A Buddhist Super Bowl

John ElkinCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2008

When I think Super Bowl, I am immediately transported to January 28, 1990. 

While the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers were getting ready to battle for Super Bowl XXIV superiority, my friend Mark and I were on our way to Long Beach, California, for our first Super Bowl party away from our usual Los Angeles location. 

Some background is necessary.

Mark and I have been life-long friends, sometime after 1981 we started getting together at his Los Angeles apartment for Super Bowls and bowl games featuring the Michigan Wolverines—our two passions. Shortly after this tradition started my very good friend Scott started joining us for Super Bowls. They were small gatherings; however they were always high energy with plenty of good food and drink.

Flash-forward to about 1989 and Scott had converted to Buddhism, met a woman in his temple and married her in an interesting, but repetitive ceremony. For the 1990 Super Bowl Mark and I were invited to Long Beach to do Super Bowl with Scott and his wife and a gathering of fellow Buddhists from their temple. 

It all started out very well, food was displayed and then summarily eaten and overly long pregame shows with game prophecies were cheered or jeered. As people started to arrive, Mark and I realized that we Denver fans were greatly outnumbered by 49ers fanatics. 

We had joked on the drive down about being the only ones not in a robe or with a single ponytail adorning a bald head and other Buddhist misconceptions. As the last people to arrive were greeted at the door we realized they all looked just like anyone you would see on the street.

We relaxed and hoped that Denver would quiet the pro-“Frisco” shouts. 

As the first quarter came to a close, we expected the 20-yard touchdown from Montana to Rice, they were too good not to expect some scores. Eight minutes into the game Treadwell kicked a 42-yard field goal to boost our spirits and slightly quell the crowd. 

In Buddhism there are the Four Truths. Mark and I were experiencing all four at the hands of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and a roomful of Buddhists.

1. There is suffering. (Certainly, the Broncos and we were.)

2. There is a cause for suffering. (In our case, it was the 49ers and these Buddhists.)

3. There is a cessation of suffering. (The game couldn’t end fast enough!)

4. There is a way to the cessation of suffering. (We were thinking of leaving early.)

Suddenly, in the middle of the game—I think it was four o’clock, (time and therapy have washed many aspects of this day away)—every Buddhist in the room got up, went into another room, bowed down (to the west, I presume) and started chanted and banging a little gong.

Mark and I peered around the corner to see them all radiating loving-kindness and merit to all living beings, which is believed to benefit those beings. The sharing of merit is a practice where one dedicates the goodness of one’s life to the benefit of all living beings, as well as praying for a particular person. 

For a group of people who look for a life of enlightenment, loving-kindness and merit, they sure could grind their heels into Mark and my collective spirit as the ill tidings and torrents of hate came out about John Elway and the entire city of Denver as a whole.  

It was starting to grate on us a lot and we both made a hasty exit at the end of the game to escape this ribbing we were taking. We drove north on the 405 freeway, slightly weaving in traffic, punch-drunk from the verbal pounding we received for four quarters.

We vowed never to not only support anything Buddhist but pinky-swore that we would never set foot in the city of Long Beach again.

As a postscript, I’d like to offer that our views on Buddhists have mellowed over the years.  Scott (still a Buddhist) and I are once again good friends and are thinking about another Super Bowl gathering soon. 

I do miss Long Beach though...