The football gods have spoken


Perhaps there are football gods after all.

Eli Manning

Greg Easterbrook, who writes the best sports column anywhere for, regularly invokes the favour of gridiron deities to explain why teams are rewarded for such things as sportsmanlike play, courageous play calling and provocatively dressed cheerleaders. The football pantheon is theologically troublesome, but the outcome of the Super Bowl last Sunday was a blessing to be sure, if not divinely ordained.

Rarely does any football game rise to the level of Super Bowl XLII. Even more rarely does a game in which defences dominate provide so many thrilling moments. And it is only once in a football generation that a play too impossible to believe actually occurs and becomes the signature moment of an athlete’s career, as will surely be the case for David Tyree of the New York Giants, who caught a game-saving pass with his helmet.

As sweet as all that was, there was something sweeter still in the thwarting of the New England Patriots in their quest for the perfect season. They fell one game short, and their 18-1 season will rank forever as the second best season ever played. No shame in that. But it was fitting that the Patriots would lose, if only because this year they would not havebeen fitting champions.

There is of course the matter of their cheating: They were caught illicitly videotaping their opponents’ signals in the first week of the season. Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick was served with a half-million dollar fine and the team had to forfeit a draft pick, but otherwise the NFL seemed eager to move on. It is extraordinary to think that the NFL’s most successful team would think it necessary to cheat, but in their willingness to do anything to win, they unnecessarily brought their victories into disrepute.

Yet it wasn’t the cheating that had me hoping (and, it seems, most of the fans in Phoenix) for a Giants’ victory. It was a broader sense that the Patriots, as impressive as they were to watch, somehow did not bring honour to the game. On too many occasions, they took the low road, eagerly crushing their opponents as they rewrote the league’s record books. They ran up the score when they could, seeking not merely to vanquish their rivals, but to humiliate them. They elevated the game, but they did not ennoble it.

On the other side of the ball were the improbable Giants, led by that most sympathetic of all figures — the little brother. Eli Manning was the other Manning quarterback, the bumbler compared to older brother Peyton, who won last year’s Super Bowl.

After he was caught cheating, Coach Belichick became even more surly and taciturn than usual. Here was a team on the threshold of a perfect season and he seemed determined to squeeze the joy out of it. The Patriots are not a team of trash-talking thugs; they are exceptionally hard-working elite athletes. Yet sports is not just about working harder than the other guy; there is a joy in the game, and a joy that comes from earning one’s living from playing a game. Aside from those in Boston, it was hard to cheer for the Patriots, precisely because they were such a cheerless bunch. No doubt the football gods reserve a special place in football hell for those who take a game and make it into mere work.

On the other side of the ball were the improbable Giants, led by that most sympathetic of all figures — the little brother. Eli Manning was the other Manning quarterback, the bumbler compared to older brother Peyton, who won last year’s Super Bowl.

Eli was the second-best football son of Archie Manning, himself an outstanding NFL quarterback in the 1970s. The Mannings have become something of a first family of the NFL, taping commercials together and cheering each other on. It strikes some as a little hokey, but in a league where 78% of the players are divorced, bankrupt or unemployed within two years of leaving football, the wholesome Manning clan is more than welcome. Archie married the homecoming queen he met in college, and they are still together, still working and still in football.

The Patriots were led by Tom Brady, the superlative and celebrated quarterback who dates Hollywood starlets and supermodels. Eli Manning is the somewhat dorky kid brother who probably had to beg to be included in his older brother’s games. And now he has won what might just be the greatest Super Bowl ever. How could the football gods not want that?


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "The football gods have spoken." National Post, (Canada) February 7, 2008.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2008 National Post

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.