The Baltimore Ravens have been playing some really, really wild football games in recent weeks, a few with endings that several commentators have been tempted to call "miraculous."
Sort of like that playoff game last year in frozen Mile-High Stadium in Denver (sorry, about that M.Z. Hemingway).
Anyway, head coach John Harbaugh was asked, in a recent press conference, to name the X factor behind his team. Here's how ESPN.com reported the response:
"The thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith," coach John Harbaugh said. "We believe. We trust. Because of that, we'll fight. We will run the race right down to the end. That's something that our football team does. I'm very proud of them for that."
There are times when special moments define special teams, just like the times when the Ravens converted the fourth-and-29 in San Diego and delivered the Mile High Miracle last season. These Ravens are building quite a portfolio of "never say never" moments.
Two weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 22-20, by stopping a two-point conversion with 1:03 remaining. Last week, the Ravens outlasted the Minnesota Vikings, 29-26, by scoring three touchdowns in the final 2:05, including the winning 9-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with 4 seconds left.
OK, you probably didn't need all of those gridiron details, but I thought they were relevant.
Here in Charm City, the newspaper that lands in my front yard eventually printed that quotation, like this:
"We're playing our best football right now and we're going to have to continue to improve with what we have in front of us down the stretch," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You look at our football team and the thing I love about our football team is that we are a team of faith. We believe. We trust. Because of that, we'll fight. We will run the race right down to the end, that's something that our football team does. I'm very proud of them for that."
Now, that faith language is rather generic sports talk, methinks. What struck me was a football coach using that interesting language connecting this faith factor to finishing a "race," as opposed to a football game.
That sounded rather familiar, coming from the organizer (or endorser) of the weekly Ravens Bible studies.
Might that be a paraphrase of the following?
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Of course, that is 2 Timothy 4:7-8, one of the more famous Bible passages built on a sports image. It's a very popular quote among the advocates of what for a century or so has been called "muscular Christianity."
Now, I do not bring this up to suggest that God has been showing up in the Ravens huddle in recent weeks (as opposed to all of those mediocre games in the first half of the season). What I am suggesting is that -- for better and for worse -- it is impossible to cover what is happening inside this particular sports organization without considering faith as one of the ties that bind. I have even hinted, in the past, that faith might be linked to some of the DIVISIONS in the Ravens locker room as well as in some of the close friendships and mentoring relationships.
The leaders of The Baltimore Sun team, on the other hand, seem determined to downplay this faith factor. For example, see this post, this one, this one and especially this one -- from the 2013 season alone.
I am not saying that its time for Sun editors to put a religion-beat specialist on the Ravens beat. I am saying that, in this case, it appears that some Sun staffers appear to be determined to ignore the obvious.