September 29, 2013

       By Dr. Rodney Chang

 

                   Hail Mary Pass

 

 

              Benson Kadota was an avid football fan.  Most of all, being a local boy who graduated from the college, he was a die-hard, loyal fan and supporter of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.  Benson had been a lifelong fanatic follower of the team.  He emotionally lived and died with the team through their good as well as bad years. 

              But time was short for Benson.  Now 69, poor Benson had been diagnosed with incurable cancer of the lungs.  Too many cigarettes over a lifetime had finally done him in.  Smoking also was the cause for his serious heart ailment.  He had had the surgery but still couldn't stop smoking.  Now it made no sense to do any more cardiac surgical intervention.  Not when his doctor gave him no more than two weeks to live due to the aggressive lung malignancy. 

              So what did Benson want more than anything else during his last days left on the planet?  A “win” from the current struggling U.H. football team, then 0-3 in the present season.  There was only one game scheduled during the next two weeks.

              As he tried to retire one night, coughing incessantly from the lung cancer, and under heavy medication for the pain, Benson prayed for a win, as improbable as it might be.  In his prayer, he reflected, Lord, thank you ever so much for the game of football.  It has brought so much joy to me in life, especially by following the University of Hawaii Rainbows.  I have been told that I have only time left for this weekend's game against Fresno State.  I realize the visiting powerhouse is nationally ranked and my beloved team has been terrible in the first three games of the season.  Yeah, there's a quarterback problem.  Our starting QB has a separated shoulder and the backups have been ineffective in real game play.  But if it's not too much to ask, I would like to put forth a dying man’s last request.  O’ My Lord, can you please influence the game so I can “go out” with elation and not suffer through another bitter defeat?  I mean, aren't miracles possible, even in sports?   Shortly after his prayer of desperation, critically ill Benson managed to fall asleep.

              While he slept Benson had a dream.  In it, an angel came to him. The heavenly messenger possessed a beautiful face, long silky gown, and magnificent snowy-white wings.  She gently floated in the air with her wings flapping gracefully.  To his surprise, she was spinning a football on one of her slender fingertips!  In the dream the oracle said to the dying man,

              “Benson Kadota, you will soon be not of this world.  But you have been, in general, a good and decent man and so shall be rewarded.  I have been sent by The Almighty to answer your prayer.  As a reward for a life of good deeds to others, I have been given the power to grant your wish.”

               Benson lips slightly quivered as he remained in deep slumber. He was trying to articulate, “Thank you very much, dear angel.  But what wish    are we talking about?”        He had forgotten what he prayed for before falling asleep.

            The angelic vision replied,  “We both realize this Saturday's game on television will be your last game as a living spectator.  Yes, it would be wonderful for you to enjoy this final game, instead of becoming depressed with another loss, watching your team drop to 0-4 at the time of your death.  For your life, that would be very untimely.”

           “So are you saying, O’ Gracious One, that you can grant me a win?  It would indeed be a miraculous outcome. Fresno State is 3-0, ranked nationally, and has the 3rd most productive quarterback in college football this year.  There's even talk about making him a candidate for the Heisman Trophy.”

          “Yes, we above know this.”  Wow, thought Benson, Heaven keeps track of football too!

          “Anything is possible, if you believe and pray hard enough.  We have moved mountains and divided the sea, you know.”

          “Oh, I'm praying real hard now, O Holy One.”

           “Fine, then it shall be done.  We above can influence world events down here on Earth.  I will grant this last request of yours.”

             Reasoned Benson (as best as a brain in the REM state can reason), I know this is some kind of dream but I love it!  Yeah, who knows?  That  pigskin is known to     take funny bounces.  Maybe this visitation in this dream is an omen, a real wish granted to me, as some mercy for a dying fan.

            “It won't be easy,” said the winged visitor, now displaying a serious expression on her face.  Your team is really struggling this year.  The offense is averaging only 10.5 points a game.  The visitors have superior size and talent and lead the conference.  Mere wishing cannot change this existing reality.  There has to be the inevitable domination by the superior forces.  It’s almost a natural law.”

           Hearing this made Benson toss in his sleep.

           “But yes, we can sway the final results.  BELIEF in overcoming impossible odds after a bit of success on the field, found strength through team SPIRIT, WONDEROUS momentum shifts, … these can all be HEAVEN-SENT.  But like I said, this isn’t going to be easy.”

            “Yeah, I realize this will be difficult.  Vegas has the Bulldogs pegged as 18 and a half point favorites.  Our QB is injured and may not play. There are injuries to several key starters on the offensive and defensive squads.  We have a new head coach.  But at least we have a home field advantage, right?”   Benson was now talking football.

               “Yes, it does help to have spectators cheering for you.”  Hearing this, the sleeping man cracked a smile nobody saw.

            “It still will be a brutal start and not easy to watch.  So try to manage the stress in witnessing this tremendous mismatch as the game initially unfolds.  It is like a David versus Goliath confrontation.  But be patient.  Even after the better team scores mightily and regularly against your fledging Rainbow Warriors, I can call into action heavenly forces to turn things around - just so that you can be jubilant and die a happy camper, as they say.  Is this what you pray for?”

            “Yes! Yes, indeed!”

            “Then it shall be done.  I have to warn you, the first half of the game cannot be manipulated by our spiritual forces.  It will be bad without our divine intervention.  Half time will display a score of 42-3.  It will take a miracle to come back and win with such a huge discrepancy.  But like I said, miracles can happen, even in sports.  This will display the power of the Lord.  It’s not the first time that we have intervened in your game of football.”

            “Are you saying that my team can still win after falling behind that much through the first half of the game?”  It did seem like impossible odds.  The turnaround would be of historic proportions; such a great comeback would make the game a legend in the annuals of local sports.

            “Yes, we can start influencing the players, the ball movement, even the playing field by making it rain, in the second half.  Just for you.  And, of course, for the whole state of Hawaii.  But again, it won't be easy; it’s quite a tall order.”  Benson kept listening as he dreamed.

            “However, once sanctified, there will be a stunning turn of events that will shock the spectators, both those at the stadium and those like you who view the game on TV.  Yes, I know you will be watching on television because you are too ill to go to attend any more games like you have done over a lifetime as a season ticket holder.”

            “Well then I look forward to this heads up of a turn of events in the second half.  It will be exciting to watch, and also by knowing there's spiritual intervention in process due to my praying and belief in Jesus, our Savior.  Praise the Lord.”

            He remained quiet for a moment during this discourse between dream messenger and the sleeping mortally ill man.

            Then Benson dared to ask, “Er, by the way, is there a 'catch' for this favor?  I'm not selling my soul, or anything like that, right?  Just wanna be sure.”

             “Silly man, of course there isn't a 'catch' to the bestowing of this last wish to a dying good man.  Who do you think I work for?  That reject below?”  Even asleep, Benson felt relief.

             But then the celestial being cautioned, “However, there is one thing that you must remember and abide by during the course of the game.”

             “And what is that, Dear Holy One?”

             “Thou shall not take the Lord, - or his mother's name in vain, during the whole game.  We are aware that you do lose your temper and tend to cuss in frustration when there are disappointing plays in the game.  Besides, you must not forget your serious heart problem.  Getting so aggravated can elevate your blood pressure and trigger a fatal heart attack.  Consider having been warned.”

             “OK, thank you for the advice.  Yeah, I admit that I can get ‘bent out of shape’ at times when I get so emotionally involved with the action.  I shall remember to watch my manners during the game. Promise, … scout's honor.” 

             With that the dream ended.  So consoled with good news of an upset victory in the making, Benson slept soundly for the rest of the night.

               

            Game day had arrived.  Benson, attempted to stay relaxed and polite in front of other relatives who had gathered to say their goodbyes to the critically ill man – and also to watch the game along with him.  They knew how much “Uncle Ben” loved the local team.  In fact, he invited them to come and visit during game time.  All knew there wouldn’t be much anyone could say; he was a goner.  Benson’s wife Sarah had prepared drinks and snacks, as usual, for game time.  The fresh sashimi, chips and dips, dried strips of cuttlefish, popcorn, mochi crunch, and boiled peanuts and soy beans looked good to Benson but it was all for the guests.  He was now too ill to stomach such snacks.

            The gathering of well-wishers were surprised that Benson watched with reservation and remained calm during the beating that his Rainbow Warriors were taking during the course of the first half of the game.  It was touchdown after touchdown by the visiting Bulldogs.  All that the local team could do on offense was punt, punt, punt.  Fortunately, they managed to get a 3-point field goal after a rare fumbling turnover by the opponents, conveniently close to the home team’s own end zone.

          “At least we now scored,” said someone in the room.  There was mutual consensus among the group.

          Everybody thought Benson's calmness was due to the heavy sedation he seemed to be under, due to the meds that he took for his illnesses.  They knew the doctors had given him only a few days more to live.  That’s why they were there.  But the game was going horribly, which didn't assist them in hiding their remorse over Benson's medical condition.

           “You look terrible, Uncle Ben,” said 5-year old Alison, who was picking up on the negative vibes in the room, even if she didn’t understand the game being televised.

           “You just hush and watch your manners,” replied her mother Jennifer, one of Benson’s nieces.  The little girl left the room to find some other way to keep herself occupied, having eaten her share of the pupus.  She had no interest in football.

           Then the second half started.  The other team uncharacteristically fumbled the ball.  Several times – in a row!  The local defense managed great stops through fierce tackling, forcing the Bulldogs to punt repeatedly.  Suddenly the U.H. quarterback's performance changed from pathetic to fantastic.  Every pass thrown was accurate.  It was if he became possessed with the talent of a NFL star player.  Exciting passing plays led to big gains on the field.  The receivers, previously making the audience moan from dropping balls during the first half, now made circus catches for completions.  It was if the ball as well as the receivers’ gloves had Velcro on it.  It was as if the teams during half time had changed uniforms in the locker rooms.  Everybody was literally scratching their heads.

            “God, that must have been some hellava pep talk in the locker room during half time,” said Uncle Phil, Benson’s youngest brother, as he got up from the sofa to go fetch another beer from the kitchen.

            “Simply amazing,” replied Henry, an adult nephew of Benson, even as he munched on a mouthful of potato chips.

            To everybody’s surprise, Fresno State, as dominant as they were in the first half, appeared inept in scoring any further while the Warriors kept crossing their goal line. 

             Now the score astonishingly was 42-37!  That in itself is stunning to come back from a half time deficit of 42-3.  Anyone who was a fan of the Rainbow Warriors was loving it.  With each touchdown by the local team, more and more fans started to think that indeed, U.H. had a chance to pull off a stunning upset.

            Everybody – across the state – started BELIEVING, in a miraculous potential win.  Some were even started to pray.

            There was only 1 precious minute to play.  The Bulldogs had the ball.

            But the defense held.  Fresno had to punt to ball.  The Warriors would indeed get the ball one last time!  They could win with a successful drive from their own 15-yard line, a long ways to go to gain the winning score.  Everybody in the stands hollered in support as the Warriors executed one successful pass and run after another.   But time was running out.  Benson, indeed now in a euphoric mood during the turnabout, remained in control of his emotions, still not feeling well enough to jump up and high five like the others were doing in the room after multiple touchdowns by the local team, now on a roll.

           Then there was only 16 seconds to play.  U.H. had to score one last time to win.  But they were still far away from the end zone, thereby needing to gamble and throw the long “bomb.” 

           The pressure was becoming too much for Benson to bear.  There was only time left for two long heaves of the ball.  Everybody was on the edge of their seats.  Benson’s heart was pounding uncontrollably.

           The ball was snapped by the center to the QB.  The ball handler back peddled in the pocket as his fleet of foot receivers sprinted long and into the end zone.  Catch the ball and the score would be UH 43, Fresno State 42 with time almost expired!   The QB, almost tackled by a rushing and determined lineman, hurled the ball for its long flight to where many players from both teams were waiting. 

           A rushing defender was able to get close enough to the passer to tip the ball from its intended trajectory.  Benson didn't see this detail on the TV screen.  It looked to him like a lousy, poorly thrown pass.  Now there was only 6 seconds left for one last gasp chance to win – and make Benson a happy dying man.

          But that second-to-last pass failure was just too much for Benson's disposition.  What he yelled next just sort of came out of his mouth by itself:

             “Shit, you call that a f_____ pass?  Man, that's no Hail Mary.” (A long desperate pass into the end zone at the end of a game is nicknamed a “Hail Mary”)  

           “Shit, that was a damn HELL MARY!!!!”  

           Oops.

           With that cursing, and worse - taking the Virgin Mary's name in vain, Benson felt a sudden crushing pain in his chest that also radiated up his left arm.  Poor Benson was having a major, life ending heart attack.   But everybody’s eyeballs were glued to the tube for the last impending pass.  The ball had been snapped, another Hail Mary was in the works.  Not that anyone could do anything about Benson’s own critical circumstances.

            He drooped, then fell off the couch, instantly dead from cardiac arrest.  The relatives were shocked.  A sister-in-law, a nurse, initiated CPR, another dialed 911.  Both efforts were of no avail.  Uncle Ben was indeed a goner.

          But there was till that one last play.  With divided attention and pandemonium by the women, the men in the living room still snuck glances at the screen as the play unfolded.

          The ball was snapped, the defenders charged in toward the quarterback.  He ran sideward to attempt his getaway.  A huge monster of a lineman was about to pounce on him.  But the nimble passer was able to grant the ball flight.  It flew upwards high and long, and then started its descent towards the end zone.  Again, players of both teams jostled with each other, competing for position relative to the ball’s expected point of arrival.

           The ball came down to the outstretched arms and hands of the players.  It was like a “jump ball” in basketball.  

           Which team would get it to determine the final results of the game?  Would the now deceased Benson still have his wish granted?

           Benson, now peering down at his lifeless form below, couldn't help but also watch the outcome of that final pass.  Before everybody else knew whether it would be “complete,” “incomplete,” or “intercepted,” Benson The Spirit already knew the impending outcome.

           As the stricken floated near the ceiling (without anybody in the room able to perceive his presence), Benson again heard the voice of the angel that appeared to him in his dream.  She said,

           “I warned you not to take the Virgin Mary's name in vain.”

              Benson watched the ball drop to the ground.   A referee waved his arms sideward, indicating that the Hail Mary pass was incomplete.

           Even with the body of Benson lying lifeless on the floor, some moans of regret could be heard within the room.

           The final score was Fresno State 42, Hawaii 37.  So close, but no cigar.

           Regrettably, Benson would remember that score for eternity.