Are You on God’s Team?

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:3

When the Miami Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII, they wrapped up a Perfect Season. No one could believe it! In fact, Miami’s domination in the early 1970’s was unparalleled in professional football. They were an absolutely amazing team.

Norm Evans, president and founder of the Professional Athletes Outreach, and former All-Pro right tackle, provided me with some great insights into how Miami built such a terrific team. “Our preparation for the Super Bowl run came when Head Coach Shula and Offensive Line Coach Monte Clark came on board in 1970.” The 6’5”, 248-pound former linemen also told me that Shula knew every aspect of the game and instilled a sound work ethic in the men. He expected greatness and would not settle for mediocrity.

Don Shula’s team changed from year to year, but the intensity of their game never let up. John Madden recalls, “Shula has won with different teams in different cities. He won in Baltimore with Johnny Unitas at quarterback, and he won there with Earl Morrall at quarterback when Unitas was hurt. Then he took over a team in Miami that had Larry Csonka and Bob Griese, and he won the Super Bowl twice.” It wasn’t the team as much as it was the system and discipleship that Coach Shula brought to the game.

Still, that Perfect Season of 1972 was completely unique, and, according to Norm Evans, was at least two years in the making. In 1970, when Shula arrived on the scene, the Dolphins finally came to camp after a very difficult labor dispute. It was a rough start. Shula demanded four-a-day workouts so that the players would “catch up for lost time”. No team has ever had more workouts than did the 1970 Dolphins.

Coach Shula also hired a psychologist to put the entire team through some very detailed testing. Evans recalls that the entire team was locked up for four hours taking various tests. The results established the team as a unique collection of some of the most “highly motivated” guys in the league.

To develop a truly great team, Shula took advantage of this individual, professional pride and encouraged players to help one another become even greater. His definition of team didn’t include the letter “I”. He believed the team was never going to be better than its weakest link. Each player was expected to know his responsibilities on each play, but Shula also made them learn each of their teammate’s assignments as well. He felt this would build accountability and unity.

Shula and Clark began an intense program that built a real “espirit d’ corps” among the players. Evans recalls, “Coach Clark insisted upon the offense line hanging out together during our off times. He believed that once we got to really know and respect each other we wouldn’t want to let the other guy down.”

According to Norm, “Coach Monte built pride, confidence, poise, and a very strong work ethic among the linemen that soon became the standard for the entire team.” When the media tried to develop a controversy among the players and the fans about the playing time Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris got, the team stood firmly united.

If you study game films from that Perfect Season, you can see the intensity and pride each player had in his performance. They worked together as a finely tuned machine. The team’s cohesiveness and unity allowed them to make the most of each play called. Norm recalls, “We were so good that many of Griese’s play calls were made on the line of scrimmage after he quickly evaluated the defense alignment. The offensive players made their individual adjustments as the cadence came down from the All-Pro quarterback.”

The foundation had been laid for that Perfect Season. In 1972, the lack of serious injuries to key players, the fact that the team was fundamentally sound, and the excellent physical conditioning just proved too much for all their opponents. They won every game. The media called it the “No Name Defense”, despite the fact it had two All-Pro performers—middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti and safety Dick Anderson. This unique defense played with unselfish team members who concentrated their efforts on each play. They truly played as a team!

Such devotion and skill is so hard to come by in a team anymore. Over the years I’ve lamented with many coaches and All-Pro players about a growing concern for the lack of focus and good work ethic among some of their teammates. It’s almost unimaginable that someone could receive millions of dollars for playing football, then, once their contracts are signed, slack off to the point of embarrassment. But it happens. Another huge disappointment comes from those few players who risk the team’s future, indulging themselves in reckless and illegal behavior. And too often we see “prima donna” attitudes: players who rely too much on their own “game time” abilities that they don’t reach for that next level of conditioning during practice or who have simply become “know-it-alls”. Then there are those who really believe they are perfect. They feel invincible and are cantankerous about how the game is played.

As Christians, God’s team, we can learn a lot from that Perfect Season. As good as the 1972 and 1973 Dolphins were, they weren’t actually perfect. Passes were missed, blocks fell short, fumbles were made, and handoffs missed. While the Dolphins were very good, they were not perfect in any way. They simply won every time! And isn’t that what we want to do? Jesus is coming back, but He says He waits so that none will be lost (2 Peter 3:9). If we’re to win people to Christ, we have to start playing like a team. We can’t just “play” for Sundays. We need to be committed daily to God’s purpose and will for our lives. We need to take personal responsibility and work diligently wherever God has us, but we also need accountability and we need to take interest in each player on the team. There’s simply no room for a “prima donna” or “know it all” attitude. We have to be committed to each other and to growing in our understanding and knowledge of the Lord. We have to genuinely care about each other and be willing to “go to the wall” for each other…and forgive. There will be fumbles and misunderstandings, but we need to humble ourselves and work hard to live in peace.

Most importantly, we need to recognize that we can’t do any of this in our own strength. Fortunately, we have a “Head Coach” who empowers and inspires us. He gives us wisdom, love for one another, strength, peace, patience, and understanding—not so we look good, but for His own glory—that others may come to know Him.

Too many times believers act like Christianity is an individual sport. We get the “super star” syndrome and act like life (or ministry) is all about “me”: “That just doesn’t work for me” or “I’m not really comfortable with that”. What would it look like to really work together like a team? I think God’s Word gives us a pretty good picture of that in the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for Christ’s return. I can hardly wait! He waits so that none will be lost…LET’S GO GET ‘EM TEAM!

The Power of Truth:
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” 1 Cor. 12:12

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Eph. 7:16

Suggestion for Prayer:
Ask God where you need to grow, where you need to submit, and where you need to reach out in love. Ask Him to make you a real team player.