Today is Super Bowl Sunday. (For my unfootballed readers, that means the day of the National Football League championship game.) I’m going to have it on in the background, but I have no preference as to who I want to win this game.
There are a number of significant events in my past that I associate with happening on Super Bowl Sunday. One of them in particular, even though this year is a milestone anniversary for it, wasn’t on my mind much if not for two posts I saw on Facebook within a few hours of each other a couple weeks ago. One said that the current date of January 28, 2016 was the 20th anniversary of the last Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl win. (“20 years of choking,” the caption said.) The other was from a friend from college, who found and shared some 20-year-old pictures of a retreat he had been on with his Bible study, also in January 1996.
Time for some back story. In the fall of 1995, I was a sophomore at UC Davis. I had gotten involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after several of my friends from the freshman dorm had invited me. I thought I was a Christian, but over the next several months, I made a lot of new friends who took their faith much more seriously, and I learned what it really meant to follow Jesus. I decided to follow Jesus for myself on Thursday afternoon, February 15, 1996.
During that transition time of learning about Christianity and making new friends was the Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers (my team) and the Dallas Cowboys were two of the most consistently dominant teams in football at the time, and they had developed quite a rivalry. I lived in northern California, where the 49ers were of course the dominant team geographically, and the Cowboys are one of those teams that have fans all over the country, as well as bandwagon fans since they were so good during that era. I hated the Dallas Cowboys. There had been at least two seasons still recent in my memory when the Cowboys had been the team to beat the 49ers in the playoffs.
On the Friday night before the Super Bowl, I had gone to InterVarsity, and for some reason I was in a bad mood. I was probably feeling discouraged about not having plans afterward that night, or not having a girlfriend, or something like that typical of me. Two guys who I didn’t know very well at the time started talking to me, and eventually they invited me to their house to watch the Super Bowl the following Sunday.
One of those two guys was the one who posted the picture of the retreat a couple weeks ago. I replied to that photo, “I wasn’t there, but one of my friends who hates the Dallas Cowboys even more than I do posted today that the last Super Bowl win for the Cowboys was 20 years ago today (’20 years of choking,’ the meme says), which was that same year, and I remember that Super Bowl being the first time I ever hung out with you guys.”
The other guy who had been there on that night in 1996 to invite me to their house replied, “Was that the game you got really mad at? Or was that a later one?” He was right. I do tend to get pretty upset at big games that don’t go my way. And that one didn’t go my way. Like I said, I really hated the Cowboys at the time, and they won that game. I’m naturally competitive, I grew up in an environment centered around sports, and I tend to be short-tempered after a long childhood of being bullied. But none of that was going through my mind a couple weeks ago when I made my post connecting these two events.
“Probably,” I replied. “But twenty years later, the fact that I had new friends sticks out in my mind more than the specifics of the game.”
I think there’s an important lesson for me to learn in this. It’s just a game. I’ve seen my share of great games over the years, and I’ve seen my share of disappointing heartbreaks. But realistically, those moments aren’t the ones that really affect my life. And I meant every word that I said there: most of my memory of that Super Bowl Sunday 20 years ago involves the fact that I was around new friends, people with whom I would spend quite a bit of time over the next few years. And that is what I should be focusing on. Yes, it is fun to see my teams win, but the times I spend watching games with friends, celebrating with friends after a win and commiserating after a loss, those are the real memories that will last.