I know that I have told this story before, but I really don't care.
It's Super Bowl Sunday and, as everyone knows, that is one of the high holy days of the America's secular liturgical calendar -- even in a year in which life in the National Football League has been just as screwed up and tense and divided as everything else in this land of ours. (Well, I mean other than the fact that nearly 90 percent of all Americans don't want the Team That Must Not be Named to win.)
However, there is another interesting journalism that almost always shows up during the days that precede the Super Bowl -- the almost inevitable religion-beat hook.
So here is my story from the past, before we get to God and Super Bowl LII.
Long ago, in my Rocky Mountain News days, the Denver Broncos made a couple of trips to the Super Bowl. As you would imagine, newsrooms in Denver rolled out the heavy artillery to cover these events.
Well, I turned in memos arguing that -- as religion writer -- I should be included in the teams sent to cover these festivals of civil religion.
I never got my wish, but an editor later confessed that I had a point. Religion stories kept popping up, such as the issue of whether it was acceptable for members of these two gladiator squads to share a prayer meeting and/or Bible study before the kickoff? Would that be contrary to the spirit of the event? The NFL was worried.
So with that in mind, let's turn to these 2018 headlines:
* "In a tough sports town, baptisms and Bible studies fuel many of the Eagles’ stars," an Acts of Faith feature at The Washington Post (written by freelancer Bob Smietana).
* "Nick Foles plans to become a pastor after football," from the Associated Press (which stirred up lots of headlines on this topic).
* "NFL players using Super Bowl spotlight as a platform to share their Christian faith," at The Deseret News.
* "Members of the Eagles find common ground through spiritual devotion," by Tim McManus at ESPN.
* "Eagles coach embraces unique resume,' by Tim Ellsworth at Baptist Press (a rather bland headline on an interesting story about Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who -- believe it or not -- is the former president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.).
I could go on and on -- believe me. It's especially interesting that the religion news, this time around, centers in Philly, a city with a reputation for fan behavior that is a bit on the dark side. Remember that Christmas halftime show long ago?
That anecdote provided the kicker at the end of Smietana's overture:
Carson Wentz, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, wants you to tune in on Super Bowl Sunday. Before that, he’d like to visit your church.
“If you are a pastor anywhere in the world who’s looking to impact the people in your community, please consider inviting me and other NFL players into your church this Super Bowl weekend,” Wentz says in a promotional video for Football Sunday, a national faith-based outreach effort. “I promise it will be something God uses to transform the people you are called to serve. And I believe for all eternity.”
Wentz, Nick Foles and several members of the Eagles are among a number of NFL players appearing in the video. It is scheduled to be shown in thousands in churches on Sunday, the day the Eagles face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
It’s the latest step of faith for the Eagles, who have won over one of the toughest sports towns in the United States. Philadelphia is a place where fans are known for not being forgiving. Or easily impressed, says Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania and an avid Eagles fan.
“We booed Santa Claus,” Butler said.
Like I said, I could go on and on with this in 2018. However, I want to end with a few questions for readers to ponder today.
* My first question is actually a football question: How important was it that backup QB Foles was an outspoken believer, when young superstar Wentz, also an outspoken Christian, was injured and knocked out for the rest of the season? Did that help hold the team together?
* Who was behind this giant wave of stories about faith and the Eagles? The team's media handlers? The players themselves? Or, hey, is there any chance that the normally faith-fearing czars of the National Football League realized that they needed a positive, heartland-friendly angle at the end of this painful NFL year?
* Why do these faith angles always emerge at the national level in Super Bowl week? I mean, these stories are always there, all through the year, waiting to be covered. Right?
* OK, I'll ask: What's going on in the other locker room?
Now, if any of this shows up during the 10-hour Super Bowl LII pregame show, please let me know in our comments section.
FIRST IMAGE: From Philadelphia Eagles Facebook page.