The New Year may be just one flip of the calendar, but we always look at the symbolism of a new start, new beginnings, new life.
It’s fitting, then, that the Rose Bowl football game, traditionally held around New Year’s Day, provides one of my favourite allegories about the walk with Jesus Christ. I first heard it from a motivational speaker at just the right time in my life. Maybe you need to hear it, too.
It’s the legend of Roy Riegels, defensive captain of the University of California Golden Bears. He was later inducted into the University of California Hall of Fame, despite having the nickname, “Wrong-Way”.
In the first half of the 1929 Rose Bowl game against Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets had the ball. They fumbled. The ball bounced around, and Riegels grabbed it. In the confusion, he spun around and saw nothing but daylight between him and the end zone. He took off and ran, with the crowd screaming and his players shouting at him.
Problem: he was heading for the wrong end zone.
The Georgia Tech players left him alone; Riegels thought his teammates were yelling encouragement. Finally, quarterback Benny Lom grabbed him on the two-yard-line and turned him around, at which point he was buried under a sea of Yellow Jackets.
California tried to punt, but it was blocked, and Georgia Tech scored a two-point safety touch.
At half-time, according to legend, the California dressing room was quiet during the intermission, except for the sound of Riegels’ sobbing. Presently, coach Nibs Price came in and announced, “The same players who started the first half will start the second half.” The team went back out, but Riegels stayed at his locker.
Price said, “Didn’t you hear me, son? The same players who started the first half will start the second half.”
Riegels said, “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined myself, I’ve ruined the University of California. I couldn’t face that crowd to save my life.”
Price said simply, “That was the first half, and the first half is over. Now, get out there.”
Georgia Tech won the game by a single point, but they all agreed that the toughest, most relentless player on California in the second half Roy Riegels.
When I heard that account, many years ago, I was battling constant reminders of my own screwups, reminders louder and more relentless than 100,000 screaming football fans and a lifelong sobriquet. Hearing it helped me climb up off the mat and move forward in my life.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away: behold, all things have become new.”
Think about it: a new creation — not just a fresh coat of paint or a thin veneer of pseudo-righteousness over our old selves, but a new creation, “begotten, not made.”
In other words …
The first half is over. Get out there for the second half.
Drew Snider is a writer and former broadcaster who pastored for ten years on Vancouver's Downtown East Side. He's an occasional guest speaker at churches and writes a blog, Two Minutes for Cross-Checking!
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* This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, January 5th 2019