Monday, March 9, 2020

Touchdown: The Story of the Beautiful Game

            “I don’t know anything about football, but I’m willing to try to help you pass your mid-term,” explained Jenna Lake, a 19-year-old sophomore at Syracuse College in New York. She sat across the table in the football wing of the college’s tutor department, trying to figure out how to help Kevin Smith, age 20, pass his Christianity class. 

            “The first thing you probably need is a Bible,” she decided, then looked at her watch. She was getting paid $15 an hour, and there didn’t seem to be enough time to teach the team’s quarterback everything he needed to know. “We might need to meet twice a week to make sure you learn everything for the test. We can meet in the library on the weekends if you want.”

            “I have a game on Saturday, and this is too much to think about right now,” he complained. “You know I’m not really a Christian, right? I grew up going to African American church because of my grandma. I just go along with the religious talk most of the time.”

            “I’ll find you a Bible for next week,” she stated, handing him a clipping from the newspaper with his picture from last week’s game. “You’re going to have to start reading the Bible in order to pass this class.”

            “Fine, I’ll read the Bible with you, but I’m still not sure what I believe,” Kevin rambled. “I know Coach suggested it, but I took this class because I thought it would make my grandmother happy. If I skip church on Sunday, at least I can tell her that I took a class that had something to do with Jesus.”

During Freshman year, Jenna enrolled in Christianity, only to find out that the football team usually makes up half the class. Every year, the coach tries to find classes that will be easy “As” for the players. Since a lot of the players grew up going to church, Christianity seemed like an easy “A,” but for most of the guys it turned out to be harder than they imagined with historical and theological facts to learn. 

            “In February A.D. 313, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in the Roman Empire, stopping the persecution of the Christians and allowing for religious tolerance,” Professor Mark Johnson lectured. “Study your notes. If we have a pop quiz, you have to be ready.” 


Although Jenna was studying English and music at college, she took Christianity because she always loved reading the Bible. When she got a perfect score on the final, the professor called to ask her to tutor some of the football players during her sophomore year. After several weeks of teaching Christianity, she even got roped into tutoring statistics from time to time, which she found boring and routine. Either way, each Tuesday night, she took the campus bus to the football fieldhouse for tutoring. Rain, sleet, snow, or hail—and there was lots of snow in the winter—she showed up with a smile. At least she was showing school spirit, she thought. 

            “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she worried to herself, sitting in the waiting room at the fieldhouse. Kevin was fifteen minutes late. “I’m the tiny white girl who likes to play the piano. I know all the rules of tennis, but not football.” 

            “Did you see the touchdown that I got on Saturday, Jenna?” Kevin called, bursting through the tutor office. “I ran circles around the other team.”

            “There were a bunch of women that ran circles around you, too. I think they’re called cheerleaders,” Jenna poked fun at Kevin, standing up and following him into a study room. “I’m not a cheerleader. I’m a tutor.”

            “Hey, I broke up with my girlfriend a couple days ago. Do you have a boyfriend, or do you just study all the time?” Kevin asked Jenna, unpacking his books in the private tutor room. “Please tell me that you don’t study all the time.”

            “Now you want to know if I have a boyfriend?” Jenna quipped, closing the door. “To you, I must be a complete nerd. I’m sure you call me a geek when I’m not listening.”

            As Jenna took a seat, she straightened her long dirty-blond hair and adjusted her glasses. Although she didn’t wear a lot of makeup or trendy clothes, underneath her simple appearance, she was what her mother called a classic beauty.

            “I never called you a nerd. What makes you say that?” Kevin inquired. “I never said anything negative about you. You’re pretty. I just wondered if you had a boyfriend.”

            “I’m pretty smart, and you just need me to pass your class,” Jenna retorted, shrugging her shoulders. “Stop trying to flatter me.”

            “Flatter you? I was trying to flirt with you. Okay, you’re not just pretty,” he paused. “You’re beautiful. You’re the only woman on campus who wants me to read the Bible. My grandmother would like you.”

            “I thought you said that you weren’t really a Christian. Now, all of a sudden, you’re a Christian, and you’re hitting on me! I’m trying to help you pass your exam, and you’re hitting on me,” Jenna communicated. “Don’t you care at all about your grades?”

            “Look, I have a new Range Rover from the college, and you said we needed to spend more time together studying,” Kevin expressed. “So, what if we study over dinner tomorrow night, and then you don’t have to come down here late at night on the bus. I can drive you back to your dorm.”

            “Are you asking me out on a date?” Jenna uttered, staring at him intensely. “This is unbelievable. If you don’t pass your test, I could get fired. This job doesn’t pay a lot, but Professor Johnson is expecting that you get an ‘A.’”

            “You need to have more fun,” Kevin alleged. “Please let me take you to dinner, and I promise that I’ll get an ‘A’. I meant what I said when I said that you’re beautiful.”

            “Well, I’m willing to teach you everything I know about Jesus at dinner,” Jenna verbalized. “I agree to let you take me to dinner as long as I still get paid my $15 an hour for tutoring. Does this mean that you’re going to try to kiss me good night?”

            “If you insist,” Kevin gasped. “You’re already insisting on things.”

            “You know if you fail the mid-term that Coach won’t let you play football,” Jenna scolded. “So, I’m insisting that you let me teach you everything I know about Jesus.”

            “Pick you up at 7 o’clock outside the student center,” Kevin planned. “I won’t be late.”


When the next evening rolled around, Jenna put on her favorite lipstick and jeans skirt with high heel boots. She stuck two Bibles in her backpack and the class textbook on the history of Christianity. 

            “Did you know that some scholars think that Genesis had two or more authors and that there are supposedly two different accounts of the Creation Story in Genesis? But the traditional Jewish scholars think that Moses was the author of Genesis,” Jenna recalled from memory, climbing in the Range Rover, and shutting the door. “That’s sure to be a question on the exam.”

            “Aren’t you going to at least say: ‘Hello,’” Kevin laughed. “Do we have to talk about the mid-term all night? I thought maybe we could take a break from studying?”

            “The Catholic books in the Apocrypha were written in Greek, not Hebrew. This is why the Protestant churches rejected them from the Old Testament. All the other Old Testament books are written in Hebrew,” she taught, talking a mile a minute. “The New Testament is written in Greek.”

            “I’m making a mental note right now,” he promised, touching her hand. 

            “If you fail the test, it’s not my fault,” Jenna declared, feeling nervous for several reasons at once. 

            “I thought we could go for pizza and ice cream and forget about things for a while,” he suggested, turning up the radio. 

            Thinking that she had given it her best to save Kevin’s grades, Jenna gave up. 

            “Sure, let’s forget about everything, but only for the night,” she sighed. 

            As the evening went on, Kevin wasn’t the only one who had forgotten about the exam. Jenna had so much fun that she wished she could quit being Kevin’s tutor, so she didn’t have to be responsible for his failing grades. She took all the change from his Range Rover’s dashboard and played one song after another on the jukebox and made him dance with her until late into the night. 

            “Are you going to let me kiss you good night?” Kevin begged, pulling up outside her dorm in the early morning. 

            “Maybe, if you promise to go home and review your notes for the test,” she prompted. 

            “I promise,” he fibbed, leaning over, and kissing her on the cheek. “Maybe you could try to learn some of the rules of football for the next game . . . like what it means to score a touchdown. I think I scored a touchdown tonight.”

            “Don’t get too certain,” she told him, hopping out of the Range Rover before he could kiss her again. One of the Bibles in her bag fell onto the sidewalk as she hurried to her dorm. She bent over to pick it up. Running into the building, she avoided the resident assistant on duty.


            Next week at the weekly tutor session, Kevin walked into football wing with an “A plus” on his mid-term exam from Christianity. He held it up to show Jenna as soon as he saw her face. 

            “Oh, wow!” Jenna hugged him. “I’m so proud of you. You learned most of the material on your own.”

            “No, he didn’t,” one of Kevin’s teammates yammered, walking past. “He cheated. He got the test from one of his buddies that took the class last year. It’s the same test verbatim. He just liked you and tried to impress you.”

            “You cheated?” Jenna yelled. “Did you cheat? Really? We could have just studied together!”

            “I didn’t really cheat,” Kevin lied. “I learned from last year’s test, and it happened to be this year’s test, too.”

            “You are making me look like a fool!” Jenna cried. “I trusted you!”

            “I wanted you to think I was smart,” Kevin argued. “I’m really smart, but I have all this pressure on me to succeed at football, and I don’t have time to study.”

            “Well, I don’t have time for you anymore,” she mumbled, grabbing her things, and heading back to her dorm on the bus in the snow.


            When Jenna didn’t show up at tutor hours for two weeks in a row, Kevin arrived at her dorm room unannounced. After she heard a knock on the door, she opened it to find him standing in the hall in tears. 

            “What do you want?” she asked, with her roommate listening to his every word.

            “I want you to forgive me,” he pleaded. “I’m sorry. I’ll never cheat again. Never ever. I prayed with my grandmother on the phone to start new with you and Jesus and everyone. I even got a tattoo to prove it.”

            “A tattoo?” Jenna questioned. “Didn’t that hurt? It involves needles.”

            He pulled up his sleeve and showed her the cross on his arm with a scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.”

            “I forgive you,” Jenna whispered, quietly. “I’ll help you study again, if you want.”

            “No, I don’t want your help to study,” Kevin replied. “I just want to take you to dinner again on a real date. I’ll find someone else to help me study. You shouldn’t have to do that for me again.”

            “I would like that,” she agreed. “Next time, if you could let me know when you’re coming over, because I should put on some makeup or something first.”

            “You’re beautiful just the way you are,” he told her, grabbing her, and kissing her in the hall. The entire fifth floor of Jenna’s dorm immediately knew that she was much more than the tutor, and Kevin had learned more from Jenna about Jesus than historical facts in a textbook. 

            Throughout all of Saturday’s football game, Jenna yelled “Touchdown!” every time Kevin scored, which was several times in a row, including when he kissed her in front of the coach at the end of the beautiful game. 


Copyright 2020 Jennifer Waters