“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” - a phrase I quickly became familiar with as a young boy learning to play sports. It evoked all the machismo associated with football and encouraged us to grind it out and do whatever it took to win. The quote was made famous by Vince Lombardi (though it’s possible he heard it from UCLA head football coach, Red Sanders). Vince Lombardi himself stood for toughness and tough-mindedness. The top trophy awarded to the NFL World Champions every year is named for him. So that’s why I was blown away when I learned from a recent documentary on the iconic coach’s life that he actually regretted the saying. It turns out what he meant to convey was if you give all you have, if you give every fiber of your being to any endeavor then you have won, regardless of what the scoreboard says.
I was happy to hear that because I’ve often struggled with the idea that winning is the only thing. While I’ve always been highly competitive, it seems there was something more than just winning. Winning in and of itself can be hollow and the euphoria of victory is short lived. And there have been some losses that felt more rewarding than some victories. The fact is we all experience both winning and losing. It seems better to invest your life in a purpose than a goal.
I loved football because it was something that demanded your all. When I entered a game, everything beyond the 4th quarter was blocked out and I invested every ounce of strength into the game. I think that’s the way God created us to live our lives – fully invested, fully spent. Our humanness is drawn to comfort and predictability; but our spirits are drawn to action and adventure. And there is no greater adventure than a life committed to Jesus. He calls us to a life that passionately lives out the Gospel. Maybe it is “better to burn out than to fade away.”