A number of exciting things happened in my life, in Cathy’s life and the lives of our children in 1977. The most life-changing event happened for Cathy and me in August in Dallas when we were saved and born into the Kingdom of God. I have recounted the story of our conversion in A Shopping Trip To Dallas. Everything in us was transformed when Christ entered our lives. II Cor. 5:17
Another exciting thing happened the same year when the Arkansas Razorback football team coached by Lou Holtz was invited to play in the Orange Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners. Because the Orange Bowl is played in Miami it was a great opportunity for us to visit Cathy’s family for the Christmas season in Fort Lauderdale. The game was to be played on January 2. I called Cathy’s brother, George to try to get us tickets to the game, because he had good connections through his college. He was the Dean of Students at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale and knew the right people to get good seats. He was able to purchase a ticket for son, John Aaron, for himself and for me.
Our flight to Fort Lauderdale was memorable, and I have written about my encounter with Rabbi Norman on the flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale. (Sharing Jesus With Rabbi Norman). As a result of our meeting he sent me a signed copy of his book, Patrick J. Magillicuddy and The Rabbi.
The Orange Bowl is one of the premier bowl games every year, and this was the first time the Razorbacks had ever been invited to play in it. No one in the sports world apart from ardent Arkansas fans gave the Hogs even the slightest chance against the mighty Sooners from Oklahoma. They were ranked number two in the nation in all the polls with the undefeated Texas Longhorns ranked number 1.
George, John and I were excited (especially me) as we drove the 30 plus miles from Cathy’s parent’s home in Fort Lauderdale to the stadium in Miami. The game was played at night so the closer we got to our destination, the better we could see the bright lights of the stadium in the clear, crisp evening. We also saw many cars of OU fans with their signs and streamers proclaiming their Sooners as national champions. Notre Dame had defeated the Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl earlier in the day, so all Oklahoma had to do was defeat the lowly Razorbacks and claim their national prize. As we walked into the stadium with our red shirts and hats, several O.U. fans told us we had wasted our time driving such a distance to witness an ugly slaughter!
At the gate each of us was handed a tiny flashlight in the form of a candle and were told to leave the light off until the half-time show at which time we would be instructed what to do with it. Disney Productions was in charge of the half-time show, and it had been promoted as a typical Disney extravaganza. I noticed one fan after another turning their candle on with many of the children leaving theirs on as they took their seats. Although our seats were good with an excellent view of the field we were seated high in the lower deck. There were many more OU fans present than Arkansas fans, and seated directly in front of us was a family of a husband, his wife and two children with O.U. shirts, hats and pom poms. They were very animated and vocal prior to kick-off, so we remained pretty subdued.
George had given John his battery-powered fog horn which he normally used on his boat. He told John to use it sparingly because it was very loud. (Wrong thing to tell a 10-year-old!) The Razorbacks jumped to an early lead in the game, and our nearby O.U. fans became more subdued. As the margin of our lead increased our cheering with the fog horn emphasis also increased. The folks in front of us particularly cringed when John blew the horn, which he did every time our team made a first down.
Something happened at half-time which I have never forgotten. When the Disney people took charge of the program we were all reminded to turn off our candles if we hadn’t already done so. We were told when it was the appropriate time we would be instructed to turn on the light. The announcer of the program then said very loudly, “Let’s begin the show,” and all the stadium lights were turned off.
I was struck by the extreme darkness which enveloped the stadium. As I looked around I noted I would have had difficulty leaving my seat and walking down the long flight of stairs if we had an emergency requiring an immediate exit. It was impossible to see much beyond one or two rows ahead in the darkness. Then something happened which impressed me greatly. Across the stadium in about row twenty-five one person turned on their light long before the announcer instructed us to do so. It was a young man whom I estimated to be a teenager. I could almost see his face clearly even though moments before I could not see anything farther away than 8 to10 feet.
Later I thought of the spiritual significance of one single light in a totally dark stadium of sixty thousand people. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus commanded us when He said, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
I have wondered what my meager light could possibly accomplish in a very dark and sinful world. Now I am reminded of the half-time show at the Orange Bowl in 1978, and the teen-aged boy who failed to follow instructions. He taught me one tiny and seemingly insignificant light can light-up a dark place when it is empowered by the Father of Lights! (Matthew 5:14-16)
PS: For those who don’t remember the Razorbacks trounced the Sooners 31-6 that night at the Orange Bowl. After the game we couldn’t find any of those Oklahoma fans who questioned our intelligence for even attending.