The Buffalo Bills have one of the most dubious distinctions in American sports. They are the only pro football team to have lost four Super Bowls in a row. But is that glass half empty or half full? They are also the only pro football team to have four consecutive AFC Championships, and the only team to have played in the Super Bowl four consecutive years. But if winning the big one is really the only thing that matters in sports then the Bills are massive losers, and in that case the glass half full crap is for losers.
But I don't think the glass if half empty or half full or whatever. There is no glass. The Buffalo Bills have been generally a pretty embarrassing team to their fans. Until Marv Levy became their head coach. He had won a little competition north of the border called the Grey Cup (that’s the Canadian Super Bowl) twice and through a series of events wound up coaching one of the worst teams in the NFL. But he took those losers and produced an exciting competitive football club. A football team that dominated the AFC for a decade.
Their first Super Bowl loss was heartbreaking. A missed field goal that would've won the game, against one of the best NFL franchises of all time: the New York Giants. The next three weren't very close (in fact two of them were to my team: The Dallas Cowboys, for which I'm very proud, the Bills really were awesome back then).
After the first Super Bowl loss Marv found something to help him grieve. One verse from an old English folk song. It goes (according to Levy):
Fight on my men, Sir Andrew said
A little I'm hurt but not yet slain
I'll just lie down and bleed awhile
Then I'll rise up and fight again
And that became the Bills mantra over the next few years. One of the most disappointing runs by any pro sports team. They were excellent until that final game, and then four times in a row they choked. But also four times they got up again and went on. That is the very incarnation of resilience.
A fan wrote the coach a letter. It said something like: I don't want us to go back to the Super Bowl again, it’s too painful. Levy wrote him back: I share your pain...but I'm glad you're not a player on my team.
I don't love the Dallas Cowboys as much as I do (it's pretty excessive) because of the 3 Super Bowls in 4 years during the 90s. I love them most because of two Super Bowl losses in the 70s. To the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 70s Steelers were easily one of the best NFL teams of all time. And each Super Bowl they played us in went down to the final seconds. The way you lose is just as, if not more, important than the way you win.
And what’s interesting about that verse of poetry is that its progression is the perfect way to deal with any loss, particularly personal sin and individual failure.
The first thing you need to see is the battle call from Christ: fight on my men, press forward, run the race.
And the second thing you need to see is that you're not dead, you're simply hurt or wounded. You haven't been disqualified from the race, which means there is still a race to be run.
Then mourn your failure. Let yourself bleed a little while.
And finally rise up and fight again.
If we don't deal with our personal failures this way we can't make any progress in the Christian life. We need to recognize that just because I've failed again doesn't mean the battle is over and I can give up. The mystery of the Gospel is that Jesus utterly failed (we killed by the Romans instead of usurping them) and yet by failing somehow won salvation for all mankind. Jesus came to subject himself to failure so that we don't have to live like that anymore. And so we mourn our failures, because it is right to do so. Not because we want sympathy or need to feel bad for ourselves but because we have participated in the very thing that Jesus came to suffer for our sake. So we mourn. And then we (we, as in God and us) pick ourselves up and go on, forgiven and renewed. With His grace we will learn, and we will imitate Christ better but for every failure we must repent and move forward. In some ways this is what Paul meant when he said: death where is thy sting? It wasn't just physical death. But the entire shroud that covers mankind. It has no power over us any longer. And so by his grace we can rise up and fight again.