Former Notre Dame Coaches Comment On Auburn's Call for Prayer

By Tom O'Toole

I can relate to Jonna Chizik. After the Auburn Tigers, coached by her husband, Gene Chizik, have struggled in 2012 to a 1-4 this season, Jonna made some rather controversial statements on Facebook, including highlights:

I have given quite a lot of prayerful consideration to your desire to help and make a difference this season and I do have a thought. As you know, Social media can be a very powerful tool…Therefore, my humble suggestion is to create a VERY POWERFUL “ALL IN” movement of your own.

We have fans all over the US and I think it is time that they RISE UP and snatch back what satan, himself, has stolen. We serve a God who recovers ALL that “has been stolen” from us and there are times that He requires the efforts of His people to accomplish this truth.

Of course, mentioning “satan” in connection with a university, let alone a football team — even one that is 1-4 — is sure to get folks riled up, so Jonna quickly amended her comments:

To clarify my original post about utilizing social media to come together as a fan base in support of what Auburn stands for…when I referred to what satan has stolen from us as a whole I NEVER meant or even vaguely was referring to wins and/or losses on a football field. To be clear, I honestly believe that God doesn’t care who wins a football game but I do know that we serve a GOD big enough to do as He pleases.

So for those who have misunderstood my humble attempt to get the best fan base in America to rally around a group of 17-22 year old young boys and for those that have misrepresented my words or my intent to unite the Auburn Family please forgive me for offending you with the integrity of my heart.

While I do think Mrs. Chizik is on the right track, for the best way to explain the connection between sports and faith, she needs to look no further than the place who popularized it, the University of Notre Dame. And I think the Gospel of God and games are best summed up by former Notre Dame head football coach, Lou Holtz, and Notre Dame alumnus and long-time DePaul basketball coach, Ray Meyer.

When I first asked Coach Holtz if God cares about winning and losing, he replied sagely:

I don’t think God cares who wins a football game, before he paused just long enough to let you know something was up. But I do think His Mother does, he added with a wink.

“But doesn’t God care at least somewhat about the game itself?” I probed.

God cares about everyone. He really truly cares about each and every one of us. And since He cares about all of our hopes and dreams, in that way God cares about the game, if not directly with the outcome.

In other words, Holtz is basically on the same page as Chizik about God and winning, although he does a more complete job of explaining how and where God’s care enters into the situation. But as Catholics, he explains that we have the extra bonus of the Blessed Mother, who, not being our Judge, can care about winning and losing, and probably does, especially when the team is named after Her, and its fans and (hopefully) players actively seek Her intercession.

On the other hand, I think Meyer had an important insight into the prayer question too. When I asked him if he thought his prayers really helped the game’s outcome, Meyer also started with some humor before getting serious:

I’d kid Digger Phelps [Notre Dame coach at that time] that whenever he went to an early morning Mass before our games to light a candle for Notre Dame, I’d always go to a later Mass and blow it out, and then relight it for DePaul.

Photo by Jeanette O’Toole

But seriously, prayer does give you confidence. If your opponents have much greater talent than you do, prayer is not going to make up the difference. But, if the talent of each team is equal, prayer makes you feel your can’t lose.

So Auburn is going to have a tougher time winning without Cam Newton, no matter how much prayer is involved. But both of these great coaches would still insist on the power of prayer, for prayer gives you the courage to never give up. This in turn leads to the team winning most of the games they should win, as well as a few they shouldn’t. But perhaps more importantly, it also inspires young, like-minded recruits to want to join the cause and play (and pray) with them instead of against them.

Yes, maybe Mrs. Chizik didn’t get it all right. But if we can’t at least believe that God can help us to be good (and play cleanly), and the logical corollary, that it’s the devil who inspires us to be bad (and play dirty) then the problem lies not with Chizik, but ourselves.

Hat-tip: Gene Chizik’s Wife Makes Some Interesting Comments by Allen Faul

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