A beloved hero or loathed loser in the blink of an eye


   This is a tale of two kickers. It is a tale of love.
   In the church, we often refer to unconditional love. But we talk about it much more than we experience it.
   This is a tale about conditional love.
   It would be difficult to find a better example of the fickle, fleeting nature of fame and fortune than what happened on opposite coasts in the two recent NFL championship games.
    The two kickers in this drama are similar in many ways, sharing a quirky specialty in a profession that celebrates the biggest, fleetest and toughest among us. On a recent Sunday the two men found themselves in somewhat similar circumstances in their respective playoff games.
      Their deeds will not soon, if ever, be forgotten.
     As the players on the field relentlessly hammered away at each other, desperately trying to gain an upper edge in a battle for a coveted berth in the Super Bowl, the two kickers patiently watched and waited for their turns. The two games – one in New England, the other in San Francisco – were unusually tense, close and hard-fought. It was great drama.
    On the field, the toll of hand-to-hand combat and multiple high-speed collisions was increasingly evident. Players were bloodied and scarred, helmets scarred up, uniforms soaked and stained. On their respective sidelines, the kickers stood alone, figuratively and literally, uniforms dry, spotless and unruffled.
    It is a scene repeated often in football.
    In the final moments of a game, when it looks likely that the decision will come down to a field goal, the well-rested and unsoiled kicker will walk behind the bench and begin loosening for his moment in the spotlight.
       When the decisive moment arrives, it brings with it a remarkable role reversal. As most of the battered and weary warriors watch intently, and helplessly, from the sidelines, the kicker takes his place.
    In New England, Baltimore Ravens veteran kicker Billy Cundiff lined up for a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining for a chance to tie the AFC Championship game against the Patriots.
     A few hours later on the West Coast, New York kicker Lawrence Tynes lined up for a 31-yard field goal in overtime which, if made, would send the host 49ers home and the visiting Giants to the Super Bowl.
      Tynes made his kick. Cundiff missed his.
     “It’s a kick I’ve kicked 1,000 times in my career,” said Cundiff, who has enjoyed a steady, successful career. But this is the one kick for which he will be remembered.
     Meanwhile, for making a field goal that is considered a routine chip-shot in the NFL, Tynes is a hero in New York, the subject of beaming headlines and widespread adulation.
     In San Francisco, Cundiff has been the subject of death threats.
     Death threats.
    Unfortunately, he is not alone. Kyle Williams, a kick returner for the 49ers, had a costly fumble after causing an earlier turnover, which resulted in 10 points for the Giants and barrage of online death threats.
     Oftentimes in high-level competition the difference between hero and goat is measured in fractions of inches or seconds. Sealing the long-term legacy of an athlete can come down to a slow-motion review of a replay.
   Think about that. In the blink of an eye, you could become the focus of a victory parade or a death threat. 
   We all know what it is like to feel loved or unloved based on our performance. We also know that it is the unconditional love of Christ that we receive freely and are simply asked to share with others.
     One person who clearly understands the need for grace is Maggie-Ann Tynes, mom of Giants hero-of-the-moment Lawrence Tynes.
    She knows that the wrath being vented on Billy Cundiff could have just as easily been directed toward her son, with the slightest misstep.
    "I felt so badly for him [Cundiff], my heart was breaking,”  Maggie-Ann Tynes told the New York Post. “He has to face all his team, and then news [media] after that. My heart just broke for him.
“Gob bless him.”
    God bless us all. And thank the Lord for unconditional love.
 Glenn Hannigan is editor of the North Georgia Advocate. You can contact him at glenn@ngumc.org.