Ode to football

In an article in the February GQ, Terrell Owens, the controversial pro football player who couldn’t land a job this season because no team apparently wanted a guy who might cause trouble in the locker room, was asked how he spends his Sundays since he isn’t playing the game. 

Praying helps, he said, and explained that he attends a local Presbyterian church, a far cry from his younger days as a Baptist in the South. “It’s preppy. At the part where we say ‘Amen,’ they say ‘Indeed.’” 

It’s over now. Another Super Bowl bites the dust. Another football season has given way to the seemingly impossible hope that at some point pitchers and catchers will report. 

I live in Southwestern Pennsylvania, a part of America where football takes on a quasi-religious overtone. The Pittsburgh Steelers are not followed by the locals. They are worshipped. Not as individuals, but the team as a whole. Players come and go. The Steelers are here forever and always. 

To the natives, the football season does not end with the Super Bowl. 

It ended a month earlier on Sunday, Jan. 8, 11 seconds into overtime when Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard game-ending touchdown pass. 

That knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs. And the gloom set in. 

As much as I would like to make light of all this, I was born and raised on the New York Football Giants. For me, Super Bowl Sunday was destined for agony. As I said to my spouse when the Giants nipped the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, the Super Bowl was now ruined for me. 

Instead of enjoying it as a pleasant distraction on a winter’s evening, the Giants participation meant that the Super Bowl would have purpose. No matter the outcome, I would agonize over every play. And win or lose, it would take me hours to get to sleep after the game. Monday was doomed to misery. 

I have been that way since my oldest brother returned from the 1958 championship game with a piece of the goal posts. He had witnessed in person the “Greatest Game Ever Played” where the Colts beat the Giants in an age before there were Super Bowls. 

He showed me that relic, and I was hooked. 

Or should I say, doomed. The Giants went on to play in the championship game — called just that, neither a Bowl, Super or counted in Roman numerals — in the next four of five years and they lost every time. 

I took it personally. I asked God why he allowed the Giants to lose. I blamed myself. Maybe I hadn’t prayed hard enough. Maybe some kid in Baltimore, Green Bay and Chicago had prayed harder. Each year, I would redouble my efforts. And each year, they lost anyway. The nuns explained that God had His own plans. And I wondered what exactly God had planned for the Giants. 

A lifetime later, I make a point of never wagering on the Giants with prayer. I’m not sure that many Steeler fans have adopted a similar agnosticism. But I’m not going to point any fingers at them. 

There’s no great lesson here, no great moral to the story that I have discerned after so many years living and dying with the Giants. 

Except I do believe that sports are one of God’s tender mercies. Not just for those who play, but for those whom a lack of skill, old age or bum knees make watching the only option. 

When we can’t punt, block, throw, or tackle any more, we can still marvel at it all. And remember a game shared back in the day, and the old times and old friends that made it such a rich brew. And that’s not bad at all. 

Indeed.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.