Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do it for the least of these

For those not versed in Nebraska football, let me enlighten you.

On seven or eight Saturdays a year, a football stadium becomes Nebraska's third biggest city. More than 80,000 people squeeze together to be part of something.

Being called "the greatest fans in college football" is surely hyperbole, but volumes of anecdotal evidence would support it.

For a state with no pro sports, where the two biggest cities are 45 minutes away (and on the far eastern side of the state), Husker football is the one thing that brings people from 93 counties together.

So when the team gets crushed by not only USC but Missouri and Oklahoma State there's trouble. There was that win over the something-or-others of Ball State. Yeah, I couldn't even tell you their mascot.

Coach Bill Callahan (pictured) takes the blame, although he's keeping his job. But what about the guy who hired Callahan?

So exit Steve Pederson, the much-reviled Athletic Director. Enter Dr. Tom Osborne, THE coach, THE Congressman, THE Nebraska legend.

I've been thinking. What's the deeper significance of this? One guy got canned, another guy took his job. Happens all the time.

So why will Osborne succeed? And more to the point, what can I learn from it?

Leadership starts at the top.

I firmly believe that. The guy (or gal) in charge sets the tone.

If the guy at the top is a tough as nails, black-tie-on-black-shirt-with-black-blazer wearing Vietnam vet, run for Canada and hope your draft number isn't called. This guy is scary. I worked for him. Fortunately, he's long since moved on, but you get the point. A militaristic regime doesn't work when you're dealing with creative types in the TV biz. People like that don't respond well. And to make matters worse, when they need something, they bark orders too. Ugly. That's what it is. Everyone watches their back, and not their work.

When the boss is soft-spoken, encouraging, and honest, guess what... everyone else will follow suit. They'll quietly deal with problems, help their fellow employee, and go home with a sense of accomplishment. Fortunately, I've had this boss too.

That boss is also Tom Osborne. I'm fortunate to know this man, ever so slight as I do.

Not only is he the soft-spoken, intelligent, educated, encouraging, honest leader, he cares about people. So much he'll give troubled kids (cough cough, Lawrence Phillips, cough) second, third, and fourth chances. He'd rather take the fall for the kid again and again then to send the kid packing, knowing that kid might not live to see another year.

What's my point?

‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Mt. 25:40 NLT).

Servant leadership. The Kingdom Christ ushered in operates this way. Turns the kingdom of this world on end.

That's the message I find on the football field that bears Tom Osborne's name. He puts others first. And now he'll be in charge. Guess what will happen? How radical would it be for others to follow suit! There are superstars, wannabes, and never-weres in this world who owe Osborne, because to him they were all the same. The equipment guy was just as important as the Heisman winner.

I know a few of the 80,000 who fill the stands Saturday afternoon will worship the game, the team, and the feeling it gives them. But I have to believe, a good number are living out Sunday morning too -- standing beside a brother who would stand beside them.

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