Every Play is a Game – Just ask Dustin Hopkins

Years ago I heard Dave Simmons, former NFL linebacker turned pastor, make a profound statement: “In life, like football, every play is a game – recover, recover, recover.” Simmons described that whether a quarterback throws an interception right before the half, a back fumbles on the one yard line or a kicker misses in the last ten seconds he must think of that play as a game in itself, an event now past, and he must recover in order to fully engage in the next play.

That message REALLY applied last night to one player in particular.  FSU kicker, Dustin Hopkins, booted a 55 yard field goal in the last 4 seconds to defeat Clemson University:

Hopkins’s “powder keg” of a leg to pumped enough steam behind the ball to clear 65 yards if he needed it.   Although the highlight didn’t make ESPN’s top 10 this morning, and even though the papers barely referenced FSU in the college football summary – I’m confident Hopkins could not have cared less.

It was just a week ago when the young kicker found himself in a similar competitive crisis against the University of North Carolina.  FSU was 2 points behind with 10 seconds left.  Coach Jimbo Fisher sent Hopkins in to kick a 40 yard field goal and win the game.  The kick went wide right and the game was over.

I attended that game and watched Hopkins walk off the field.  He was controlled but obviously dejected. His fellow players immediately surrounded him with hugs and affirmation that the game should not have come down to a field goal in the final seconds.  They told the young kicker that all of them contributed to the loss.  But Hopkins knew he had a job to do and he didn’t do it.

I also watched FSU fans empty the stadium disgusted.  But the next morning those same frustrated fans read an article in the sports section that softened their anger and their hearts:

Dustin Hopkins Comforted by Verses and Teammates

After he and teammates listened to coach Jimbo Fisher’s postgame speech, Hopkins cracked open a Bible and turned quickly to the Book of Psalms.Psalm 34:18 to be exact. It reads, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Crushed in spirit, indeed.

But as he sat at his locker and read, disrupted only by the gracious pats on his shoulders and the words of comfort from teammates and coaches, Hopkins noticed a familiar face at the other end of the room. A member of FSU’s sports information staff was rounding up players to participate in post-game interviews.

Hopkins promptly stood up and walked over.

“If anybody needs me to talk, let me know,” Hopkins said. “I’m OK.”

My wife hates football, although she loves the fanfare.  She can’t bare to watch sons of other mothers get hammered.  But these days she’s all in and all ears when a sport reporter mentions one of these two names: Tim Tebow and Dustin Hopkins.  Jimbo Fisher fought back tears in the post game interview as he praised Hopkins for his character, perseverance and talent.

To me Dustin’s story is what sports should be about in the first place.  Sports help us develop character under pressure so that we learn to offer our best when our best is required (I’m paraphrasing THE coach, John Wooden). But it’s equally important that we follow Dustin Hopkins example and remember that when we “go wide right” we remember that every play is a game and that we must recover, recover, recover.

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