Army and the Lottery Ticket Not Taken

The answer to Army's football prayers isn't something out there in the distance; it's something close at hand, something the Black Knights very much have the power to correct themselves. This is frustrating, but it's also a source of encouragement as a difficult September moves along.


We’re not trying to push religion here, of course. However, many of you have probably heard the story (and if you haven’t, it’s not highly ideological or theological, so don’t worry) about the man who lived in a house near a big river. He gets caught in a huge storm which causes the river to surge into the neighborhood. The whole riverside area is flooded, with water rising to the rooftops of each house.

From the time the waters began to rush onto the street, to the time when the flood fully submerged his house, the man – convinced that God would find a way to save him – waited for his deliverance from danger.

In the meantime, neighbors in a car offered to whisk him away from the flood. Later, as the waters had presumably reached the top of his front-porch steps, a police motorboat on the river arrived, offering safe passage out of the flood zone. The man, still waiting for that elusive sign, refused and said no thanks. When the waters approached the rooftop and the man had little recourse left, a helicopter with a rope hanging down gave the man one last chance to get out of big trouble in river city. He said no – God would come through in the end.

Well, as you could imagine, the man drowned.

When he stepped inside the pearly gates, he complained to God about the lack of intervention in that dire situation. God calmly pointed out that He sent the neighbors’ car, the police motorboat, and the helicopter with the rope – how much clearer or more dramatic did He need to be about it all?

On a more personal level, my father took great pleasure in telling me one time, after I refused to be a participant in my own betterment, about a very simple and brief dialogue between a man and God.

MAN: “Lord, let me win the lottery today. I’ve been praying about this for weeks – PLEASE let this happen today!”

GOD: “You keep praying to me about this, but GIMME A BREAK, WILL YA? BUY A LOTTERY TICKET!!!!”

Those two images – of people praying for grand deliverances or great rewards, but not doing the things needed to help bring them about – pretty much describe where Army football is right now.

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Yes, Army was bitterly unlucky at the end of Saturday’s game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. A bad hold on Wake Forest’s final field goal should have meant a shanked kick, but somehow, Mike Weaver improbably struck the ball solidly and accurately. Given the poor and late nature of the hold, that kick would be missed 9 times out of 10. This was the tenth time, and so Army fell to its guest from the ACC. There’s something deeply unfortunate about that, and Army is certainly in a position where it needs the extra break to become a more successful program, one that can eventually dream of chasing a bowl bid. An 0-3 start obviously doesn’t offer much hope for that goal in 2015.

Yet, as unfortunate as that last field goal was, it’s not as though Army couldn’t have done something about the matter at earlier points in this game. This is irritating, but it’s also encouraging, in the sense that these are not events outside Army’s control. The Black Knights can certainly be better if they can make modest improvements to the way they play. Using the images above, there is a way for Army to buy its own lottery ticket, so that it can turn opportunities into victories.

A 39-yard field goal attempt is a lottery ticket. Army couldn’t cash it in, and those missed three points loomed very large at the end of Saturday’s contest.

A dropped pick-six – maybe not a piece-of-cake drop, but certainly a catchable and returnable ball – just before Wake’s winning field goal was another lottery ticket Army didn’t buy.

On a broader level, the fact that Wake handed Army three interceptions meant that with a 14-point output, the Black Knights did not turn all three of those turnovers into points. That’s an unused lottery ticket. So was the fact that Wake Forest lost its starting quarterback in the first half and had to play a backup throughout the second half. That might have been West Point’s ultimate ticket to a gridiron jackpot, and the defense certainly seemed to take advantage of it, but a limited offense – one that’s not playing FCS (Fordham) defenses anymore – just couldn’t get going, totaling under 270 yards for the second straight game.

Lottery tickets were being sold, but Army couldn’t find a one-dollar bill in its pockets. The single was left in its dresser at home.

No one needs an explanation about the margins Army is playing with right now. This team just isn’t good enough to win FBS games by comfortable point spreads. Wins, when attained, are almost certain to be close ones. Big mistakes are going to be punished, and will lead to defeats. However, given how well this defense has competed against UConn and now Wake, Army shows signs of being able to stay in games for all 60 minutes. The chances for victories will exist.

Buying each and every lottery ticket when it comes along, though, is mandatory, and not optional. Army needs to bring at least five singles to the convenience store for the rest of the season. If it can, this journey can go from 0-3 to a much brighter and sunnier place…

… one where floodwaters won’t rise to the porch steps, and then the rooftop.

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