Monday over Coffee

The Goalposts

Longtime Houston football fans will remember Billy Johnson. He was a kick returner and a receiver who played for the Oilers in the ’70s and early ’80s. Almost completely unknown coming out of college, he was drafted in the last round of the 1974 NFL draft from little Widener College in Chester, Pennsylvania. In high school, Billy had dyed his shoes on a dare and soon received from his friends the nickname “White Shoes.” The moniker stuck through college and only added to his appeal as he later came into the league as a pro.

 

In his first four seasons with the Oilers, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson returned five punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns and scored another 12 times on receptions or reverses. What he became most famous for though was how he celebrated each time he crossed the goal line. His touchdown dance, known as the “Funky Chicken,” is remembered as perhaps the best touchdown celebration in league history. Watch the video here.

 

I was so enthralled with Billy Johnson that back in my youth football days, on one occasion when my own copycat white cleats from Barcelona Sporting Goods carried me into the endzone on a punt return, I decided to break out into my own version of the “Funky Chicken” dance. (No video available)

 

Alas, that which made Billy Johnson so beloved by Oiler fans, brought on a much dimmer view from the forbidding referees of the Spring Branch-Memorial Sports Association. I was flagged with a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct (assessed on the ensuing kickoff). Worse yet, after the game my dad lit into me in no uncertain terms for my poor sportsmanship.

 

“But Billy Johnson does it,” I said.

 

“He’s an All Pro in the NFL playing in the Astrodome,” my dad replied. “You’re in the fifth grade playing on a field behind the Don McGill car dealership in front of all our friends. Just give the ball to the ref next time.”

 

Though appropriately chastened, I continued to both play football and to follow it as a fan as Earl Campbell joined the Oilers and became even more of an NFL phenomenon than Billy Johnson. Campbell was named Rookie of the Year in his first season and league MVP in his second. Watch the video here.

 

When Earl scored, and he scored a lot, he simply dropped the ball in the endzone or handed it back to the referee. He’d then walk slowly to the sidelines, receiving the ebullient congratulations of his teammates and coaches. Finally, he’d head over to the bench where he’d just sit down and rest with a humble expression of quiet satisfaction on his face. Though I idolized Billy Johnson and loved his dance, the way Earl Campbell casually absorbed his success was pretty cool too, if not even more impressive.

 

I suppose we can choose to celebrate our “wins” however we feel it appropriate. In some contexts it’s exactly right to memorialize our achievements with a little flash like Billy Johnson. In other situations, we might more quietly and humbly express the pleasure of having attained our goals, like Earl Campbell. But however we choose, it’s vital that it is in order to combat the very common human tendency to do what’s known as moving the goalposts.  

 

As individuals, as families, as institutions, and even as a society, we often fail to recognize and memorialize the good we’ve accomplished and instead, shift the goalposts out ahead to the next thing in our sights. 

 

Granted, doing the “Funky Chicken” every time something good happens may not be the best policy, but it’s important to our well-being that we not skip over the pleasure of recognizing, even fleetingly, when we’ve attained our goals. In fact, we move away from and not towards an accurate picture of the world when we fail to acknowledge where things worked out well for us through our own work and effort.

 

That’s all to say that this week, this month, this season, when you experience that feeling of earned success and accomplishment, stop for at least a moment to enjoy and absorb it. Perhaps even pocket a new measure of confidence in yourself as you do. Don’t so quickly move the goalposts to immediately focus on the next thing, or jump ahead to consider how things could somehow be better. 

 

Take the “W!” Celebrate it as a present source of joy. Feel it as it refills your tank and renews your strength, then bank it as a memorable kind of beauty.

 

God—

Help me to recognize and appreciate those moments when the goal line is crossed and to derive joy and strength in their celebration.

Amen.

 

—Greg Funderburk