 50 was a great game filled with joy for Denver’s retiring Peyton Manning and pure frustration from Carolina’s Cam Newton and crew. It was only fitting, then, that the 2016 season should kick off with the chance for redemption. And, for much of the game, the Panthers were in control. But, mid-way through the 4th quarter, Denver scored a go-ahead touchdown and a last-minute field goal attempt from Carolina hooked left, sending the Broncos to a one-point win.
So, no – this story is not one of redemption, or payback, or “keep your head in the game and it will all pay off.” Denver and Carolina will not face each other again in 2016. In fact, the earliest they could possibly meet again would be Super Bowl 51. These two consecutive losses will probably haunt Newton and the Panthers for another full year.
Where does that leave the Carolina Panthers, both the team and its fan base? After a spectacular 2015 season, things ended on a sour note, then the beginning of this 2016 set off with a similarly disappointing tone.
Earlier this week, Bryce Johnson from UNPACKIN’ it Ministries offered, I think, an accurate observation that frames these ups-and-downs.
“I find it interesting that sports fans wrestle with skepticism and faith,” Johnson writes. “Some fans believe from the get-go, while others wait to witness more evidence. As they see consistency and something different, fans ultimately move from skeptics to believers.”
Should the Carolina Panthers be skeptics or believers? Which items of evidence do they focus on – the team’s overall dominant 2015 season, or the frustration and disappointment of the last two games? As fans of our various professional, college, and community teams, what do we focus on? What should we focus on?
As a team chaplain at Neumann University, the perspective I try to bring to our Cross Country and Track & Field teams is that there is always another race, another chance to improve and grow. Certainly that does not dismiss the present for a “maybe tomorrow” mentality, but it does, I hope, help our athletes remember that they are not defined by a singular great or poor performance.
In the Panthers’ case, neither are they defined by two back-to-back shortcomings. So, while the first regular season NFL game of the 2016 season offers us no great moral lessons or spectacular moments, it does leave a lingering question. How do we simultaneously wrestle with victory and defeat, with belief and skepticism, with any synonymous dichotomies of success and failure, without becoming defined by them? I plan to keep a close eye on the Panthers this season. I think they’ll have an answer.
Perhaps there’s something here, after all.