byner_1.jpgWhile I was having lunch with one of our Pastors last week, a television on the wall was showing ESPN Classic. Much to my dismay (as a native Clevelander) they happened to be showing “The Fumble” game featuring one Mr. Earnest Byner. For those that missed it (believe me I wish I had been one of them), the Browns and all of Cleveland had their hearts ripped out the year before in a game that has been commonly referred to as “The Drive”. That’s the one that Elway drove 99 yards..blah, blah, blah.

“The Fumble” came one year later against those same hated Denver Broncos. The Browns were down 38-33 and had the ball. Earnest Byner, who also happened to be my favorite player at the time, had led a furious comeback and was playing the game of his life. Run after run, catch after catch, he drove the Browns down the field. With little time on the clock, he took the ball and was headed for the end-zone. Then the unthinkable…a Denver defender stripped the ball at the 3 yard line and Denver recovered. Ballgame, season, heartbreak all over again. Welcome to Cleveland sports as we know it. The guy I felt the worst for was Earnest Byner. He just laid there on the field (see photo) and you could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was so close. He had done so much. Then, in one moment, he failed. He failed his team, the city, and the dreams of Browns fans everywhere.

I don’t bring this up to relive the past. Believe me, this is just one of the many reasons I am a Raiders fan now (like they’re any better!). Yet as I recalled this memory, it occurred to me that this is so much like my Christian walk. How many times have I been defeated in a season of life, only to rebound and seem to be on the right track? How many times have I been in the midst of what seemed like a spiritual high, gaining momentum and then the unthinkable. My guard was down for just long enough for the enemy to come in and strip the ball, steal the momentum and at times leave me flat on my back in defeat. It has felt at times that all the world was watching and I had let them down. I had failed when I was supposed to be the one in the end-zone.

This is where I have been challenged for the most growth the past year. There have been times of enormous defeat. Yet what God offers is a grace and forgiveness to allow us to walk off the field of battle into victory. We don’t need to hang our head. Thankfully, our failures are not shown over and over again on ESPN Classic. They are not recorded and re-lived in blogs 20 years later. The victory has been won and we are invited into the next play, and the next season with the opportunity to be the “ball carrier” again. Our head coach has the ultimate confidence in our ability to come through and not make the same mistake again.

I read somewhere years later that Earnest Byner had become a devout Christian after that experience. I found no shock in that. I would guess that he found a peace, comfort and grace that is offered to us all. I know that it is that grace that has helped me to overcome “the fumbles” in my own life. Even those that I will commit in the future. Even if they are inches from the end-zone.