Notre Dame football has had a long and highly successful history. It stood the tallest, though, when Knute Rockne was the head coach. From 1918 to 1930, the team’s winning percentage was .881. They lost only twelve games during those thirteen years and won six national championships. The unprecedented success would no doubt have continued had Rockne not been killed in a tragic plane crash on March 31, 1931. He was just 43 years old.
During Rockne’s tenure at Notre Dame, a football column regularly appeared in the school newspaper. The column’s writer would say incredibly mean, nasty, and insulting things about the team. He would not only ridicule the team as a whole but also pointedly criticize individual players. The writer always remained anonymous and merely signed his name as “Old Bearskin.”
What was most shocking about the column was that the writer seemed to have inside information concerning the team. He knew which players were lazy, which ones were ladies’ men, and which ones kept scrapbooks to read their own press clippings. Every player on the team hated “Old Bearskin.” When a player would come to practice and complain about something that had been written, Coach Rockne would sympathize and say that no one should write such things. Then he would say to the team, “Boys, let’s get out there and show ‘Old Bearskin’ that the things he writes aren’t true.”
It was only after Rockne’s death that “Old Bearskin” was revealed to be none other than Rockne himself. His purpose in writing the column was to keep his players humble and hungry as opposed to egotistical and content to rest on their laurels. Rockne understood the pitfalls of pride and went to the extreme of writing the column to keep his players from succumbing to them.
I trust this illustration will help us all to understand why God sometimes allows us or even causes us to experience humbling setbacks and defeats. We don’t like such experiences any more than Knute Rockne’s players liked that newspaper column. But how can we argue that we don’t, at times, need these experiences? Believe it or not, they are nothing less than acts of love on God’s part. You see, He knows Proverbs 16:18, and He wants better for us than its words:
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.