Road Trip! This week I got the rare opportunity to do two things that I really enjoy: go to a South Carolina football game (Outback Bowl) and spend time with my brother-in-law.

Patrick and I left Columbia, SC at around 8:30 am on Wednesday headed to Tampa, Fl. The drive should have taken us about 7 hours, but traffic and a few detours stretched out the trip to about 10 hours (including a lunch stop at Cracker Barrel). On the way our conversation ranged from football to work to marriage to our personal relationship with Christ. We talked about the implications of the gospel in relationship to our wives and parenting – which was  really helpful and encouraging to me. Usually when we are together both our wives and children are present, so it presents an obstacle to talking frankly about the challenges of leading our homes spiritually. Saying this isn’t mean to imply that our conversations about our wives and children were necessarily negative, but simply that we were able to talk about the unique challenges of being a godly (and sometimes not to godly) husband without an onlooking  and curious audience.  I think I probably enjoyed our time talking as much as any aspect of the trip.

The beauty of this time together is that I now have a greater sense of confidence and hope in Patrick’s confession of faith in Jesus Christ. This is not meant to imply that I was suspicious of his confession. But the substance and nature of our conversations (and our actions while together) demonstrated evidence of a living faith in his heart. This, in part, is one of the blessings of Christian fellowship. We are encouraged to consider how to stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25), and as we do this the fruit we see encourages our faith as we see evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What a blessing this was!

When we arrived in Tampa we checked into the Holiday Inn Express north of the city. The hotel was about 20 minutes from Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since we were in Tampa we thought it might be nice to eat some fresh seafood. Who knew that it would be such an adventure finding a good local place to eat some saltwater grub. Upon checking in at the hotel I asked the front desk attendant if she could recommend a good local seafood establishment. She promptly recommended Red Lobster and Bonefish Grill! Incredulous.

Patrick remembered he had a friend who lived in the area. So we called him and he recommended a local hole-in-the-wall called Crab Shack in St. Petersburg. It was a quaint little restaraunt that specialized in fresh fried seafood. If you want something healthy this probably isn’t the best place to go. The Gator bites were tasty and the seafood platter filling. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and crashed for the evening.

The next morning we headed to the stadium at about 9:00 am. We parked in someone’s yard for $5 and walked about 1/2 mile to the stadium. Raymond James is the first pro football stadium I’ve ever been to. What a fantastic place to watch a football game – if you can call what I experienced a game! We had great seats in the corner of the end zone right next to the SC fans in the adjacent section. Unfortunately for us, our seats were surrounded by Iowa Hawkeye fans. Most of the fans were cordial and pleasant, except for the one drunk, foul-mouthed, and possibly mentally-challenged Hawkeye fan behind us.

The game itself was a nightmare for SC fans. Local hero Stephen Garcia (R.Fr QB) started the game for my beloved Gamecocks had a forgetable day. In the first half he threw for 79 yards, including 3 INT’s and 1 fumble, leading to 14 first half points off of those turnovers. His first pass was picked off and his first scramble resulted in a fumble. The defense gave a pedestrian effort in the first half and before all was said and done Iowa had a 21-0 halftime lead. The 2nd half was more of the same as Chris Smelley’s first pass was remarkably completed to Moe “I-Can’t-Catch-A-Cold” Brown, who then immediately fumbled the ball to an Iowa defender. If we weren’t turning the ball over we were committing a costly penalty or otherwise finding some other inexplicable way to shoot ourselves in the foot. The game ended with a 31-10 Hawkeye victory that wasn’t even that close.

I don’t really know what to say about my Gamecocks. In the last 3 games they have been outscored 113-30. Since earning the ranking as the #1 defense nationally prior to the Florida game we have self-destructed. We led the nation this year with 27 interceptions. We have at least 3 defensive underclassmen declaring early for the NFL draft and yet none of them should be leaving early. Our defensive coordinator (Ellis Johnson) seems to be interested in every college football opening available (the lastest rumor is that Auburn is interested in him). Are the rats jumping off a sinking ship? Steve Spurrier is supposedly an offensive genius and yet we have the most unimaginative and predictable offense in the SEC. We have yet to develop a QB and our running game ranks 109 in the nation.

Is Spurrier the answer to make the Gamecocks contenders in the SEC? I don’t really know considering he says he won’t coach more than 4-5 more years. I will say that he is building a better base of talent and paving the way to (potentially) better days. But can he make us contenders during his tenure? He cast his lot with Garcia when he failed to recruit another QB this year, so he better get to work because our QB play and offensive ineptitude are standing in the way to any glory that might be had for Spurrier at SC.

The trip home was much quicker because traffic wasn’t an issue. Once again Patrick and I seized the opportunity to talk about work, football and discerning God’s will (not all necessarily related!) We got home around midnight where we both found our wives anxiously (but weary-eyed) awaiting our arrival.  It was a good 24 hours – the bowl loss not withstanding. I’m thankful to God for the gift of having that time away with my brother-in-law. It was a rare treat. I’d take another blow-out loss and marathon trip again any day in order to steal away a little time of encouragement and fun with family.