So close, yet so far - the humbling of a football star
by G. Booth Lusteg
February 1, 2007 Layman
[Editor’s note: One of America’s well-traveled creation speakers is a former football star, Booth Lusteg. Booth played 11 years of professional football from 1966–1976 as a kicker/punter (and a sometime defensive back).
Lusteg was all around the Super Bowl many times, but never in it. With the Buffalo Bills, he was one win away, with his team having won the division (and a year in which he led the league in kick-scoring). With the Miami Dolphins, he was on the team before they won the “big game” (in their famed undefeated season). Booth was with the Pittsburgh Steelers before they won one of their Super Bowls, and he played with the Green Bay Packers right after they won the Super Bowl. If that’s not enough, he was with the New York Jets (with its famous quarterback Joe Namath, but got injured and was let go/released the SAME year they won it all). As field-goal kickers might exclaim on a long field-goal try that misses, so close yet not over the bar.
Booth is the author of 32 published sports and other social issue articles. His autobiography is entitled Kick Rejection and ...WIN! (from which this web article was adapted). This excerpt from Booth’s poignant, moving, and often humorous book recounts a humbling experience for a rookie in professional football, but it also shares how he matured as a Christian as his football career progressed … and as he went into retirement and became a speaker on the book of Genesis.– Mark Looy, AiG–US]
“Kick Rejection and ... WIN!” by G. Booth Lusteg
It’s the seventh game of the football season. The score is tied—Buffalo 17, San Diego 17! There’s five seconds remaining on the clock. The fans are super-electrically charged like a Florida category 5 hurricane. First place is at stake, and no player wants to relinquish it.
I’m lining up for the kick. Then I’m pluckin’ some grass to show Daryl [Lamonica, also the team’s quarterback] where I want the ball placed. I’m takin’ a few practice swings, kicking the air; I’m dancin’ around; I’m sure my nervousness is showing. Lamonica’s trying to calm the rookie (me) down, “You and me, babe; piece of cake.” I tensely nod in agreement, and Lamonica is pointing to the spot where he’ll set up the ball. Our offensive line is bracing for the expected ferocious charge from San Diego. They’re screaming ugly obscenities at me, trying anything to disturb my concentration. OK, I’m ready, Lamonica’s ready, the line is ready. It’s the moment of truth, here we go ...
“TIME OUT,” San Diego purposely yells … to make me think about it. Now we gotta start all over again. I walk away from the huddle, tryin’ to block out distractions. It’ll all be over in 1.2 seconds—the time it takes to “snap,” hold, and launch the ball into flight. A kicker lives or dies in that brief moment.
There are 80,000 fans in the stands —160,000 eyes on me. The silence is deafening; you can hear a peanut shell pop ... and then there’s the shrill sound of the ref’s whistle and his subsequent scream: “TIME IN, HERE WE GO.” It resonates and reverberates from the hair on my head down to the crook of my kicking toe.
Here comes the “snap,” and Lamonica deftly puts it down; I swing into the ball, and it’s up over the cattle-like charging San Diego defensive line. The ball’s heading straight toward the goal post—but then—suddenly, it veers, shifts, and goes slightly to the right—It’s ... it’s .. it MISSED!
It MISSED! How could it have missed?? It was only 23 yards—a “gimme.” I make 99 of 100 from there. Game’s over – ends in a tie (there was no overtime back then). I’m in total shock ... disbelief ... stunned. People are flowing out of the stands, throwing things, kicking cans, and swearing. Upset Buffalo fans will throw anything, even full beer cans. As a player you keep your helmet on for protection, even when sitting on the bench!
My own teammates are swearing ... they’re disgusted ... and many slam their helmets into the ground. The police are gathering around me, to form an escort to the dressing room. They’re admonishing any overzealous, rambunctious fan to disperse … to go away. I’m hardly moving, but the police keep pushing me along. Now, this is humbling. The fans had appreciated that I had filled the void when our former kicker, Pete Gogolak, left. I kicked eight field goals in the first two games, including three long ones. I’ve been almost perfect up to this miss. But fans have a short memory.
Now fast forward to the playoff game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on our home turf in Buffalo. If we win, we’re in the Super Bowl! I was a nervous and frightened “rookie wreck” during the week leading up to this crucial game. I had prayed daily, asking God: please, just allow me to be relaxed and confident—not asking to be the hero, just wanting to use the talent You, God, gave me. I felt I was being reasonable with Him.
The game came and I was shaking in my kicking shoes! I didn’t have any game-deciding kick opportunities, but we lost and I was again deeply depressed and distressed.
Why did God desert me, I pondered? I was thinking like the Deists, who say: “Where is He? Unconcerned?” Uninvolved? I felt so abandoned. Does He hear? Does He care? Is prayer even realistic, I philosophized?
But for me today, the reality of prayer is more apparent than at any other time. I think of this comparison: the fact that you can hold in one hand a tiny cell phone and quickly call Hong Kong, half way around the world. No wires, no speakers, no attachments; it would seem like “magic” to someone in another age. Just a few years ago, it was unlikely, a few decades ago, impossible, and a few centuries ago, unthinkable.
Today, prayer can be compared to a wireless telephone. It is easier than ever to comprehend the concept that prayers can be thoughts shot up to God, by a brain that is scientifically known to function electronically.
Days after that loss to Kansas City many years ago, and reflecting on it all, I realized God DID answer my prayer—and the answer was NO, and justifiably so. Where was I all season-long with God? I was in my own small, self-serving and selfish world, having made a god out of pro football, idolizing it … and being idolized by all of Buffalo, soaking up all of the fan adulation, and violating the very first of God’s Ten Commandments.
What was I doing for God? Witnessing? Reading the Word? Working, and walking in the faith? No, none of these. And now, when I needed help with a game, I expected God to jump to attention. How sad. It was a lesson I never forgot, which set the pattern in my future prayer life for what were to be many answered prayer requests. It was the impetus, years later, for a talk that I currently present, entitled, “How Do We Know the Bible is the True and Only True Word of God?” In it I deliver seven, solid, documented, historical, scientific and personal reasons that affirm the Bible as being trustworthy and reliable.
Just as the enormous preparation required to make it to the big leagues, so is the preparation a genuine Christian must make if he is to be thoroughly equipped to witness effectively in order to reclaim America for Christ. We’re in a colossal, cultural battle, and Christians must obey the command, “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).
I’ve heard Christian leaders talk about this being “the last Christian generation.” I’m afraid they may be right. It’s vital that we spread the gospel and the message of the Bible’s authenticity with vim, verve, vigor and zeal … and zealousness to our families and friends and their families … and their friends, and everyone else that we may encounter.
G. Booth Lusteg