(Tom Hauck/Associated Press 2015)

With just over a minute to go in the 1987 AFC Championship game, Earnest Byner was in the same position as me. All he had to do was punch the ball in and the Browns were going to tie the game. Instead, with his team trailing 38-31 at the time, Earnest fumbled the ball on the one-yard line. The Broncos fell on the ball, and just like that the Browns went from Super Bowl contenders to their season being over.

Whenever anybody else was trying to encourage me, it had been falling on deaf ears. They weren’t going through what I went through, and as much as they wanted to help, they had no way of understanding how awful I felt.

Earnest did.

I called him, and we soon developed a friendship. I think he recognized that we shared this terrible story in common, and he wanted to do whatever he could to help me out. And that included tough love.

 
 

Every so often, just when I was putting the play out of my mind, he would send me the video. Again. And again. And again.

Each time I would be like “Why are you doing this to me?” I remember one time I was on a plane ride to see my best friend Eddie Lacy, and as soon as the plane landed and I turned on my phone, there was the replay of my fumble. Again. I was like "Is this guy trying to ruin my weekend?"

And each time I questioned him about it, he would say four words. Get used to it.

So I did. And as I embraced it as part my story, I was able to see it from a new narrative.

God didn't do this to me. He did it for me.

When I fumbled that ball, my relationship with God wasn’t where it is now. I had believed in Christ for most of my life, but I don't know that I had ever felt a true sense of needing Him like I did in the aftermath of that fumble. Maybe that's the reason He allowed me to fumble that ball.

I don't know a lot about scripture, but I do think there is a verse that applies to my life...suffering produces perseverance, perseverance builds character, and through character, hope.

Sometimes the Bible can be confusing or lost in translation, so I remember I started watching Joel Osteen. He is a big believer in overcoming adversity, and I think one of his speeches applied to my situation.

He lives in Houston, and one time he gave a sermon about how he had missed a Houston Rockets game that he wanted to see, and the next day he read about what a big win it was. When he went to watch the tape delay of the game, the Rockets were getting blown out. Rather than thinking he was watching the wrong broadcast, he thought to himself “I’m about to watch an amazing comeback.” That’s also the story of God with our lives.

He always knew I had a comeback story in me, and now people are finally getting to see it. I like working with kids and when they go through adversity I try to help them out. I don't always bring up the play, but when I think it’s going to give somebody a new perspective on things, I don’t hesitate to share my story.

I was able to forgive myself for that one mistake, but what also helped me was being forgiven in return.

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Thomas Hager