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Super Bowl LVI, Bengals, Rams, and Underdogs: An Obsession

As we approached the kickoff of Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, my wife, Beth, and I had a brief conversation about underdogs. Though Beth is somewhat ambivalent toward the whole "underdog mystique," I have a minor obsession with it. I almost always root for the underdog and cannot help but harbor fantasies of surprising, come-from-behind victories, last-second valor, and unlikely heroes. So, when 6:30 PM on Sunday arrived, I was ready for the Cincinnati Bengals to experience their first Super Bowl victory and for Burrow and crew to have their day in the spotlight.

Of course, that didn't happen. Although they put forth a valiant effort, the Bengals came up three points short, and the projected victors, the L.A. Rams, took home the Lombardi Trophy. I was initially crestfallen by the underdog's defeat, but I quickly recovered. At the end of the day, I am neither a die-hard nor casual Bengals fan, and, let's face it, it's only a game. This time next year, I'll probably have forgotten who won Super Bowl LVI anyway. Life presents far too many real concerns and exigencies with which to grapple for one to become seriously distracted by the final score of a football game.

However, in my quiet time this morning, I found myself wondering why so many others and I are obsessed with the underdog mythos. Why do we want the unfavored person or team to win? Why do we long for the upset?

I think the answer is fairly simple and two-fold. First, most of us feel like underdogs! We've experienced a seemingly constant barrage of failures and setbacks in life, we've come to envisage ourselves as something far less than the idealistic self-perceptions we or our parents generated in childhood, and/or we have a group of influential people in our lives who simply don't believe in our abilities or potential. Whatever the reason(s), we long to rise above our current status, to experience the exhilarating high-flight of victory, and to prove to ourselves and others that we possess the mettle and grit to conquer life's challenges. Yet, such triumphs are admittedly hard-won and rare, so we must often live out our reveries vicariously through other underdogs, such as prospectless sports teams and hapless individuals.

For Christ-followers, there is another reason why we are drawn to underdog stories, namely, they are semi-archetypes of the gospel message. Jesus died, not for the righteous, but for sinners. Jesus ate, not with the prominent people in his society, but with the dregs and outcasts. On the cross, He invited the thief--not the chief--to spend eternity with Him. And when pressed by the crowd to forgo His association with the unrighteous Zacchaeus, Jesus responded famously, [T]he Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10, NIV). Consequently, we favor underdogs because our Lord favored underdogs. Our spirits are conditioned by the Spirit of God to empathize, sympathize, and harmonize with those who are not at the tops of their game--who find themselves at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole.

Again, I have no fan-fueled affinity for the Bengals or the Rams. I just wanted to see a good football game on Sunday evening. But I did openly fly my banner for the Bengals, as did a lot of other folks who wanted to see David slay Goliath. And though the biblical narrative was not repeated on Sunday, I've not relinquished my devotion to the underdog. Whoever the unlikely champions are next year, I'll certainly root for them. Sure, some may call me a little obsessed on this point, but I'm in good company. We underdogs are as thick as they on crosses or not.

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