When Jacoby Jones took the second half kickoff back 108 yards for a touchdown – tying the NFL record which he shares – to give the Ravens a seemingly insurountable 28-6 lead over the 49ers in Sunday’s Super Bowl, the football gods frowned and cast down a 34-minute power outage to give the San Franciscans a chance to regroup, which they did, making for a memorable game, which the Ravens held on to win.
I say the football gods because a strong case can be made for football as our national religion. Really. Check it out: the earmarks of religion are there in abundance. The Holy Grail or the Godhead — the Lombardi Trophy – now rests in a delerious Baltimore, but the NFL is the true Holy City of football, and the coaches there the high priests of this feverish faith with the players being its apostle-warriors, crusaders all in their gladiator facemasks. The referees are the striped keepers of the faith, maintaining the violent onfield ceremonies always within the bounds of the sacred word as written.
The Super Bowl is indeed the highest holiday of football, the culmination of its own slicked-up Holy Week. Saints are annointed during Super Bowl week, this year the dubiously “converted” Ray Lewis and the jut-jawed Harbaugh brothers. During this sacred week, the legends and myths of the “game” are endlessly recited and rehearsed ad nauseum on television and on every personal viewing device. And new legends and myths are created at the Super Bowl: miracle catches, stunning reversals, memorable performances.
The “game” itself is worshipped with songs of praise – the fabled Super Bowl commercials – the singers coming each year to present their songs to the Godhead. In the stands, the mindless faithful now sing their own songs of praise to their favorites, more and more like the European football faithful. The players chant before each game, as well, led in their huddles by rabid, screaming acolytes like Ray Lewis, a pagan presence in his Kabuki face paint. The winners chant in the locker rooms after each game, too, paying lip service to the lesser, traditional gods of the nation. This element of sophisticated, blood-heating paganism is also evident in the endless onfield dances: players celebrating their touchdowns, sacks, fumble recoveries, interceptions – almost anything now – with crazed prancing and arms pointed to the football heavens. They are the whirling dervishes of football. This pagan stirring begins before the game, actually, with the teams emerging from their dressing rooms to hurl themselves through corridors of smoke and flames to the deafening roar of the superannuated faithful.
And let us not forget the handmaidens: this year Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, setting the stage for the high priestess of halftime: Beyonce Knowles herself, Jezebel in high heels and sequins.
Let us pray: Our father, who art in Green Bay … .