Just over 25 years ago, the greatest comeback in the history of the NFL took place. It was a playoff game in January 1993 in Buffalo between the Houston Oilers and the Buffalo Bills. On the first drive of the third quarter, the Oilers intercepted the Bills’ quarterback and returned it for a touchdown, pushing their lead up to 35-3.
Turn out the lights. That is an insurmountable lead. The Miami Dolphins coach, Don Shula, thought so. He was watching the game as his team waited to see who their next opponent would be. He recalled wondering how anybody was going to slow down the Oilers offense as he turned the TV off. So did thousands of Buffalo fans who headed for the exits.
A team that builds a 35-3 lead usually goes on to win 59-3. Or, the other team will get a couple of late scores to ‘make it respectable’. What happened next is still called “The Comeback.” It is a record that is likely to stand 25 years more if not longer.
The Bills scored four consecutive touchdowns in less than 7 minutes to get back into and then ultimately winning the game 41-38. As for the Oilers, how does a team that is so dominant that they build a 32-point lead suddenly become as equally inept?
Many people in Houston- where it was not ‘the Comeback’ but “The Choke”- believed the Oilers were cursed (which they were btw). Coach Buddy Ryan- hired to coach the Oiler defense after that disaster- stated “it looked like the whole team went brain-dead.” In other words- choked. That was the unsatisfying explanation I accepted for many years. But, that explanation doesn’t go deep enough. How and why did an entire team go “brain-dead?”
It was many years later when I was flipping through channels that I saw one of those NFL Films documentaries about that game. They interview people about the event, and go ‘behind the scenes’ on the sidelines- where you can see what the players are saying and doing on the sideline.
After the Bills scored their third rapid touchdown, cutting the lead to 35-24, one of the Bills players on the sidelines could be seen shouting “they don’t want it! they don’t want it!”
And I realized, that was it. It was not a complicated answer, a mysterious enigma, a riddle in team psychology.
They didn’t want it.
Do you think it is over-simplification to say ‘they didn’t want it’? If they wanted it, they would have dug down deep and put forth more effort to stay on top, to stop the other team from coming back. It would have required harder work and focus and toughness to withstand the storm and pull through. They didn’t want to do that. They didn’t want it.
Think of it this way- down 3-35, did the Bills want it? Were they willing to put forth the effort to grab it?
The story of Jacob and Esau contains a similar lesson. A birthright is a “double portion” of an inheritance. The inheritance is divided by the number of heirs, and then add one. If there are ten heirs, the estate is divided eleven ways, and the birthright gets two. Thus, the nine heirs get a 9% share, and the birthright gets 18%. There is a difference for sure, but not as dramatic when the heirs are fewer.
In the case of Jacob and Esau, the difference was between a 66% share, and 33%- twice as much. And we are not talking about three tents and 10 goats here. The estate of Abraham and Isaac was substantial- a veritable city-state with hundreds of workers and large land-holdings and resources. Their wealth was envied and respected by the other settlements in the region. In today’s money- it would be a multi-million dollar enterprise.
Because he was the first twin born, Esau held the birthright. He liked the outdoors, hunting and shooting his bow. He was also impulsive, impatient, and dramatic. Jacob knew this and took advantage of it.
One day when Esau had gone out hunting, Jacob put on a pot of beans. He knew Esau always came back from hunting with a ravenous appetite.
Genesis 25: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Esau despised his birthright- he didn’t want it. If he really wanted it, he would have declined the offer and went and made his own beans. But he didn’t want to wait- that was too hard.
Esau probably really wanted his birthright, he just didn’t want it very badly. And if you really want something, you are willing to put forth the effort to get it. If you are not willing- then you don’t want it. Who wanted the birthright- Jacob or Esau?
There is a difference between failing and despising. We try things all the time and fail. We even fail to get things we really want sometimes. That is how we learn and grow. There is no shame in putting forth honest effort and coming up short.
When we despise something, we are not willing to do what it takes to get something, or to keep it.
I look around at the country today and I wonder if we want it. I know lots of people say they want a good country, but I wonder if they really want it very badly.
If you don’t want it, you will lose it. Someone who really wants it will get it.
Matthew 13: 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.