One of the biggest lessons in the Bible is to not judge one another. It's a story that makes sense not just because we have all messed up in our lives, but also because we have never walked a day in somebody else's shoes.
I remember as good as that 2000 team was at South Carolina, we had a few players that seemed like they didn't fit in with everybody. In fact, with one player who kept making mistakes, people were wondering why he was still on the team.
I had our players get up in front of each other and tell their life story. The events and people that made them who they are. I can still remember that player telling his teammates that he grew up without a mother, and instead grew up with a younger brother, father, and grandfather. Well, when he gets up in front of our team, he says that one day his dad was killed in an auto accident, and when his grandfather was told of what happened, he died of a heart attack shortly after. In the same day, this man lost his father and grandfather, and he said he had just become bitter towards life.
That explained a lot, and we learned the same level of compassion with another player. This young man held a much bigger role on our team, so people were hoping he would take a vocal leadership position on our team. Instead, this player preferred to be alone, and hadn't developed a lot of close bonds with his teammates. Until that day.
This player explained how his dad was the one who taught him how to throw a football, shoot a basketball, hit a baseball, and how to hunt and fish. When this young man was 12 years old, his dad came in and gave him a kiss and said "I love you." Then he proceeded to go into the other room and commit suicide. I still feel the void in my life, the player told his teammates, and I've never wanted to be close to anybody again.
That changed everything with our team. Now they understood.
With a new bond between our players, we raced off to a blistering start. We began the next season 5-0, and all of a sudden we were ranked No. 9 in the country when we went to play Arkansas. They played that game in Little Rock as opposed to their on-campus stadium in Fayetteville, and that place was so loud that we couldn't hear each other talk.
The fans disrupted our offense the whole day, but on our final drive, we drove down to the Arkansas 15-yard line, with a chance to kick the tying field goal. Our kicker, Daniel Weaver, lined up to send the game into overtime, only to have the kick blocked. Our perfect season was over.
But by this point, our program was unified, and nobody got down on Daniel. We rallied to beat Vanderbilt, Wofford, and our rival Clemson as we finished the regular season 8-3. Our record in 2000 was 8-4, and if we could beat Ohio State in the Outback Bowl for a second straight year, we could secure the second-greatest season in USC history.
We got off to a 28-0 start against the Buckeyes, only to give up 28 straight points to Ohio State. And yet, because of everything we had been through, we weren't going to give up on each other now. Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance builds character. And through character arises hope.
Well in the last moments we drove all the way down the field, and with the game on the line we called on none other than Daniel. With seven seconds left, Daniel lined up for a 42-yard kick. Ohio State called a timeout to try and ice him, but it didn't matter. Daniel drilled the kick down the middle...the only question was if it had the distance. And with about two feet to spare, the ball sailed over the crossbar for the 31-28 win. We had done it. A 9-3 record on the season, and although our record wasn't perfect, the ending certainly was.
I think it’s the same for our walk with the Lord. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you’ve made over the course of your lifetime. In my 81 years on this planet I’ve made plenty. But what counts is that you continue to battle, and to make the newest day your best.