When Jacoby Jones ran the second half kickoff back 108 yards for a touchdown to give the Baltimore Ravens a seemingly insurmountable 28-6 lead 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 that the Ravens nevertheless held on to win.
I say "football gods" because a strong case can be made for football as America's national religion.
Really. Check it out: The earmarks of religion are there in abundance. The Holy Grail or the Godhead— the Lombardi Trophy"“ may rest temporarily in Baltimore, but the National Football League is America's true Holy City; its coaches are the high priests of this feverish faith; and the players are its apostle-warriors. The referees are the striped keepers of the faith, maintaining the violent on-field ceremonies within the bounds of the league's sacred scriptures.
The Super Bowl is indeed the highest holiday of football, the culmination of its own slicked-up Holy Week. Saints— this year the dubiously "converted" Ray Lewis and the jut-jawed opposing coaches, the Harbaugh brothers— are anointed during this sacred week (a week so sacred that it's actually extended to two weeks). During this holy time, the "game's" legends and myths are endlessly recited and rehearsed ad nauseum, much like the Passion Play at Oberammergau (although the latter is only performed once every ten years, presumably because of its lesser importance).
The "game" itself is worshipped with songs of praise "“ those fabled Super Bowl TV commercials "“ performed by revered singers. In the stands, the faithful worshippers, having checked their brains at the door like Pentecostalists, sing their songs of praise to their favorites, each year sounding more and more like the rioting football faithful in the Old World where Martin Luther, John Calvin and Peter the Hermit got their start.
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. Their ecstatic stirring actually begins before the game, when the teams emerge from their dressing rooms to hurl themselves through corridors of smoke and flames to the deafening roar of the superannuated faithful.
During the game itself, the players perform endless sophisticated on-field dances, worthy of a Mayan sacrifice ritual, in celebration of touchdowns, sacks, fumble recoveries, interceptions, successful challenges of referees' calls"“ almost anything, come to think of it— with crazed prancing and arms pointed to the football heavens.
Afterward, too, the winners chant in the locker room, graciously paying lip service to America's bygone minor gods, like Yahweh, Jesus and Muhammad. These guys are the whirling dervishes of football.
And let's not forget the vestal virgins— well, all right, the handmaidens: this year, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, setting the stage for the High Priestess of Halftime: Beyoncé Knowles herself, Jezebel in high heels and sequins.
So let us pray: Our father, who art in Green Bay … .♦
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