Swear Cam

Posted on October 22, 2010


I own the 1991 Fiesta Bowl on DVD.  When I tell people this they typically shoot me a blank, slightly confused stare, like I just told them I own videotape of a cyst removal.  But the ’91 Fiesta Bowl holds special meaning for me, it being the first major bowl game that the University of Louisville ever won in my lifetime.  Without this DVD, I wouldn’t have access to crucial moments in sports history, such as Gene Stallings wearing a plaid blazer that was factory rejected for being “too visually disturbing”, or Howard Schnellenberger setting an NCAA record for most pipe tobacco smoked during an opening coin-flip.

I also wouldn’t have access to a time when a quarterback anywhere in college football could have a sub .500 completion percentage with a 3:1 interception to touchdown ratio, as Alabama’s Gary Hollingsworth did that season.  Those were gentler times in the early-Nineties, before 7-on7 passing camps, personal coaches, and various other programs in the nefarious, multi-billion dollar Quarterback Coaching Industry**.  Nowadays, those statistics would be unacceptable.  Were an Alabama quarterback to throw several interceptions in a game today, the Crimson Tide fans, ever supportive and rational, would encourage him to “bounce back” in the next contest by bulldozing his family’s house.  Roll Tide!

** this industry is America’s third largest growth sector as of this writing.  The US Department of Commerce estimates that by 2015, 42% of all working males will be personal quarterback coaches.  The rest will be agents.

Still, the thing I like most about the 1991 Fiesta Bowl is the quality of the television production.  This game, based on the quality of TV football I enjoy today, looks like it was produced by some of the patients from “Awakenings”‘.  Baby Boomers can remind their kids of a time when there was no Wi-Fi, or Starbucks, or water fortified with ginseng and taurine.   I equally relish the chance to show my children this football game and say, “Look kids!  Once upon a time we had only a few cameras and cheesy graphics!  And we sometimes had to wait several plays for an instant replay!  And none of the players, during their introductions, said that they played for “The” Ohio State University, or “The U”, wherever that is!  And John Madden and Brett Favre were not married yet!!”  It would blow their mind, this knowledge.

But what would really blow their mind would be the lack of a Swear Cam.  We, as veteran TV sports viewers, take the Swear Cam for granted now, but there once was a time without it, just as there once was a time without cars with sensors on their bumpers that beeped when you were about to back into something.  This time, of course, was the late Cretaceous Era, and the lack of bumper-beeping technology was a major determining factor in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The Swear Cam is what occurs when a player makes a truly boneheaded mistake, or an official blows a call, and someone in the production truck thinks to themselves, “Wouldn’t it be great TV if we cut to the coach for a reaction shot featuring a slow-motion replay of the coach enunciating an F-bomb like a spelling bee contestant?”

The answer to that question, of course, is: no, it would not.  Because all coaches not named ‘John Wooden’ or ‘Tony Dungy’ curse like gypsies.  And so now we, the responsible parent, in addition to explaining to our children both the difference between Budweiser and Coors and how the prostate works, must now also tell outrageous lies to them (“No, sweetie, he said ‘flying truck’.”) and figure out where their lip-reading ability suddenly came from.  Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation never had to deal with that.

Football coaches trying to maintain a wholesome image had luckier days back in the 60’s and 70’s, before the proliferation of sideline cameras.  The founder of the NFL and of the Chicago Bears, ‘Papa Bear’ George Halas, was so skilled at using profanity that he could swear into a tub of ice water and turn it into Guinness on tap.  In his own words, he knew it was time to leave football when he could “no longer chase down the refs to cuss at them.”  And I don’t even want to think of the ruin that would befall the Vince Lombardi Leadership Industry** if tape ever surfaced of Coach Lombardi repeatedly asking an official, in graphic terms, if he had ever been to the zoo.

**- Leadership is America’s 4th largest industry.  The federal government estimates that by 2020, 74% of all ex-high school and collegiate quarterbacks will be Leadership Coaches.  The rest will be involved in pyramid schemes.

The point is that the Swear Cam has given us a new perspective on head coaches** , one which shows that in spite of their numerous books on Success (TM) and exorbitant public speaking fees, they are still normal people, inasmuch as they have the vocabulary of sixth graders.  They are also just like us, in the sense that they are often two people.

**- The National Council on Employment predicts that by 2025, 78% of all ex-head coaches will hold elected office.  The rest will be Chris Rock impersonators.

Before the Swear Cam Era began, coaches safely assumed that they could say anything they wanted on the sidelines and their public persona would remain pristine.  George Halas could use any kind of soul-blasting profanity he chose, and his larger reputation as a benevolent old man could stay intact, because his sideline behavior stayed localized.  There was no Swear Cam to take it to the masses.  There was Sideline Coach and Community Coach.  The two rarely met, and the world usually saw one or the other.

I understand this.  Once upon a time I was two people.  Church Andrew read multiple C.S. Lewis books before his twelfth birthday and attended every level of Christian schooling possible, including Presbyterian kindergarten.  Everywhere Else Andrew loved swearing and saying funny things, no matter how coarse or derogative, and mostly just wanted to fit in.  The two of them never met, but they’d heard of each other, and that was enough.  Church Andrew hated Everywhere Else for not being a better person and constantly making him fail.  Everywhere Else Andrew hated Church for making him feel guilty all the time.  The one thing they could agree on was that they couldn’t stand the other.

“If we say we have no sin, then the truth is not in us, and we deceive ourselves.”  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, now we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.”  These two verses, the first from John’s epistle and the second by Paul, form the twin axes by which the truth of Jesus unites our duality.  John tells us that our sinfulness is an obvious component of who we are, as impossible to miss as a lighthouse on a point.  We can’t lie- God already knows about our sin, all of it- and we can’t do anything about it.  And God’s word shows us his standard:  perfection.  The Law.  And then Paul tells us that through faith in Jesus we have peace.  Christ accomplished what we could not- freedom from wrath- and gave it to us: grace.

The cross of Jesus is the joining point of the Law and Grace.  The Law shone a spotlight on my everywhere else-ness and showed me all the ways my actions were wrong.  The Law broke my churchiness and showed me that all my self-righteousness never fooled anybody, let alone God.  At the cross they both fell, begging for mercy, and both received love and forgiveness.  At that moment they agreed to peace and shook hands in detente.  I never felt better.

The Swear Cam reveals the same dichotomy in coaches that the cross resolves in us.  We no longer have to be split entities, as coaches often are, operating one way on the sidelines and another away from it.  We do not have one part of us that is acceptable to God and another that is shameful and needs to be hidden.  We can walk in self-unity.  This path to wholeness runs through the truth of Calvary, where the Law hung Jesus in condemnation of all of our sins, while the radical love of God bore that condemnation just so that God could have us, and for no other reason.

As sports fans, we like our coaches.  When they lead our teams to the Quaker State Engine Viscosity Bowl or the semi-finals of the Great Pedestrian Shoot-Out, it makes us feel good.  But the next time you see the Swear Cam on your TV screen, remember that it’s secretly grace- God’s grace to the coach to let us see his whole person, flaws and all, and His grace to us to remind us of the burden we no longer have to bear.

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