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  • Writer's pictureRon Nelson

Missions and Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant: The Game of Life

Just recently, my missions endeavors took me to the campus of the University of Alabama; for those who know me, you know I am a proud alumni of Florida State University. For four years, I wore the colors of garnet and gold as an elite track athlete. It was also where I met my bride of now 41 years. Yet, this visit ignited a very special feeling and remembrance. It caused me to reminisce about a close encounter, one with the great, legendary, Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

My wife and I were at the University of Alabama to teach a Perspectives class titled “ The Advancement of the Christian Movement” which is the sixth lesson of a 15-week curriculum. On the evening of February 21, 2022, at Calvary Baptist Church on AU’s campus, Star and I were privileged to share our wisdom, expertise, and missions experience with over 100 enthusiastic students desiring to discover their missional niche and god-ordained purpose.

The evening was electric, and the atmosphere was full of passion; our presence there was not by happenstance. Asked to share a bit of my athletic story, my close encounter with Coach Bryant came to mind.

As a young, aspiring collegiate student-athlete (football and track), I was recruited by college programs all over the country. In 1977, one of the first letters and invites I received was from Coach Bryant. His letter to me left an indelible impression. Coach Bryant sent me an amazing poem entitled The Game of Life. Today, that actual, printed, sent poem is taped to the inside covering of my Bible. Wow! Imagine, the surge of emotion that came over me when I stepped on the Alabama campus and stood beside the statue portraying Coach Bryant’s image. Evidently, I chose not to become an Alabama Crimson Tide; that said, it was God’s providential plan that landed me where I did, at FSU; but please allow me to share this poem, sent to me by a man of which I had a close encounter with, if but only by letter; he (his letter) impacted my life. I trust you’ll get the point when you read it, be ye a staunch Christian, a would be missionary, an athlete or not……it’s The Game of Life:

“While you have ceased to play the game of football, you will soon begin to take part in an even bigger and more important game, the game of life!

I would like to pass on to you the advice a chaplain gave his son upon graduation. “I am giving you the ball, son, and naming you the quarterback for your team in the game of life. I am your coach; I’ll give it to you straight; there’s only one schedule to play – it lasts all of your life but consists of only one game.

“It is a long game with no time out and no substitutions. You play the whole game, all your life. You’ll have a great backfield. You’re calling the signals but the other three fellows in the backfield with you have great reputations. They are named Faith, Hope, and Love.

“You’ll work behind a truly powerful line. End to end it consists of honesty, loyalty, devotion to duty, self-respect, study, cleanliness, and good behavior.

“The goal posts are the Gates of Heaven. God is the referee and sole official. He makes all the rules and there is no appeal from them.

“There are ten rules. You know them as the Ten Commandments, and you play them strictly in accordance with your own religion.

“There is also an important ground rule. It is ‘as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also unto them.’

“The ball? It is your immortal soul. Hold on to it! Now, son, get in there and let’s see what you can do with it!” ~ Author Unknown

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