The movie “American Underdog” covers the shocking rise of quarterback Kurt Warner, who went from bagging groceries to the Super Bowl MVP and NFL Hall-of-Fame.
But for those who think it was once in a lifetime story, that’s not exactly accurate. America is the kind of country where those of us who are life’s also-rans can rise to the top for their own American Underdog story. And the state of Georgia just proved that’s true in the National Championship Game.
More than a month ago, Georgia’s college football fans watched as their team was crushed in the SEC Title Game. Nearly every Alabama player was a five-star football phenom. Some of the Georgia players were highly ranked, but they were led by Stetson Bennett IV, a walk-on, who was matched against Bryce Young, Alabama’s Heisman Trophy Winner.
Even the well-recruited 5-stars talents at Georgia probably felt like they had 41 years of hopes, dreams and frustration from a fan base whose team just always seems to come oh so close, but no cigar, something the Crimson Tide just doesn’t face. The results spoke for themselves in Atlanta.
Weeks after the SEC Title Game, I listened to a radio broadcast from a conservative host, interviewing Kurt Warner about his amazing rise from bagging groceries to Arena Football, football in Europe, and to the once-lowly Rams, taking them to an improbable Super Bowl win, and two others in his career. I can’t wait to see the film and show it to my son.
I didn’t have a problem with the host’s ideology, but he kept emphasizing that Warner’s success was a miracle, and nothing like that could ever happen again. I gave a pretty harsh opinion of that limited assessment. Miracles are improbable, but not impossible. Sports in general, and America in particular, is the kind of place where those with heart, motivation, desire, and drive can compete with the top talent. We’re a democracy, not an oligarchy.
Whether it’s politics, the business world, the entertainment world, I’m always trying to motivate my students, feeling a little crushed by current events, who often come from humble circumstances, who may well need such stories to realize that the improbable is still possible, with hard work, dedication, and yes, a little faith. Doesn’t David pull the upset on Goliath in their matchup? The Bible is full of humble men and women, not gods on some Mt. Olympus.
And so the unfairly-maligned walk-on QB Stetson Bennett took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, against the Heisman Trophy Winner Bryce Young, who will likely be an NFL Quarterback. Bennett endured a tough Crimson Tide defense and what I think was a horrible call from the referees, who tagged him with a turnover that even Alabama didn’t think was a fumble.
He played his heart out, with amazing touchdown passes, assisted ably by teammates who did what it took to help the Georgia Bulldogs win their first National Championship since 1980. Rocky beat Creed…and wasn’t the original Rocky story based upon a true tale from boxing?
Bennett’s win wasn’t just for the University of Georgia, or the state. Like the movie about Kurt Warner and Brenda Warner, it’s a tale for everyone in this country who needs a boost, who may have forgotten that we’re a country that rejected royalty, nobility, and entitlement based on birth, where anyone could become a leader. We have a faith where those from professions society considers “lowly” can not just lead, but inspire greatness from others.
You can’t take a class of mine at LaGrange College and not hear those lessons, as I encourage people to write their own story, and not accept some predetermined faith. And I’ll be sure to add Bennett’s story as well.