The Miami Dolphins played their first game on September 2, 1966. In 1970, they gave up a first-round draft pick to the Baltimore Colts for the rights to future Hall of Fame head coach, Don Shula. This was not the first time a team traded draft picks for a coach, though it was one of the most successful of those trades. In 2002, the Oakland Raiders parted with Jon Gruden for a first round draft pick and $8 million from Tampa Bay. Gruden’s TB Buccaneers promptly won the Super Bowl that year, beating…..the Raiders in the championship game. Ah well. Other coaches whose contracts were bought out (for a variety of considerations) were Bill Parcells, Herm Edwards, Mike Holmgren and Bill Belichick. Those deals all worked out well for their new teams. The year before Shula, under coach George Wilson— not exactly a “household name”, he probably never owned a chain of upscale steakhouses like his successor—the Dolphins went 3-10-1. 1969 was a notable year for the team. They were one of the worst teams in a now defunct football league, the AFL, American Football League, (which merged with the NFL, and became the American Football Conference of the NFL). They were demoralized—new league, new coach, many new players, no identity.
Two years after coach Shula entered the picture, the Dolphins were undefeated Super Bowl champions; 47 years later that unique imprimatur—undefeated champions—still applies. The backstory is belief. In 1986, I went to a seminar featuring Tim Foley, who starred at cornerback for the Dolphins from 1970-1980. He used coach Shula’s introduction to the team to illustrate the power of belief, coupled with the willingness to translate that belief into action and results. Here, with my typical rhetorical flourishes, is the story: The team gathered in the conference room, nervously awaiting the entrance of the famously intense coach. Suddenly, there was Shula, standing at the lectern. He moved his gaze from player to player, taking their measure. Then he said, “we will win the Super Bowl this year.” Some heads nodded in assent, some smiled broadly, but others shook their heads side to side, or looked away. All reactions were noted by the notoriously uncompromising coach. Then he said, “everyone who believes we will, raise your hand.” A few veterans, along with rookies and some younger players who didn’t know any better, raised their hands. Foley paused his tale, for effect.
“Shula wrote down the names of those who did not raise their hands, and those whose expressions, when he declared their future, were skeptical rather than enthusiastic.” Foley said, “all those guys who didn’t believe were gone by the end of the week.” Belief has a galvanizing effect on people, and teams. Unbelief has the opposite effect, and is also infectious. Some of the players that coach Shula traded or released were big time stars, but unbelief can undermine talent, just as belief can elevate the team.
The Bible has much to say about the positive power of belief, and the negative power of unbelief. Jesus Christ raised the dead, walked on water, healed blindness, leprosy and all manner of diseases instantly, and defeated death itself, yet in the town where he was raised, where people thought they knew he was “just” the “son of the carpenter Joseph”: And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:57-58. Not because He couldn’t, but because His mighty works would have would have been dismissed by the blindness of unbelief.
THE TRANSFIGURATION: Jesus took disciples Peter, John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray, and the likenesses of Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with Jesus. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God. Luke 9:29-43.
The power of belief harnesses the majesty of God!