“Over the years my enjoyment of the game of football has been increasing. This game offers a level of complexity which I had not realized in my earlier years. The offensive and defensive options are fascinating because they are nearly limitless.” (This quote originated from our May 17, 2009 post.) After the incredible Superbowl LI, we cannot resist offering parallels between football, one of the most popular participation and spectator sports ever conceived by sports-minded humanity, and the operation of our eleven biological body systems. Our 2017 post-Superbowl game musings comparing team football strategies and our knowledge of biological body systems may be instructive for both sports fans and students of biology as well as those who look for parallels in the spiritual realm.
Never before had a Superbowl team come from more that 10 points behind to win. The New England Patriots were behind by 25 points, but finished with a 34-28 victory, posting 31 “unanswered” points. It was the first overtime game in Superbowl history. For more than half the game, the Atlanta Falcons dominated and took a 28-3 lead.
Among spectators watching Superbowl LI it is likely that only a very few grasped the number and scope of personnel who provided the support system for the two top professional NFL teams. Coaching assignments on each team number 15-20, not counting physical conditioning specialists. In addition, there are many management positions emplaced by team owners. Most of the millions of spectators watching on television may be unaware of the range and variety of personnel functioning in so many diverse roles behind the scenes. Parallels to the adventure of living things and living systems are abundant.
On a professional football team there are many different coaches tasked with various roles. The head coach receives a majority of the public attention. While not responsible for every decision, he is the “main man” who sets team philosophy and strategy. On a team level there are multiple coaches who have responsibility in different areas including offensive and defensive coordinators and coaches, special teams, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, all-important quarterback coaches, and many assistants.
NFL teams operate with far less complexity than the human body. The brain is the command center for the body. It receives input in the form of electrical impulses from many outlying body regions on what conditions exist a few inches or feet from the brain. As a whole, the brain delivers its responses. The cerebellum controls balance, coordinates speech, and balances muscular activity. The brain stem controls the flow of messages between the brain and the rest of the body and regulates breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. One tiny organ, the pituitary gland, is known as the master gland because it supplies directions for proper functioning of virtually all other glands in the body including the thyroid and adrenal. The pituitary may be tantamount to the “head” coach of body chemistry. The hypothalamus prompts the pituitary either to stimulate or inhibit hormone production. This array of “coaches” trusts its communication system—nerve impulses coded with coherent instructions sent out along the axons of neurons. One may draw the parallel to electronic communication delivered to assistant coaches on the football practice or game field.
How do the players execute their training to win on Superbowl Day? February 5, 2017 was the culmination of many months, even years of preparation. For the Atlanta Falcons, there were several instances of lack of critical execution in the last quarter of their game which resulted in a heartbreaking loss. Quarterback Matt Ryan at 4:40, with the ball in the range of an easy field goal near the opponent’s 20-yard line, dropped back to pass. He was sacked for a big loss. Two plays later a holding call pushed them back for another big loss. Hundreds of hours of coaching meant nothing as the Falcons were forced to punt, thereby forfeiting a near certain field goal which would have produced a two-score game at 31-20. With that score they could have held the lead and won the contest even with the incredibly heroic late drive and two-point conversion later executed by New England.
Victorious quarterback Tom Brady overcame a dreadful start for almost three quarters. But the control and execution system—the master coaching staff and their talented players—prevailed on the front line of battle. In the end victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. Brady passed for a record 466 yards and completed 43 passes, both records.
The human body has an even more magnificent control and execution system—the controlling brain with its ability to effect healthy bodily function, the systems ultimately working their phenomenal activity at the body’s periphery. One bodily ability deserving of highest wonder is its ability to remedy and repair malfunctions and achieve bodily healing using the directives of the brain as its control and coordinating system. At the level of the Superbowl, the New England Patriots’ 25-point deficit well into the second half expresses “healing” at the level of a sporting contest better than most examples.
The Falcons made several crucial game errors, mentioned above, costing them victory in the world’s ultimate football contest. At the level of professional medicine we cite success by many doctors who help us overcome bodily neglect or even a physical body deficiency or illness over which we may not have control. There are nearly unlimited object lessons we could draw from the ultimate championship football contest to parallel human body function as well as the more important spiritual warfare in which we are involved throughout our lives. We mention the importance of physical conditioning, vital for sports competitors, briefly mentioned by the Apostle Paul in I Cor. 9:24-25: “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (NIV).
The occurrence of a “fluke” play dictated by chance may play a part in defeat on the athletic field; likewise, errors of judgement characteristic of ordinary error-prone humanity. For these, we do not offer a fool-proof solution. Our favorite athletic team members, however, may appreciate exercise of the gift of patience and forbearance from their fans!