Survive and Advance or Survive and Die

Last night was a great night of television with two of the best series serving up two of their strongest “episodes.” ESPN’s sports documentary series, 30 For 30, turned its attention to North Carolina State’s 1983 Cinderella-story performance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament under coach Jim Valvano in the film, Survive and Advance. AMC’s The Walking Dead is winding down its third phenomenal season, and last night’s episode was one of its most suspenseful and disturbing yet. Two completely different series offered up contrasting ways of facing overwhelming adversity and provided a roller coaster of emotions.

Proverbs 29:18 tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Survive and Advance and last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Prey,” are evidence of this age-old truth. Early in coach Jim Valvano‘s tenure at N.C. State, he told his players about his dream to win a national championship. Not unusual. Every season, they spent one practice session practicing cutting down the nets. Unusual. He told his players that he had a vision and that if they could dream it and see it with him, then they would achieve it together. The documentary follows the 1983 N. C. State team as they achieve that dream against unbelievable odds. Of course, other teams shared that dream and fought equally hard to achieve it. However, through tough play, inspired coaching, belief in and love of each other, and, of course, a combination of luck and poor opponent play and coaching, the Wolfpack pulled it off. Survive and Advance leaves us with the beauty of both Coach Valvano’s life and vision which inspired not only his team but generations of coaches and players ever since.

Coach Valvano and guard Dereck Whittenburg.
Coach Valvano and guard Dereck Whittenburg.

The characters in The Walking Dead face even more insurmountable odds, the zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, they have absolutely no vision for how to work through it. The two leaders, Woodbury’s “Governor” and the prison’s Rick Grimes, can see no further than hunkering down in their respective fortresses and taking care of their own. As such, any sleight against them is an unforgivable offense that must be punished to the fullest extent. Until the two have a grander vision of overcoming the zombie threat together, these offenses will constantly prove insurmountable obstacles rather than challenges to work through. Rick realizes that they are the walking dead but, surprisingly, seems content to live into that role. Put another way, unlike Coach Valvano and the rest of the Wolfpack, they simply survive to die another day.

There’s another way in which these two episodes parallel each other. Like the zombie apocalypse in The Walking Dead, cancer has touched all of us, whether we’ve contracted it ourselves or are closely related to, or close friends with, someone who has. Echoing some of the thoughts above, the two episodes continue to part ways in terms of the ways in which their “characters” react to their respective plagues. In facing cancer, Coach Valvano was determined to beat it and fought it until his death. While he didn’t beat it, he created the V Foundation, which has donated over $100 million to cancer research. To that end, should a cure for cancer ever be found, this foundation will have played no small part in it. As progress to a cure is made, Coach Valvano’s legacy lives on, and every year during March Madness, this legacy takes its rightful place in the spotlight and continues to inspire players, coaches, and fans alike.

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The Governor vs. Rick Grimes…both hell-bent on destruction.

Should a cure ever be found for the zombie apocalypse, “leaders” like Rick and the Governor will most likely have had nothing to do with it. They will leave a legacy, but it will certainly be one of terror, destruction, and death rather than hope and renewal. The two seem hell-bent on destroying their surviving “competitors” rather than finding a solution to the plague that faces them. Like Coach Valvano, they too will die, but it will be a far less graceful passing.