Last Sunday, Stevie Johnson cost the Buffalo Bills what would have been an upset victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, when he dropped a would-be touchdown, he cemented the loss with a final score of 19-16.
Via Twitter, Johnson blamed the Lord:
"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO. . ."
I found his response unique and refreshing. I've always been uncomfortable with those many athletes who point toward the sky after scoring a touchdown but who don't shake a fist at heaven, or hell, when they fumble. I was prepared to give Johnson points for consistency.
That is, until he backed off a day later - via Twitter, of course.
"learned A lot Within 24hrs. Saw Both Sides.(Ups&Dwns) I AM HAPPY & THANKFUL 4 YESTERDAY! w/out Sunday iWldnt have grew closer w/The Lord!!"
He further tweeted:
"So Before Yall..well I'm pretty sure you've awready judged me. I hope you guys look n the mirror. I dnt blame u 4 being mad @ my gm I WAS 2!"
"And No I Did Not Blame God People! Seriously??!? CMon! I Simply Cried Out And Asked Why? Jus Like yal did wen sumthin went wrong n ur life!"
I respect his faith, and he's entitled to his opinion. But so am I, and I think I can answer his question:
It has nothing to do with God.
Johnson dropped that game-winning pass because he wasn't concentrating. Or because he took his eye off the ball. Maybe he had stone hands. Perhaps he was spooked trying to perform in crunch time of a potential upset. In truth, he'd already been having a tough day. The overtime drop wasn't his first of the game.
I choose not to believe that the higher power had a stake in what happened in the Bills-Steelers game - whether Johnson had hauled that pass in or not. My view of God doesn't have him bet on the Bills to win the game outright. Or sweating out his survival pool picks. And he didn't have the Steelers' defense on his fantasy football team.
Only the flimsiest of faiths attributes success to the Lord but chalks failure up to . . . something else.
Maybe that's because acknowledging God's hand in both wins and losses would undermine any need to actually play the games. Think about it. If the higher power really dictated what happened in overtime of a ho-hum NFL regular-season game featuring a team that hasn't made the playoffs in more than a decade, that power probably has a stake in just about everything. So why conduct mandatory off-season workouts? Why hold two-a-day practices during training camp? Why risk a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit to catch a ball thrown over the middle?
Enough already with the athletes' public displays of religion. They cheapen the faith and are as showboaty and contrived as a Super Bowl dance. Baseball players cross themselves before they step into the batter's box. Kickers point to the sky after a successful field goal attempt. Basketball players thank God in postgame interviews along the sidelines. But I've never seen or heard an athlete lament a loss by citing it as part of God's plan or cursing the devil's presence in their Gatorade.
I doubt these athletes are really concerned with bearing legitimate witness to their faith. At this point, making the sign of the cross after a score or thanking God in an interview is up there with "giving 110 percent" or "thanking my teammates" in the pantheon of sports cliches. They all do it. I doubt any would-be converts in the stands or the television audience think twice about going to church because their favorite player just blessed himself.
And speaking of the rest of us, here is something I never see: a mechanic bless himself for a muffler job, a clerk thank the Lord for ringing up a cup of coffee, or a lawyer who points to the sky when winning an evidentiary ruling.
After the drop, former Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner came to Johnson's aid - via Twitter, of course - offering: "I asked same thing when released in STL & benched 3 times, But then God did his thing . . . Be ready! Enjoy watching you play!"
The whole thing made me want to tweet to Johnson myself. Maybe something like: "God took the Stlers to win. The all-mghty alwys bets with his head, not ovr it."
There's one additional reason to believe God wasn't paying attention to what happened to the Bills or Steelers last weekend.
The game was played on Sunday.
God, even the faithful would concede, was resting.