Terry Mattingly had a post over at GetReligion a few days ago titled, "Michael Vick, Sinner," about how sports writers lapse into decidedly religious language when talking about certain stories, such as NFL stars charged with dog fighting and killing dogs. Today he has another post about Vick, this time examining the media coverage of Vick's public statement, after having plead guilty to several counts, which contained numerous references to God, Jesus, and so forth. Now Christianity Today has a poll asking readers what their response is to Vick's statements (so far, those who are "skeptical" are winning, hands down. No word on the odds from Vegas.)
But the big scoop seems to belong to ESPN.com, who has discovered that the NFL has a Sacred Book that is filled with Cosmic Secrets about scoring touchdowns and blocking the right defender: the Playbook.
In the NFL, the playbook is a sacred hardbound diary of trust. It's an accumulation of decades' worth of knowledge, tweaked and perfected, sectioned off by scribbles and colored tabs. It's the first thing the fresh meat get when preseason workouts start in the spring and the last thing that is pried from a player's sweaty mitts when The Turk arrives and utters those dreaded 11 words.
Coach wants to see you in his office. Bring your playbook.
No two playbooks are alike. Some are as massive as 800 pages; others are thinner than the Mankato, Minn., phone book. No layman or superfan could get through the first section without being completely confused. But therein lies the trick, to sort through the clutter, learn fast and play faster.
Chad Greenway, who plays for the Vikings, expressed his reverence for the Authorized Playbook: "So you always have it with you. That's the one thing that's sacred to football. It has all our secrets."
It is sometimes said, in jest (or half-jest), that football is religion for some people. Undoubtedly. After all, it has:
• Days of Obligatory Worship: Usually Sundays, but also Mondays (Monday Night Football) and Thursdays.
• A Great Feast Day: Super Bowl Sunday
• Clergy/Celebrants: The players
• Laity: The fans
• Cathedrals: Stadiums
• Parishes: Sports bars
• A Sacred Book: The playbook.
• Saints: Past superstars and great coaches
• Vestments: Approved by the NFL. Very spendy
• Tithes: $200-$1000 a ticket
• Missals: Programs, quite expensive
• Cantors: cheerleaders
• Sacred Music: Usually classic rock, rap, or unmentionable, or all three (Kid Rock, anyone?).
• Lectors: The announcers
• Curia: The coaches
• Magisterium: The owners
• Pope: The commissioner
• Fellowship: tailgate parties, BBQs, etc.
• A liturgy: Divided into the liturgy of the first half and the liturgy of the second half. The liturgy is based around "plays" and each play is announced among the celebrants using a foreign language usually unintelligible to the ordinary lay man.
• A liturgical calendar: The Season and Ordinary Time, and The Draft.
• Liturgical police: Refs. Zebras. The guys who cost your team the game.
• An eschatology: "If we lose this game, my life is over."
• A soteriology: "If we win this game, I'll be in seventh heaven!"
• Confession: From celebrants: "I missed the tackle" or "I should have caught that pass". From laity: "I missed the first two minutes of the second half; I can't believe it!"
• Penance: benching, or, in the case of extreme sins/mistakes, fines or suspension
• Excommunication: Being cut or waived
• Dissenters: Those who refuse to watch the NFL (atheists/skeptics), or prefer college football (Protestants) or Arena Football (Mormons, JWs)
Why do I bring this up? Well, if you have to ask, you must not know what time of the year it is...