To Ron Brown, it just didn’t make sense.
It was a rainy, icy night in November 1990 and the Nebraska Cornhuskers were battling the Colorado Buffaloes for a chance to compete for the National Championship in the Orange Bowl.
That cold night in Lincoln, the Huskers knew they had to stop Colorado running back Eric Bieniemy. And during the first three quarters of the game, Bieniemy fumbled the ball away three times.
Nebraska was leading 12 to 0 going into the fourth quarter and Brown — then the Huskers’ wide receiver/tight end coach — waited to see what Buffaloes Head Coach Bill McCartney would do with Bieniemy.
“When you fumble three times, you say, ‘You’re done.’ That’s usually the next move for that coach, a smart coach,” Brown said.
But that’s not what McCartney did.
Almost 19 years after that game, Brown shared this and other stories at the 15th Annual Fremont Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast on Friday morning.
More than 600 people — perhaps the biggest crowd ever — gathered to hear Brown speak in the Event Center on the Midland University campus, later giving him a standing ovation.
During his talk, Brown encouraged Christians, who feel they’re on the bench, to get back into the game and, despite opposition to the Gospel, continue to serve the loving Savior, who gave his life so believers can spend eternity with him.
Brown is director of player development for the University of Nebraska football team. He spent 24 seasons as an assistant coach at Nebraska while they won three national championships.
At the Good Friday breakfast, Brown compared the modern-day story of Bieniemy with the Biblical account of the Apostle Peter, who made some ancient-day fumbles.
Brown talked about how, despite Bieniemy’s fumbles, McCartney sent him back into the game.
Moreover, the coach called plays where the ball was handed to Bieniemy play after play.
“And not only does Eric Bieniemy get the ball on every single play, he rolls with incredible reckless abandon and passion,” Brown said. “When the dust finally cleared that night, Eric Bieniemy scored four touchdowns himself in the fourth quarter and Colorado had a great comeback to beat us 28 to 12.”
Led by a very inspired Eric Bieniemy, the Buffaloes beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl that year and captured a share of National Championship.
Brown later asked Bieniemy why McCartney kept him in that game against Nebraska.
A big grin spread across Bieniemy’s face.
“Coach Mac never stopped believing in me,” he said.
Brown compared that story to Bible stories of the Apostle Peter, one of Christ’s followers.
The Scriptures record how Peter said he’d never leave Christ and even would die for him.
But Jesus told Peter that before a rooster crowed, the disciple would deny knowing him three times.
Other disciples fled, yet Peter followed at a distance after Christ was arrested. But when a servant girl said Peter had been with Jesus, the disciple denied it.
“There’s Fumble No. 1,” Brown said.
Twice more, Peter denied knowing Christ after people tried to associate him with Jesus. Brown compared those times to fumbles, too.
After the third time, a rooster crowed.
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“This verse right here is the most powerful, most dramatic scene in the Bible,” Brown said, referring to Luke 22:61, which tells how amid the terrible interrogation, Jesus turned and looked at the disciple who’d just denied him.
Peter went away and wept.
Brown believes the look Christ gave wasn’t one reflecting an “I told you so,” message, but one of love.
“It’s the same look he gives you when you have been caught red-handed, when you realize you’re lost in your sin. I don’t believe Jesus is looking at you and saying, ‘I told you so,’ I believe it’s a look from Jesus that says, ‘I’m coming after you. I’m not done with you yet,’” Brown said.
Christ was taken before the Roman leader Pontius Pilate, who tried to negotiate with a crowd seeking to crucify Jesus.
But wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate turned over Christ for crucifixion.
“We are so caught up with what the crowd thinks,” Brown said.
So few people are willing to stand alone for Christ.
“But the true measure of your faith will be when you’re alone and then will be actualized with a crowd that’s screaming in opposition,” Brown said.
Brown noted that it’s much easier to talk about Jesus within the safe confines of Midland’s Event Center.
“But it’s much more difficult to do that in the public square, because you know you’re going to receive opposition,” Brown said. “And the question is, ‘Are you willing to take on the heat?’”
Brown talked about the horrifying skill of the brutal Roman soldiers, who whipped Christ, and Jesus’ torturous death on the cross. And how even while on the cross, Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Besides physical torture, Christ was separated briefly from God the Father who crushed him with his wrath. Brown told how Jesus paid the penalty for sin so believers can go to heaven.
After hearing about Christ’s resurrection, the brutally discouraged Peter had a hard time celebrating, “because he benched himself,” Brown said.
Peter asked other disciples to go fishing. Brown said it was almost like Peter figured Christ couldn’t use them anymore.
Yet Brown recounted the Gospel of John account where Jesus met the disciples on the shore and — like McCartney did with Bieniemy — put Peter back into the game.
And how he would hand the ball off to him over and over again.
Christ let Peter know there would be hard times and he’d die, but the disciple would be with him forever.
“Stop benching yourself,” Brown told his audience. “Get back in the game. The Lord wants to hand the ball to you Christian, over and over again. … Stop being afraid of what the world’s going to do to you.”
Brown said many disciples died for their faith.
“And here in America, we’re so afraid of anyone saying anything about our faith in Jesus Christ,” he said. “But if Fremont, Nebraska — 600 strong — went out and lived it out today, this place would be radically different.”
Brown had another modern-day parable involving former Head Coach Tom Osborne, who gathered the Huskers before they played the Florida gators for the National Championship during the 1995 season. Florida was favored to win and Brown, seeing fear in the players, hoped Osborne would give the Huskers rousing talk.
Instead, Osborne read the verse, 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”
Osborne then basically told players they didn’t have to be afraid if they were right in Christ — that God would kick fear out the door. The Huskers won the game 62-24.
Brown encouraged listeners to confess sins, repent (change direction), follow Christ, allow him to fill them with his desires as they study his word and pray those desires into fruition in this nation that “we would be strong for Jesus Christ.”