The Chiefs and Chargers reveal the value of persistence

Every other week, Timothy Thomas examines the different lessons to be learned from the world of sport at The Coach’s Box.

At the professional level of the sport, natural ability alone will rarely cement your place on a team. Perseverance and practice are required alongside talent to find a way to compete – let alone excel – at the highest levels of competition.

The second week of the NFL, specifically the AFC West Divisional matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, demonstrated the physical importance of endurance. The game was also an all-too-real reminder that determination doesn’t always equate to victory, though it remains an important virtue in character building.

Much of the excitement surrounding the Chiefs’ 27-24 win revolved around rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson’s interception in the seventh round (i.e., the final round of the NFL draft). After losing the entire game before finally tying in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were back on the ropes. It looked like the Chargers were looking to retake the lead after marching down to the 3 yard line. Justin Herbert threw an errant pass that Watson intercepted and returned 99 yards for the Chiefs’ go-ahead score that would eventually seal the win for his team.

But Watson’s interception is more intriguing because of his history of persistence. The seventh-round rookie once took a break from football in college to work at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant where his mother was a manager. Watson initially wanted to go to the University of Southern California. Unfortunately, his scholarship offer fell through and he ended up at Ventura College.

Perseverance and practice are both necessary to find a way to compete – let alone excel – at the highest levels of competition.

Watson eventually acted on a scholarship to Washington State University. From there, the Chiefs drafted him in the last round. He was only 19 picks away from the inconspicuous “Mr. Irrelevant title. “I’m just a very resilient person who’s always worked for what I have,” Watson said after the game. His determination prepared him for the greatest moment of his young career. Without that persistence, Watson would not have had the opportunity to return a 99-yard interception and make such a significant impact on a championship-caliber team early in the season.

On the other side of this trapping, however, is a lesson in how perseverance doesn’t always have to end in triumph, but can still shape and strengthen our identity as someone who can lead through service. In the Los Angeles Chargers’ loss to the Chiefs, quarterback Justin Herbert delivered a brave second week performance that rivaled epic playoff performances. Herbert went down late in the game with a fractured rib cartilage injury on his non-throwing side that took him out of the game. However, he only rested one game before returning to the field.

Before Herbert Watson threw an interception while the Chargers were in goal position — which Watson returned for a touchdown — all hope for the Los Angeles team seemed lost. The scene looked even grimmer when Herbert was in so much pain on the Chargers’ final drive that he could barely run for an easy first down and instead threw the ball away for an incomplete pass. But on the fourth loss, Herbert stayed in the game and threw an accurate pass to put the offense in the red zone. Four games later, in another fourth deficit, he linked with Josh Palmer for a touchdown that cut the Chiefs’ lead to three points.

Unfortunately, it was late in the fourth quarter, the Chargers were running out of time out and not recovering from the onside kick that followed, leading to their almost, but not quite, comeback rally.

The stories of Watson and Herbert are two to which we hang our hats in our culture. Watson’s story has an epic, neat ending, while Herbert’s story is the one most of us live. Because of the survivorship bias, we pay the most attention to the stories of people who have overcome adversity and announce them as shining examples of what it takes to succeed. Perseverance is certainly required to be successful, but this type of message is cheap and competes with a prosperity gospel. Many people persevere, but few achieve their goals.

However, Herbert’s performance in the game is where most of us live. We are hurt, battered and broken people trying to make the most of each day. We spend hours working and studying the Bible in our free time, yet we experience pain, loss, and endless obstacles. We persevere but never seem to see the fruits of our diligence.

All we need to see is who we are becoming and what endurance forges within us. In the case of Herbert, he has already earned the respect of his teammates and coaches for his mental and physical strength. But his late-game exploits and physical sacrifice took it to another level. His decision to push through the pain showed him and everyone else the kind of mental toughness and character he has, even if he never achieves the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.

The Bible has something to say about saints (not New Orleans saints) enduring. Perseverance breeds character and hope (Romans 5:3-5). It matures us to be complete and lack nothing (James 1:4). Finally, it points to a promise of an everlasting reward should we not tire of doing good (Galatians 6:9).

The ultimate goal of our perseverance in doing good is eternal communion with God and Christ. The short-term goal—the span of our lives—is to do what is best for most people for as long as possible. We will experience heartbreak, setbacks and injuries to both body and mind. But Watson and Herbert remind us—in trivial but effective ways—that perseverance and the pursuit of kindness are rewarded, ennobling us to become the best versions of what God created us to be.