One Muslim's Reflection on College Football's Final Four

Dr. Minhaj Khaja is shown holding an M for Michigan. Courtesy photo.

College football’s “Final Four” has my full attention. 

Here’s why in four parts. 

The Basics: On December 31st 2021 the College Football Playoff will take place. Georgia vs Michigan (Orange Bowl) and Alabama vs Cincinnati (Cotton Bowl).

It is a battle of powerhouse football programs against the lone upstart. The winners play one another for the title of best college football team and all the glory. 

Let’s start with the faith part.

Football is about faith. Basketball, baseball, soccer, swimming, lacrosse, volleyball, tennis, all these sports require specific skill-sets. The most skilled player or team usually wins. But not in football. Sure, the most talented football team has a dramatic advantage but to really win they also need faith; in themselves, in their teammates and in something greater. Often the winning team has the most guts, the most heart, and is the team you’d least expect. I played high school football in Upstate NY. Before games we would gather in the locker room, take a knee, and recite the Christian Lord’s Prayer (as a Muslim I stayed kneeling and recited the opening chapter of the Quran, sura Fatiha instead). The faithful are integral to football. There are young men who will take part in these contests who are right now immersed in prayer and reflection that they perform and execute their very best. They are using all their powers of intention and manifestation, kneeling, opening their hearts up to God, pleading, and enumerating, in gratitude, all their blessings as they ask the Lord for victory.

As a young athlete this was my approach. I was convinced that if I lived by the laws, statutes, and commandments of the Creator that I had an edge over my opponents. Obviously, it wasn’t that simple. But I do note that my lack of success on the field later as a college player did correlate to my lack of prayer off of it.

The family part.

Often Muslim Americans will have large weddings around the holiday times. This ensures that children and folks working can be present and that we still have a lot of family stuff going on despite not celebrating the holidays. Our house has been a hub of activity and we have a lot of family here, Including my brother-in-law, Minhaj. He is all-in. Leaving Thursday night so he can go to the Michigan vs. Georgia game! My wife also went to Michigan for graduate school, and we will be watching the game with a group of other Michigan supporters - while we scan the crowd looking for Minhaj.

Across the land faithful supporters of all the teams will get organized, bring food, wear their appropriate gear, and come together. The game facilitates breaking bread with family. That is a blessing. 

The families of the players will gather in prayer. Mainly asking for their child to be healthy and not get hurt, but also asking for a win, and for their son to rise to the occasion, to be the one with less skill but more heart in a moment where faith is needed above all else.

The “football” part.

Cincinnati is so overlooked. They are confident and fast. With the energy of protest, of the little guy, of David vs. a phalanx of Goliaths! Maybe their aim will be true? Maybe they have more heart than everyone else? They will need a miracle. And because of that I want them to run the table and change the face of college football forever. 

Good Luck Cincinnati!

Then there is the drama of Georgia and Alabama. At the heart of that is my love of Georgia’s Jordan Davis. He is the most feared member of the most feared defense in the country and was in the running for the Heisman (he received 75 votes and was not a finalist). Davis is a stout defender plugging running lanes and tossing quarterbacks aside like laundry. However, In the SEC Championship Georgia’s vaunted defense was shredded by Alabama and specifically by Bryce Young the ‘Bama QB who ended up winning the Heisman.

Davis, who came to football later in life, seemed like he was out of his element. He looked bored, tired, and almost lost. For someone with such an incredible season and a fearsome presence it was disappointing. He did not rise to the occasion, and he did not play with heart. Jordan Davis and Georgia were thoroughly outplayed by Alabama.

Herein lies the drama… Could Georgia play itself into getting a second chance? 

If, and a big if, they get past Michigan, (who plays a gritty “smash-mouth “ style of football grizzled old guys like me pretend we played in our day) they would likely get another shot at beating Alabama and winning the national championship. It is like the Lakers finally winning the NBA title at Boston Garden. Or the Red Sox vanquishing my Yankees at Yankee stadium. I am rooting for the second chance. 

If that happens then this football playoff will be about that last part; redemption.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.