Every other week in The Coach’s Box, Timothy Thomas explores the various lessons that can be learned from the world of sports.
At the professional level of sports, natural skill alone will rarely solidify your place on a team. Perseverance and practice are both necessary, in addition to talent, to find a way to compete—let alone excel—at the highest levels of competition.
Week two of the NFL, specifically the AFC West Divisional matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, displayed the physical importance of perseverance. The game also was an all-too-real reminder that determination doesn’t always equate to victory, though it remains a significant virtue in building character.
Much of the buzz surrounding the Chiefs’ 27-24 win was about the seventh-round (that is, the final round of the NFL draft) rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson’s late-game interception. After losing all game before finally tying in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were back on the ropes. It looked as if the Chargers were about to reclaim the lead after they marched down to the 3-yard line. Justin Herbert threw an errant pass that Watson intercepted and returned 99 yards for the go-ahead Chiefs score that would eventually seal the win for his team.
But Watson’s interception is more intriguing because of his story of perseverance. The seventh-round rookie once took a break from football in college to work at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant where his mom was a manager. Watson wanted to go to the University of Southern California initially. Unfortunately, his scholarship offer fell through and he ended up at Ventura College.
Watson eventually played for Washington State University on scholarship. From there, the Chiefs drafted him in the last round. He was just 19 picks away from claiming the NFL’s unremarkable “Mr. Irrelevant” title. “I’m just a very resilient person (who’s) always been working for what I have,” Watson said after the game. His resolve set him up for the biggest moment of his young career. Without that perseverance, Watson would not have received the opportunity to return a 99-yard interception and make such a significant impact early in the season on a championship-caliber team.
On the other side of that interception, however, is a lesson on how perseverance may not always end in triumph, but can still shape and fortify our identity into someone who can lead by serving. In the Los Angeles Chargers’ loss to the Chiefs, quarterback Justin Herbert delivered a gutsy week two performance that rivaled those of epic playoff performances. Herbert went down late in the game with a fractured rib cartilage injury on his non-throwing side that took him out of the game. However, he only rested one play before returning to the field.
Before Herbert threw an interception to Watson while the Chargers were in scoring position—which Watson returned for a touchdown—all hope looked lost for the Los Angeles team. The scene looked even bleaker when Herbert was in so much pain on the Chargers’ final drive that he could barely run for an easy first down and instead, threw the ball away for an incomplete pass. But on fourth down, Herbert stayed in the game and threw an accurate pass to get the offense to the red zone. Four plays later on another fourth down, he connected with Josh Palmer for a touchdown that cut the Chiefs’ lead to three points.
Unfortunately, it was late in the fourth quarter, the Chargers were out of timeouts, and they did not recover the ensuing onside kick, leading to their almost-but-not-quite comeback rally.
Watson and Herbert’s stories are two that we hang our hats on in our culture. Watson’s story has an epic, neat ending while Herbert’s is the one most of us live. Because of survivorship bias, we pay most attention to the stories of individuals who overcome adversity and herald them as shining examples of what is required to be successful. Perseverance is certainly needed to succeed, but this kind of message is cheap, rivaling that of a prosperity gospel. Many people persevere, but few reach their goals.
Herbert’s in-game performance is where most of us live, though. We are bruised, battered, and broken people trying to make the most of each day. We put in the hours at work and Bible studies during our own time, but still experience pain, loss, and endless obstacles. We persevere but never seem to see the fruits of our diligence.
All we need to see is who we are becoming and what perseverance is forging in us. In Herbert’s case, he’s already earned the respect of his teammates and coaches for his mental and physical toughness. But his late-game heroics and physical sacrifice took it to another level. His decision to play through pain proved to himself and everyone else the type of mental toughness and character that he has, even if he never accomplishes the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.
The Bible has something to say about saints (not the New Orleans Saints) persevering. Perseverance produces character and hope (Romans 5:3–5). It matures us so that we will be complete and not lack anything (James 1:4). Finally, it points to a promise of reaping an eternal reward should we not weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
The ultimate goal in our perseverance in doing good is eternal communion with God and Christ. The short-term goal—the span of our lives—is to do the most good for the most people for as long as we can. We will experience heartbreak, setbacks, and injuries to the body and mind. But Watson and Herbert—in a trivial yet impactful ways—remind us that perseverance and the pursuit of goodness are worth it, for they refine us to become the best versions of who God designed us to be.