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The Significance of a Historic Super Bowl

Monday 13 February 2017 at 5:29 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for February 9, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Although this column will appear in the paper later this week, I am writing it the day after the Super Bowl, and I’m writing about the Big Game because I’m still somewhat buoyed by it. Not only did this cherished annual American Event produce several “First’s,” but there were also a couple firsts for me, too. Known for my indifference toward football and for having watched parts of perhaps three Super Bowl games of the 51, last night was the first time in my life I watched a Super Bowl game from beginning to end. And I can say this: I’m glad I did! Why?

            Before I answer the “why” question, let me review what all of you know, -- this is the first time in history the Super Bowl went into overtime; Tom Brady is the first quarterback to win five titles; Coming back from 25 points down to beat Atlanta 34 to 28, New England’s comeback was the largest deficit overcome to win a Super Bowl.

            In addition to my personal first and those game firsts, this was the first time in history a Roman Catholic Pope spoke by television to the over 100 million viewers who were getting ready to watch the game. I include what he did because his message was part of the uplifting feeling that describes the Event in retrospect. His message expressed my thoughts (and I don’t always agree with what he proclaims) so well that I want to quote it. Here’s what Pope Francis said: “Great sporting events like today’s Super Bowl are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace. By participating in sports, we are able to go beyond our own self interest – and in a healthy way – we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect to rules. May this year’s Super Bowl be a sign of peace, friendship, and solidarity to the world. Thank you.”

            His remarks reminded me that one of the early apostles, Paul, was an avid sports fan, especially enjoying foot races, and he used various aspects of the sport as metaphors for Christians to follow. As an artist and writer, I used to look down my nose at sporting events as inferior to the fine arts. But now I understand how sporting events bring us together as a people in a much greater way than an art exhibit or a poetry writing contest. Not everybody loves art and poetry as deeply as some of us do, but most, if not all of us, get passionate about sporting events. That’s a passion that could bring us together.

            So I’m thinking after a bitterly fought Presidential election, and with on-going hostilities toward the outcome of the election, and continued bitter political divisions in our country, I’m thinking the Super Bowl brought us a recreational lull, a fun time to invite friends to camp out in front of our TV set with avalanches of unhealthy snacks and drinks brightening our spirits, and perhaps seeing some of the metaphors in sports to be applied to our lives, -- like following the rules, mutual respect, fairness, etc.

            I suppose one could take the wonderfully positive aspects of the Super Bowl out of it by reminding folks that average tickets to the game were around $5,000 each, upper end zone seats going for $2,700, and – I read this and have a hard time believing it – you could purchase a suite for over $300,000. And there are some who criticize the Vatican for spending an enormous sum to televise the Pope’s uplifting message. And no telling how much it cost to stage the astonishing extravaganza put on by Lady Gaga.

            But I look at it like this. For you and me, and more than 100 million other folks, we got to experience all of this, -- the excitement, the uplifting moments, the entertainment, the performance of two great teams, not to mention the metaphoric messages, -- for free, alone or with our friends and with bathroom breaks. No amount of money could buy what we the people got out of the Super Bowl. Even Lady Gaga, who had said she was going to make a strong political statement during her performance, chose instead to present spectacular, even patriotic, entertainment in a manner that was unifying rather than divisive. It was good to see that everybody stood for the National Anthem, and that those gathered in NRG Stadium gave President H. W. and Mrs. Barbara Bush a heart-warming ovation. Falcon fans were deeply disappointed to let victory slip away from them as it happened, but even they recognized the incredible, almost impossible, turnaround on the part of the Patriots. It’s a unifying moment when the impossible becomes possible.

            America needed the Super Bowl. I am so glad I watched it!


 Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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