THE PERFECT DAY…EXCEPT…

Saturday.

The Perfect Day.

The kind of day that never comes for most college football fans.

The kind of day that comes once in a lifetime for a fortunate few.

Yes, the Perfect Day.

Except….

This was a spectacular autumn weekend. A cold front had passed in the night clearing the sky to a perfect crystal blue. High wispy clouds held the afternoon temperature to a perfect seventy-eight degrees. A gentle southwest breeze had a perfect cooling effect. The rolling, forested hills of NW Arkansas were perfect in their beauty.

My son had driven from out-of-state to take me to the game. I had come in from an out-of-state contract job to join him. A perfect afternoon for a father-son outing.

We walked to the stadium from a remote parking spot perfect for a quick get-away after the game. We passed thousands of fans lounging under awnings, enjoying a perfect tail-gating experience: aromatic barbeque, cold drinks, good friends and the sweet anticipation of the perfect game.

The stadium was picture perfect. Recently renovated. Spotlessly clean. Newly installed state-of-the-art artificial turf emblazoned with a fresh team logo.

We climbed to our seats at the top of the nose-bleed section to discover that our views of the field and stadium were perfect. We savored every moment of the perfect pre-game festivities while our team warmed up and the fans cheerfully booed the appearance of the dread champions who had come to be dethroned.

We waxed nostalgic as we watched video clips (on the massive jumbo-tron) of our team’s perfect plays in former seasons of glory. The growing crowd united over and over, thunderously ‘calling the Hawgs’ in perfect unison.

Our band arrived — the largest in the SEC – and quickly called the team and fans to action with perfect martial music. Three members of the university ROTC jumped out of a plane 13,000 ft. over the stadium and floated down ahead of colorful smoke trails. Two landed perfectly on the raging Hawg logo in the center of the field. The colorful Goodyear blimp circled the field feeding aerial video to the network.

The band took the field in perfect formation, beautifully playing the National Anthem. The crowd spontaneously sang, a surprising number singing the lyrics perfectly.

Game time.

The stadium is filled to record capacity. Those without tickets jam the hillside overlooking the north end zone. This is ‘red-out-day’ and the stands are painted solid crimson by the uniform clothing of the fans.

Both teams have perfect records: 3-0. Our opponent is ranked #1 in the nation. We are #10. Today we can complete The Perfect Day by changing places with them. All we need do is defeat them in four quarters of play.

This is the perfect game. This game may well determine the winner of the western division of the SEC – the winner of the SEC Championship – the winner of the BCS Bowl – the winner of the NCAA National Football Championship.

Eighty potential football recruits stand on the sideline, contemplating whether to become future Hawg heroes.

NFL scouts are already taking notes.

The Heisman committee rivits their attention on our quarterback who needs the perfect game to become the leading contender for that coveted award.

Nearly 80 million viewers gather before their big screens to watch the perfect game beamed live by CBS Sports.

Almost 50 years have passed since we have been this close to winning it all. Almost fifty years since we have come this close to the Perfect Day.

We receive the kick off. A long pass play moves us to a midfield. A second pass goes for fifty yards and a touchdown! The game is less than a minute old and we have taken the lead. Perfect.

The defense holds the best running and passing offense in the conference to seven points and we go into half-time 17-7. We’re predicted to lose by at least two touchdowns. Who could have imagined we’d lead by ten at the half? Perfect.

The third quarter is a slug-fest. With four minutes remaining in the game, the score hangs at an uneasy 20-17, but we’re still ahead.

Then it happens. Our quarterback throws an ill-advised pass. INTERCEPTED! Run back to the fifteen. The weary defense holds, then gives way and Alabama goes up 24-20.

The crowd drops into their seats. Our perfect day in grave jeopardy.

The fans rebound, cheering all the louder. The stadium rocks. If fans can win a game, these fans will. Three minutes remain on the clock. Surely our team can work the last minute magic they used to defeat Georgia last week.

I say to my son, “If we truly are the #1 team in the country, we will run the clock down and score the winning touchdown.”

Mallett is pressured and fires a desperate pass to a falling receiver. The ball sails into the hands of a racing Alabama defender. INTERCEPTED! Our perfect day shatters.

But wait! The defense holds once again. One more play and we get the ball back with forty seconds to go. There is a flicker of hope. Then an unfavorable spot. Alabama gets a first down. Hope dies. The game is over.

And so are the division championship – the SEC championship – the BCS championship – and the Heisman competition. Over. Over for perhaps for another fifty years.

This was the Perfect Day.

Except…

Except it turns out we steadfastly supported the losing team. And with this loss, everything else is lost.

While we made the long, sad drive home in the night, a thought came to me.

I thought of the many people I know who have worked for decades to fashion the perfect life.

They won honors and accolades in high school. Married a desirable mate. Had the children they chose. Succeeded in a field of work. Lived in a nice house. Drove late model vehicles. Sent their kids to college. Saved for retirement. Maintained their health (even a degree of fitness). Achieved some level of respectability in church and community. Finally went on that cruise.

The perfect life, if you will.

Except…

They never traded a fallen human heart for a Jesus-heart.

Except…

They never died to their own appetites in order to live by His Spirit.

Except…

They never discovered that sacrificial living triumphs over secure living.

Except…

They never understood how humility out-scores pride.

Except…

They never expected that eternity would swallow up this world’s perfect lives.

They’ve lived the perfect life, but backed the losing ‘team’. And with their team’s loss at the end of this Age, all of their hopes and dreams will fade in the face of shocking reality. With that reality, there is nothing to look forward to except a very long, sad journey into the night….

Saturday.

The Perfect Day.

The kind of day that never comes for most college football fans.

The kind of day that comes once in a lifetime for a fortunate few.

Yes, the Perfect Day.

Except….

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