By Dr. Tim Woodroof
Do you know what an “own-goal” is? Of course you do. Only sports-ignoramuses like me would be ignorant of such matters. In case you are as oblivious to sports as I am, an own-goal is something that occurs in goal scoring games—like soccer or American football—when a player causes the ball to cross his own goal line and registers points for the opposing team. Most of the time, an own-goal is the result of an accident—an inadvertent ricochet, for instance, or a miskick.
But on occasion, an own-goal results in something truly embarrassing.
In 1976 Englishman and professional footballer Chris Nicholl played in a game where four goals were scored—two for each team—resulting in a 2-2 draw. The interesting thing is that Chris Nicholl scored all four goals: two legitimate goals for his own team, and two own-goals that counted for his opponents.
In 1994, Columbian defender Andres Escobar was awarded an own-goal that ultimately resulted in a 2-1 defeat for the Columbian team and their elimination from the 1994 World Cup.
But perhaps the most embarrassing own-goals occur in American football. On January 1, 1929, the Golden Bears of California faced Georgia Tech in the Rose Bowl. Midway through the second quarter, Bears Roy Riegals picked up a fumble and—confused and disoriented—ran the ball 65 yards the wrong way! The fans in the stands were screaming at the top of their lungs. Roy thought they were cheering him on. His teammates chased after him, yelling at him to turn around. One of his teammates finally caught him and physically turned him in the right direction. By then the opposing team was on him and tackled Roy at his own one-yard line. The very next play, Georgia Tech forced a safety and ended up winning the game 8-7. From that day on, Roy Riegals was known as “Wrong Way Riegals.”
Thirty-five years later, Jim Marshall did the same thing in a professional football game—65 yards the wrong way for a safety against his own team. Roy Riegals sent him a letter the next week that said, simply, “Welcome to the club.”
A Long Persistence in the Right Direction
It’s good to run hard, to give all you’ve got, to never give up.
But it’s better to run in the right direction. However sincere, well meaning, and good-hearted your efforts may be, if they are directed toward the wrong goal, they count for nothing.
Best of all, though, is to do both together: to run long and hard in the right direction—not only to have the right goal but to spend yourself completely in pursuit of it.
Paul was able to do that:
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not to me only but to all those who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).
Paul speaks in this passage of a long, hard persistence in the right direction. He gave his all to finish the race in such a way that God would be pleased. He did not run in vain. He did not spend himself on the wrong goals. He fought. He finished. He pleased.
As I stumble through my days, so distracted and confused by the press and bustle of life, I find myself tempted to give less than my best. And there are times, I confess, when I wonder whether I’m running in the right direction.
As I watch the sands of my life run through my fingers, I want to say with Paul that I’ve given my best to kingdom causes. I want God to be pleased not just with how I’ve run, but with where I’ve run.
There is a force at work in this world that wants just the opposite for me, that would keep me from running well. God save us from the temptation to be lazy or heedless in our running. God grant that we all fight well and finish strong.
Dr. Tim Woodroof is a freelance writer and speaker. He and his wife Julie make their home in Nashville, Tennessee.