Can love win you football games? Just ask Clemson Coach, Dabo Swinney. In an emotional post-game interview after winning the 2017 college football national championship game, Coach Swinney spoke to ESPN’s Samantha Ponder. He said,

“To see my guys fight, and to just believe…I told them tonight…I told them that the difference in the game was going to be love. It’s been my word all year, it’s been love. I said tonight we’re going to win it because we love each other. We’re going to love each other. I don’t know how we’re going to win it. I told them at the halftime, ‘Guys, we’re going to win the game. I don’t know how, but we’re going to win it.”

Love? You’re going to beat the Goliath known as Alabama because you love each other? I happened to be watching the interview with fifteen other priests. Some of us groaned aloud when he said that. I confess I groaned, too. Surely his emotions got the best of him and things were getting touchy-feely.

My groan expressed an instinct in me that love makes nary a difference in such things as the blood-sport we call football. Nietzsche must have be rolling in his grave, I thought. How many coaches have you heard say that a big win was dependent upon whether or not the players love each other? Seems like weird, soft, or even bad advice for football…and for that matter, for success in any serious endeavor.

It’s great advice, actually. Here’s why.

The 13th century Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas observed that love is a commitment to selflessly will the good of the other. Love is not a feeling of attraction, ease, or a softness—though sometimes those sentiments may accompany love. If Thomas Aquinas was right, the essence of love is a firm decision to do what’s best for the other, even if it means placing one’s own good aside. Accordingly love is a form of strength with respect to that which is beyond the narrow confines of self-seeking.

In other words, love is the power to fling yourself into two Alabama defensive backs so Hunter Renfrow can make the game wining catch with one second on the clock (see Scott Artavis #3 Clemson Wide Receiver on final play:

So, yeah, maybe Coach Swinney’s advice is perfect for football. Thought experiment: imagine a football team composed of players who are each primarily concerned with his own statistics, reputation, playing time, position, and stature on the team. Now imagine another team in which each player is primarily concerned with the success and achievement of the other guys on the team—and each is committed to working selflessly for the other player’s good and that of the whole team.

All other things being equal, which team do you think would be a better team and likely win in a head to head battle? Which team will fight best?

For my money, the latter will fight best. You might even imagine the coach of such a team telling them in the locker room at halftime, “We’re going to win it because we love each other.”

So I recant my annoyed groan that came from the wrong-headed idea that love can’t win football games. It can and it did.

Well said, Coach.

 

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