Monday, February 6, 2012
He Is Risen
Monday, February 6, 2012
Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday, a day that has become like a religious holiday. Really, it’s more of a sacred experience than Christmas and Easter as far as I am concerned, and I don’t even follow the NFL closely. But that’s how it is in general with the Christian holy days, too, and probably also for Passover among Jews. The major holidays are not for the devout, who live within their religion on a daily or weekly basis and who need no special mumbo-jumbo and red flag occasions. The holidays are attention-getters for the backsliders and apostates, designed to remind the less-than-faithful of their roots and of what they ought to be doing and believing. So despite the fact that I don’t believe in pro football I was filled with the spirit of the day.
My daughter Katie and I woke up early to take her son to hockey practice. “Vince Lombardi is risen,” I said to her. “He is risen indeed!” she answered me back in the ritualistic fashion we part-time paschal football fans have. “Hallelujah!” we said in unison.
After hockey we went shopping for the makings of the holy feast, which can vary from household to household, but usually contains several of the sacred dishes, such as chili, chicken wings, chips and dip. The body of Vince. And naturally there are any number of libations, often including holy light beer, or soda pop for the Protestants and abstainers. The blood of Vince.
All afternoon people cooked and stirred, sliced and diced, mashed avocados and added lime juice, until the guests began to arrive. As the moment of kickoff at last came in sight, our attention to the food intensified. One of the ways we worship in this country—to celebrate what is good and right and essentially American—is to eat a great deal, and this is the day when it is most important.
My grandson, who is eight years old, was the youngest person at the celebration, so he was assigned the duty of asking the Four Questions of Super Bowl Sunday, an ancient ritual that helps us to remember where we came from and what binds us together as a people. For those who celebrate in a more secular way, let me refresh your memory about the Four Questions. Really it’s five questions, including the introductory one, but they call it the Four Questions for some arcane reason known only to the clergy. Young Isaac came and stood next to me, the eldest member of the gathering. After I read a passage from the scriptures regarding the relaxing of the celebration penalty rule during the Super Bowl game, he asked me earnestly and on cue, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” I answered, just as seriously, to the knowing nods of the group, “Because this is the day we commemorate the beginning of our deliverance from the ancient system in which all of football was separated into two leagues, the National Football League and the rival American Football League.”
Then began the questions in earnest. “Why is it that on all other nights we eat salsa or bean dip with our tortilla chips, but on this night we eat guacamole?” I replied, “On Super Bowl Sunday we eat the oiliest of all chip dips to celebrate football, the sport in which the players are the fattest, in the country where the Lord has made his people to live off the fat of the land and to be the fattest in all of his human creation. And be sure only to buy the avocados that give a little when you squeeze them.” Isaac nodded and drew his breath for the second question. “Why is it that on all other nights we go to the bathroom or grab something from the fridge during commercials, but on this night we watch the commercials and laugh indulgently at them and tell each other that they are good?” My answer, from the ancient text, was simple: “Because on Super Bowl Sunday we celebrate not just the game of football but also the generous and beloved corporate sponsors who pay obscene amounts out of their obscene profits in order to put their products in front of us so that we can enjoy the game.”
At this point we all took a break from questions to have some chili and a lot more cheese and crackers, in addition to the tortilla chips with just a hint of lime dipped reverently in the guac. And Diet Coke, with just a hint of caffeine, so as not to fill up too much on beverage. And to watch more of the four-hour pregame show with the beloved Al Michaels and that master sports kibitzer Bob Costas, with his watery blue eyes and mastery of the irrelevant overstatement.
As kickoff was rapidly nearing, we reassembled to finish the sacred questions. Isaac asked the third one. “Why is it that on all other nights we go out into the garage during halftime, or walk the dog, or try to appease the wife by performing some chore or other, but on this night we stay seated for the entire halftime?” Again I recited the answer from holy writ. “Because on Super Bowl Sunday during half time there is always the possibility, however slight, that a part of some woman’s body may be accidentally exposed, and we wouldn’t want to miss that in real time, even though we could You Tube it endlessly the next day.” Finally it was time for the fourth and last of the Super Bowl Questions. Isaac was doing great, and hadn’t missed a beat. I was in awe of his preternaturally sharp memory and his precocious interest in spiritual matters. Perhaps he will become a pop culture guru when he grows up. “Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?” I didn’t have to read the answer, for it was as obvious to me as it was to everyone else. Some things about religion are far more self-evident than they are mysterious. It is this confluence of the obvious and the comforting with the unknown and unknowable that makes for the most well-rounded spiritual experience, in my opinion. “Because on this night of all nights we are so stuffed with junk that we can hardly move, and so full of cheese that we probably won’t take a crap for a week.”
Then began the holiest time of the evening, the moment we’d all been waiting for—the kickoff and the beginning of the most-hyped game of the season.
The purpose of the Four Questions of Super Bowl Sunday, of course, is not only to teach the youngest among us the unique nature of our collective cultural experience, but remind us of our rich heritage even as the Super Bowl continues in an ever-changing world. Without the Super Bowl how many young people would understand Roman numerals, for instance? Or know who Madonna is? In addition, the pre-game home ceremony encourages the youngsters to continue to ask all sorts of general questions, such as why does an intentional grounding penalty turn into a safety when the quarterback is standing in the end zone when he throws the ball, and why professional athletes and their large coaching staffs can’t make sure only eleven players from each team are on the field at the beginning of a play. The more a person gets to know the game the easier it is to prepare for the more intense theological issues, like why God gave us football in the first place, and why he won’t ever let the Lions go to the Super Bowl.
After the game was over and the guests had given their personal benedictions, it was time for the warm good feelings of the holiday evening to continue with a dose of reality television in which people with mediocre voices try to break into show business with the help of established celebrities. As if the field weren’t glutted enough already. The glow of the holy day was still on me. Passes, commercials, catches, commercials, penalty flags, commercials, commentary, commercials. I was set for another year, and for the dry football-less spring and summer, until the page is turned once more on the liturgical calendar and we begin the march toward the next Super Bowl, the next big fat Roman numeral. Until then I resolved that I would try to keep the words of Vince Lombardi in my heart. “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” “The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.” “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” And the one Tom Brady and his band of brothers will carry with them until fall: “We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.”
May God bless and keep you until then, and may Vince Lombardi make his face to shine upon you, and may the spirit of smash mouth football dwell within you and give you peace.