Praying for guidance on the holy gridiron

January 26, 2001|By Archibald R. Montgomery IV

IS IT TRUE that some guy will get about $150,000 every time he comes to bat next summer? Not a bad wage, if you can get it.

Summer seems a long way off in these days of frozen tundra, while those relative paupers in the National Football League are trying to unscrew one another's body parts with a fervor ordinarily reserved for big cats dismembering antelopes.

"Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth," some smart guy said about the NFL. It's our national religion in January, and the temples are full of garishly costumed worshipers howling encouragement to their massive gladiator demi-gods down in the arena.

Particularly devout are those generously proportioned, shirtless gentlemen who paint themselves blue or silver or purple or whatever the occasion calls for and don't seem to mind or notice that everyone else is wearing a parka or is under a blanket.

It's encouraging to know that the populace cares with a passion; there's no malaise in this country. Our values of loyalty, devotion, enthusiasm, sacrifice are not fading, as some pundits proclaim.

A Sunday trip to any temple of the NFL will prove it. The gladiators themselves are an example of faith and pride. It's quite reassuring.

Several of them pray regularly. They drop to their knees and bow their heads in thanks right there in the end zone when good things happen. One fellow, after he scores a touchdown, pounds his chest and then points to the sky, presumably where the Almighty is watching football with great interest.

Another player -- who recently beat a murder rap, which is a relief because he's mighty good -- is a devout fellow, from what I hear, and praises God regularly between bouts of driving his forehead into the chests of unwary opponents.

It's good to know God cares about this national religion and helps the devout smite the enemy. I wonder which team He roots for. He must be encouraged by the public displays of piety. Certainly, He must get credit for the marvelous dancing and singing that overcomes His Christian soldiers in moments of particular glee.

Large men jump and wiggle and thrust their pelvises out and point at their opponents. After almost every play, they put their faces in the faces of their opponents. And I can see their helmets bobbing and their lips moving, so I assume they're singing praises to the Lord. Such effusive displays of song and dance in His name must please the Lord.

Such humility. Such willingness to give credit to "God, who made me so good." There are even fellowships where the gladiators, who are on parole or out of rehab or haven't hit anybody like their wife for a week, get to hold hands and kneel in the most visible possible spot, in the center of the field. And I can only imagine how gratifying God must find those public displays of devotion.

Yes, indeed, it's a mighty pious, humble group down there on Sundays on the frozen tundra, dancing, singing, knocking one another unconscious and praising the Lord. I'll be wistful when the ultimate day of worship -- Super Bowl Sunday -- comes and goes, because we'll have to go indoors afterward for the less godly diversions of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.

But I suppose spitting on officials and punching out coaches is understandable to those highly trained athletes because, gosh, just think of the pressure they're under. And decapitating the handful of black hockey players with a good, hard, two-handed swing can only be expected, given athletes' dog-eat-dog climate.

What's the average salary in the NBA? It doesn't really matter, does it? Those things are unrelated; silly me. Our houses of worship are really places of marvelous entertainment. Every day, all of them are looking more like professional wrestling: good choreography, lots of that special singing, wonderful costumes, lots of pointing at the sky. Everywhere the athletes praise God and hold hands. It's all very reassuring. Really.

Archibald R. Montgomery IV is headmaster of the Gilman School.

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