There’s nothing quite like the pageantry and tradition of college football. Each Saturday in the fall, millions of people gather to watch their favorite teams slug it out on the gridiron. Some begin early in the day, tailgating in eager anticipation for the upcoming game, preparing to pack colossal stadiums, temples to athletic excellence crafted from concrete and steel.
The reason most college football fans are so passionate is because, unlike the potentially lengthy careers of those in professional sports, college athletes only have a few years to make their mark and leave a legacy. Some get their name posted somewhere in the stadium and become legends. Others are know for their mistakes. Their names will always be connected to a moment when they were unable to deliver the victory. In a flash of a moment, they can go from being famous to infamous and from being a headline to being a punch line.
The name Ray Ray McCloud is one of those names. Ray Ray was a four-star recruit and an athletically talented running back coming out of high school. He is currently a wide receiver for the Clemson Tigers. He is also, as of this moment, a punch line.
In their second game of the year, the mighty Clemson Tigers were struggling with a lesser, but determined, Troy University team. The defense had stopped the Trojans and awaited a punt to try and get some momentum going on their side. Ray Ray McCloud happens to the be the team’s punt returner. He settled in, caught the ball on a short bounce and sprinted 75 yards to a touchdown to the thunderous roar of tens of thousands.
Or, at least he thought he did. You see, in the excitement of the moment, Ray Ray celebrated with the trend of dropping the ball right after as he crossed over the goal line. However, he dropped the ball too soon. Before Ray Ray McCloud completed his magnificent punt return, he released the ball at the one yard line. The opposing team recovered. Upon review, the ball was awarded to the other team and the six points on the board given for the supposed touchdown were removed.
He was so close to scoring. And really, the only one he could blame for the gaffe was himself. He had to walk back to the sidelines, to his coach, and to his teammates with no one to blame but himself. He gave all that effort, all that energy, and had nothing to show for it.
1 Corinthians 9:27 says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Paul had a deep concern. His great fear was that he would make the same mistake that Ray Ray McCloud had made. Paul was careful not to give so much effort and expend so much energy and then come up empty having not completed his task. What a tragedy it would be to give your life to the cause of Christ, to labor faithfully for years, only to fall short.
Why do people stop so close to the finish line? We might say they were deceived by sin, ensnared in a dubious trap that overpowered them and forced them from the straight and narrow. In doing so, all we’d accomplish would be to give an excuse and to lay blame at the feet of the underserving. It may seem comforting to blame Satan if you and I fall short of our goal. The reality is that its not his fault. It would be ours for taking the bait. (1 Cor. 10:13)
Most people who lose faith towards the end of their lives do it for the same reason that Ray Ray McCloud dropped the ball. He didn’t do it intentionally. He wasn’t running down the field thinking to himself, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if I dropped the ball on the one?” He simply lost focus and stopped paying attention to the details of the moment. Let's be more like Paul and be always watchful and disciplined in our Christian walk. For many of us, we’re so close to finishing the race. Make sure we don’t drop the ball!