With the ensuing gridiron battle, sporting pundits have focused on numerous factors ranging from the pressure of an undefeated season to the respective strengths of the teams’ secondaries. Surprisingly, one major factor has been overlooked: the most recognized and thanked “participant” in the Forty Second Super Bowl Football Championship—God.
God, the Lord, and the Man Up Above (and the less conventional, though oft noted, Football Gods) received numerous shout-outs from players, coaches, commissioners, and commentators on this earthly day of rest.
This comes as a surprise given that the winning team had sixty actual human players (including the “most valuable player”) who have devoted their lives to getting the pigskin into the end zone. (I assume that none of the gods involved took issue with these players handling swine—and if they did that the respective players play a defensive position.)
It is curious that God would look so favorably on all of these creatures doing anything but resting on the Sabbath. Even more curious, though, is why God would even concern Himself/Herself with a football game. It is strange to imagine that God has a particular interest in this game being played well.
In fact, many experts noted the relatively poor performance of the teams—one God-fearing/loving commentator, ex-Super Bowl MVP Steve Young, noted his disproval of the Bears’ quarterback’s performance and stated both teams gave a “sub-par performance.” (Though others simply blamed the lackluster performance on the God-sent rain.)
This forces the more general question, “Does God favor one team over another?” Is victory evidence of God’s existence/love/virtue for one group of sixty men and disproof for the other? Did God aid the former group more than the latter?
Interestingly, there was very little mention of God from the losing side. This is consistent with the God of Sports as God typically receives accolades for successes (i.e. Bonds’ point-to-the-sky instead of pointing to his trainer, genuflections and signs of the cross following a touchdown or home run) but no gratitude at times of failure (i.e. the oft-utilized “Damn it” following a dropped ball or strikeout).
Since the God of most religions is omni-present, it is not much of an issue that He was present at the Super Bowl. High school sports are forced by strict secular rules to adhere to the day of rest, so this really would allow the gods to focus on this particular event.
But most of the gods currently posited could work at football games while still aiding the impoverished in Tanzania and answering the prayers of roulette players in Las Vegas.
At the high school level, numerous Jesuit athletic teams cheer, “Pray for us!” prior to competition. This in contrast with typical opponents who simply yell their mascot’s name—“Devils!” providing a nice contrast. Where exactly should these prayers aim. What exactly are we praying for? That the Jesuit high schoolers beat the Devils?
This all assumes that God plays an active role not only in the universe but on the sports field. That God really can help a receiver to catch an otherwise un-catchable ball or a defensive back to tackle an un-prayed-for running back.
Given this assumption—that God overturns the supposedly immutable laws of nature—what we really witness at the Super Bowl are numerous small miracles: events that occur solely due to divine intervention.
Yet a recent Templeton-funded Harvard University study showed prayer to be ineffective in regards to healing the sick. I suppose it possible that God plays a more active role in the sporting realm, though it’s hard to imagine that God’s priorities are as out of whack as ours here on earth.
A similar study would be interesting: asking congregations to pray for one team’s victory over another—or, likewise, one team’s loss—while still accounting for the numerous confounding variables such as home-court advantage, “the sun was in our eyes,” and of course, skill.
Sociologists could certainly devise some sort of matrix to determine how much better religious-based universities perform relative to secular teams. And while we can imagine the cry from the former—“But they have better athletes, more money, lower academic standards—that shouldn’t hold a candle in Candlestick Park to the athletic prowess of an all powerful team member.
Given all of this fantasy and wishing, it just seems like there might be some humans who get left out of the giving-of-gratitude process. Granted, “My teammates” receive the gratuitous mention by all award-winners, but I’m sure there are more evocative stories there than that.
Athletics is one of the few institutions that can truly move us—music, love, genuine care for others being a few more. The aesthetic and emotional response from watching athletes perform together can be uniquely inspiring and profoundly moving.
And it all stems from the athletes—human intervention—their commitment, their care, their ability to overcome obstacles, their ability to trust each other and work together for the good of their teammates.
Thank goodness for the players and their character (and their skill).