This year’s Super Bowl was as big as they come and packed with entertainment. And although much of our football conversations will be taken up with the Super Bowl and its festivities, it is an earlier game that we should still be talking about.
Weeks before this year’s Super Bowl, the Buffalo Bills faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoff game for, what many have hailed, the best football game of their lifetime. After a dramatic tug of war, the Chiefs won in overtime. But despite all the in-game heroics, it was what happened on the field immediately following that stole the show. After throwing the winning touchdown against the Bills and hugging some of his teammates, Kansas City’s star quarterback Patrick Mahomes bolted toward the midfield. Camera crews, members of the press, and fellow teammates pursued him not knowing exactly who or what he was running after.
Eventually it became clear that he was heading for Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Mahomes hugged Allen and congratulated him on his own remarkable accomplishment. In only two playoff games, Allen had thrown nine touchdown passes with the accumulation of 771 total yards. Truly legendary work.
As soon as I saw Mahomes and Allen hugging, it struck me that Mahomes showed us something we all so desperately needed to see. Indeed, what happened there was bigger than sports. Mahomes’ actions toward Allen offered us an instruction as to how we could and ought to view each other in our times. Here were two teams competing against each other under incredible pressure. You had to think that as soon as Mahomes won the game, he’d have only one thing on his mind: celebrating with his team. Frankly, it wouldn’t have been uncharacteristic for a star athlete of his caliber to showboat at least a little bit after that kind of drama. Yet, Mahomes showed us something so different. He embodied the kind of competitive spirit that we all want to see and also be. In hugging Allen at the end of the game, he was showing us that he was not competing against Josh Allen, but competing with him.
Last year, my son and I participated in a father and son baseball clinic hosted by Reality Sports, a faith-based nonprofit organization in Washington that coaches kids in a variety of sports. In one of the sessions, the lead coach talked to all of us about the fundamentals of competing in sports. I remember him emphasizing that the goal in competing is not to compete against, but to compete with. In other words, we should want the other person to do well and excel in their own way. The goal of competition is not to crush or see an opponent defeated, but to play in such a way that it pulls the best out of your competitor.
This is exactly why we all needed to see Mahomes and Allen meet at midfield after their magical playoff game. In our culture, it has become acceptable to view those with whom we disagree as people who we are against. The person who holds a contrary viewpoint to ours is “the other,” the enemy. We gradually stop seeing that person as a fellow human. It is not so hard to understand how hate gradually seeps in at this point.
It’s often said that football in America has a religious type of following. And while that is true, it could also be said that what happened on that playoff field between Kansas City and Buffalo had a deeply religious quality to it as well. We were shown that even in the fire of heated competition, love and grace are still possible realities. Surely, if nothing else, that is something that ought to encourage, inspire and challenge us.