Sorry to all the Denver Broncos fans out there – that was pretty rough. The Seahawks out executed in every phase of the game. Hats off to a humble, classy, and non-flashy Russell Wilson for his quiet leadership and on-field play.
There are two very distinct kinds of liturgies at work in the Superbowl: The Superbowl the Game (and half-time show), and The Superbowl the Commercials. The game and the commercials overlap at points and in many ways are inextricably linked but also diverge at points as well. This post will cover the topic of the Superbowl the game and the next post will analyze the Superbowl the commercials. After analyzing a number of various forms of secular worship we will then discuss what these secular liturgies mean on a cultural level, a religious level, and an individual level.
The Superbowl the Game
In many ways sports provides for men (and women also) a pressure relief valve on their bottled up, suppressed, repressed, or unexpressed emotions. Sports can function as a kind of surrogate intimacy to other failed or stunted intimacies – this is why some men who are entirely dispassionate in other spheres (marriage, vocation, parenthood…) all of a sudden come alive in the arena or in front of the flatscreen.
Liturgies follow formats and rhythms of expected time, space, color, and aesthetics. In many ways, most sports liturgies follow the same liturgy:
The Pregame (Welcome, Greeting, and Sacrament)
The pregame is filled several elements that invite the sports worshiper into the liturgy to follow. Elements of the pregame involve storylines of the forthcoming game, analysis of the players and teams involved, and perhaps also preliminary indulgence into the sacramental table of the expected food and drink (tailgating, BBQ… etc.).
There are obvious corollaries between the tailgate and the Lord’s Supper (or eucharist); both are inviting the worshiper deeper into the liturgy (game and camaraderie) to follow as well as serve to unite the participants into community with one another.
National Anthem (Call to Worship)
This is a moment of civil religiosity where we find unity in our commonality as residents (or citizens) of the United States of America. This can also function as a kind of call to worship for the events that are about to happen on field. It provides a very least common denominator unity to all in attendance regardless of their team allegiance.
The Game Itself (Worship in Song, Creed Recitation, Iconography, Benediction)
The game itself is participatory in many ways. Most teams have some sort of team song(s) – this is common also among other sports – particularly college football, soccer, and rugby. The songs serve to unite, provide camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Most teams also have at least one, often more than one creed, chant, or rally cry. It could be as simple as an idea – Seattle Seahawk’s (aka. TAMU) Twelfth Man or longer form chants or cheers like University of Florida’s We are the Boys from Old Florida, Alabama’s Rammer Jammer Cheer, or Ole Miss’ Hotty Toddy. Many of these serve to make great the dynasty of one’s own tribe to the detriment of the rivals. There is also highly developed iconography associated with sport. The icons serve far more than to merely brand but serve to identify allegiance to the particular tribe. Most teams will also have some form of a victory cheer or chant as well. These chants function in many ways similar to a benediction to a worship service (provided your team wins).
Sports can provide great elation and crushing agony (just ask Peyton Manning). These ranges of emotions are natural because we worship with the heart – hence, success is met with great joy and defeat brings frustration, anger, and a whole host of other emotions. We cheer when our team scores a touchdown or wins the big game and we get ticked and want a new coach when our team goes 4-8 (#Muschamp).
Sports as Evangelism (Mission)
Sports fans want other people to be a part of their tribe. Sports is inherently evangelistic. It is by nature evangelistic because it is human nature to want other people to enjoy the things that we enjoy. Hence, there is a significant missional component that is hard wired into sports, particularly the Superbowl in America.
This post is the second in a series of post on Secular Worship Services, the first analyzed The Grammys. Up next, we will take a look at The Superbowl with respect to the commercials.