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January 31st, 2014
05:49 PM ET

For some fans, Super Bowl has supernatural twists

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - Before he watches his beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl this Sunday, Kyle Herman has some important rituals to perform.

Just as he has for years, in the morning he will pick out the Broncos jersey to wear for the game. He will slip on his high-school ring, refashioned in Broncos blue and orange, and surround his television with team paraphernalia, from signed footballs to a pillow.

Herman has several Broncos jerseys, and if a certain player is stinking up the field, the 21-year-old from Beaver Falls, Wisconsin, will put on that player's jersey. You know, to give them a little more mojo.

“I don’t know why,” he says with a loud laugh, “but I feel like it really works for some reason.”

Herman may think his rituals are silly, but he’s far from alone in his sports superstitions.

According to a poll released in January by the Public Religion Research Institute, about half of all Americans believe that some element of the supernatural plays a role in sporting events.

That could mean fearing your team is cursed, as a quarter of sports fans said they do. It could mean you’re among the 26% who said they pray for God to help their team. Or it could mean performing rites like Herman, believing that, by some mysterious force, they will affect the outcome of the big game.

Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI, said he wanted to explore the remarkable parallels between religion and sports: the tribalism, the loyalty, the uniforms, the lore, and, of course, the rituals.

Hearing people describe their game-day rites and customs, was eye-opening, Jones said with a wide smile.

“People were very very specific. They put on certain underwear, danced in little circles, gave their TVs a pep talk. Some of these things were playful and some were more serious.”

To hear Tamara Murphy tell it, what she and her husband wear on Sunday could have win-or-lose consequences for the Seattle Seahawks.

Dustin wears a Seahawks jersey that he only washes when the team loses, which means that shirt should be pretty ripe right about now (their last loss was October 6). Tamara wears a pair of Seahawks underwear on Sundays.

“The one time I didn’t wear them during the first half we lost,” she wrote on CNN’s Facebook page. “Now my husband asks me before kickoff if I have them on.”

Football fans tend to be more supernaturally inclined than baseball or basketball devotees, the PRRI poll found. That’s probably because football is most popular in the South and Midwest, the most religious parts of the country, Jones said.

Football fans were more likely to pray for their teams, perform pre-game rituals or believe their teams are cursed, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,011 American adults between January 8-12.

Even football fans who are not especially religious said they are asking God to help their team this Sunday.

Michael Kung, for instance, penned a prayer on CNN’s Facebook page after we asked fans to share their supernatural Super Bowl plans.

“Dear God, I know that I don’t talk to you much and I haven’t been to church since middle school," he wrote, "but please, let the Seahawks win on Sunday.”

(Now would be a good time to mention that while CNN has many sources in high places, the last time we checked, God is not one of our Facebook followers.)

Other CNN Facebook friends challenged Kung’s priorities. Praying for a game while millions suffer in poverty is “sick,” said Jennifer Smith.

We wanted to explore the question a bit, so we asked well-known Christian theologian William Lane Craig: Does God really get involved in our games?

Craig’s answer: Yes and no.

“Everything that happens in this world is by his divine will or permission, and that includes fumbles and interceptions,” he said, “but it’s not as if God intervenes to deflect a pass in the end zone.”

Rather, God sets up the basic circumstances (kind of like the NFL commissioner) and allows the players to determine the outcome, said Craig, a professor at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

The Rev. Warren Hall, a Catholic priest at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, teaches a class on sports and spirituality and had roughly the same response.

God cares about the people on the field, their conduct and character, but not the outcome of games, said Hall. If God really were a sports fan, Catholic colleges would boast much better records, he said with a laugh.

While God may not be intervening in the field of play, Hall said he sees an element of the divine in the stands, in the communion of bleacher creatures.

“To be in a stadium with 60,000 people, and feel the energy of that, it touches on something transcendent,” the priest said. “I think God likes to see his people happy. He likes it when we gather together to enjoy each other’s company.”

Of course, any American crowd these days includes many atheists – and they’ll have a big presence on a billboard down the road from MetLife Stadium, the site of the Super Bowl.

The billboard depicts a priest holding a football and giving a thumbs-up sign. “A ‘Hail Mary’ only works in football,” it reads. “Enjoy the game!”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Entertainment • Faith Now • Polls • Prayer • Sports

soundoff (597 Responses)
  1. ...

    Because God obviously cares about sports.

    February 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm |
    • Christian Crusader

      He's gotta entertain himself somehow, right? Too bad he never answered Tim Tebow's prayers.

      February 1, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      It is refreshing to meet someone on this blog that understands God. Naturally He cares about sports, for He cares for all things in this universe. He understands the outcomes and delights in the manipulation.

      February 1, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
      • tony

        I thought it was the Devil who liked to play chess, etc. with folk nearing life's end.

        February 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm |
        • Angry Inch

          The devil plays his games, but he cannot foresee the future, nor does he decide ones destiny.

          February 1, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
        • tony

          If god knows the future, how do any of us have any free will?

          February 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm |
        • Angry Inch

          tony, great questions. Most Christians would argue that God gives us free will, but in His infinite wisdom only He already know all outcomes. I would agree, however I believe God can change it if He wishes.

          February 1, 2014 at 2:35 pm |
      • Sam Yaza

        "Because God obviously cares about sports."

        "Naturally He cares about sports"

        clearly you cannot read sarcasm.

        The devil plays his games, but he cannot foresee the future, nor does he decide ones destiny.

        oh and i have no desire to decide ones destiny i want you to decide your own.

        clearly you know nothing of me,... lets have tea some time.

        February 1, 2014 at 3:20 pm |
  2. Christian Crusader

    Anyone else still believe that Joe Namath sold his soul to the devil for Super Bowl 3, with the catch that the Jets could never win one until he dies? The devil is coming to collect soon, Mr Namath. Don't you worry. The curse shall be broken.

    February 1, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
  3. mzh

    - “Peyton Manning says he doesn't bring his faith on football field”

    In Islam, a person should be in a state of worship for 24/7… the daily 5 time prayers are part of it… everything is being done would be part of worship if the intention is correct… the smallest act of worship is to smile on any other human… and the list can go on and on…

    And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. – 51:56

    So, as a Muslim, follower of Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Adam (peace be upon all of them) should make his/her daily life as s/he in a state of worship all the time… and would not separate field from church and so on…

    Salamun alaykoum…

    February 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
  4. mzh

    Islam teaches about the any success is not that The Almighty God is happy or pleased with him/her and at the same time a person who goes through difficulties does not mean that The Almighty Lord is unhappy or displeased with him/her… the both are being tested… one is by given lots of materials and the other one is by being poor or any kinda difficulties in this material life…

    Here are the verses:
    And as for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favors him, he says, "My Lord has honored me." – 89:15

    But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, "My Lord has humiliated me." – 89:16

    No! But you do not honor the orphan – 89:17

    And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sabirin (the patient ones, etc.). – 2:155

    Who, when disaster strikes them, say, "Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return." – 2:156

    Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided. – 2:157

    Salamun alaykoum...

    February 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Allah is imaginary, so is pleased or displeased with people within their imaginations. I hope that is helpful.

      February 1, 2014 at 4:33 pm |
  5. Mopery

    The fix is in, as it always has been this game has already been decided. The NFL is in trouble, they need a savior and they're hoping to find it in Peyton Manning. Is there any doubt that the game is fixed? Ever think it was an odd coincidence that the first Superbowl after 9/11 was won by...the Patriots? Yay team, go USA, go Patriots, go Patriot Act! Woo hoo! We don't need our freedoms, so long as we have guns and football. Oh man.

    February 1, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
    • Vic

      I believe it is more allowed than fixed.

      I wouldn't have the slightest problem with the game being fixed for the Patriots to win after 9/11, that's a legitimate cause when people concede. The same goes for the Saints after hurricane Catrina.

      I was hoping for the Patriots to make it this year, and close the deal for the Fourth Super Bowl Championship. They are one of my top three Championship teams.

      It is interesting that the Patriots tend to give it to the Mannings all the time. They gave it to Eli twice in the Super Bowl, and they just gave it to Peyton this time in the AFC Championship.

      February 1, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
  6. Vic

    While more picks and weather acclimation are in favor of the Seahawks, I have faith the Broncos will win Super Bowl 2014, given the strong offense with Peyton Manning and a strong pull for leaving the post season losses behind.

    Predictions aside, no superstition on my part; meanwhile, I get very emotionally involved in the game, and a little spiritually. I root for my team with all I got, I pray for them to win, I feel the crunch when they miss a play—say, fumble, incomplete pass, and worst of all, a sack or interception, let alone losing, I enjoy nothing more than a clean touchdown, especially the "Holy Grail" ones, and I drink up in cheer when they win.

    If all goes well for the Broncos—John Elway would be ecstatic, I think Peyton Manning will call it quits while at the top, and he would have settled the score with Eli, two for two..LOL.

    Go Broncos!

    February 1, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
    • bostontola

      Vic, why pray for a team. Your God is real to you, is the game outcome something you want to involve your God in?

      February 1, 2014 at 1:46 pm |
  7. Mopery

    If you died today, are you 100% sure you'd go to the Happy Hunting Grounds?

    February 1, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  8. Mopery

    If you died today, are you 100% sure you'd go to Elysium?

    February 1, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  9. Mopery

    If you died today, are you 100% sure you'd go to Valhalla?

    February 1, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  10. Bones McCoy

    It's funny how people who have stumbled into fortune are more likely to believe in god. It makes sense. They consider themselves special and above everyone else due to "god given" talents. No shock that they'd be more likely to believe in god since they have lived extremely favorable and luxurious lives. They are so quick to thank god for all of their success, but what's funny is you don't see people who are unsuccessful blaming god. I mean sometimes you do, but it's rare. God is always first on everyone's thank list when nobody knows if he even exists. No offense, but I'm going to thank my parents and coaches first because they are real and actually impacted my life. It seems like such an insult to credit an imaginary being for success rather than your hard work and effort that made it possible.

    February 1, 2014 at 11:46 am |
    • doobzz

      I'm always amazed at how someone can work really hard for years trying to achieve a goal, and then when they do, they thank an imaginary friend for it. If they don't, they blame themselves or say it wasn't their imaginary friend's will.

      February 1, 2014 at 11:51 am |
    • tallulah13

      Yeah, it always makes me shake my head when these jocks thank god rather than the very real people who helped them achieve their goals. It's possibly the most presumptuous sort of gloating: god helped me, but he didn't help you. God likes me better. Neener neener.

      February 1, 2014 at 12:01 pm |
      • doobzz

        Just like when people thank their imaginary friend if a loved one pulls through a difficult surgery, instead of thanking the surgeons and medical teams.

        Of course, if their loved one doesn't make it, it's because their imaginary friend needed another angel, and it's time to consult a malpractice attorney.

        February 1, 2014 at 12:18 pm |
  11. mzh

    Hello there…

    It is good to see different colors, ethnicities and faiths are all together in a team or in sports playing side by side…

    Evangelical
    Catholic
    Mormon
    Jehovah’s Witness
    Christian
    Islam
    Jew
    Buddhism

    Everyone is success in their this material life and they all have different way of believing in the concept of God The Almighty which conflicts each other entirely (I am not referring to the concept of human vs human and human vs rest of the creation but I am saying here human vs The Creator)…

    In addition to this the Atheists, Hindu and any other also have people who are success in this material life but may not be through the sports…

    These folks are success and they believe in and invoke different deities…

    Now the question is… Can all be True? Are there different Gods?

    Peace be upon all of you…

    February 1, 2014 at 11:31 am |
    • Span.k Your Imam

      mzh, you sound like you are very jacked up today. Were you spanked forthrightly overnight by an unripened imam?

      Do not be embarrassed as such with red posteriority. We have experienced vestal goats close quartered in Tehran if you need to be resanctified.

      Of this year, shall no imams be spanked without above goats. No more.

      Here it is written and must be so.
      Here it is written and must be so.

      February 1, 2014 at 11:41 am |
      • mzh

        Thanks S... I only wish good for you my friend... and I also wish you use your intellect in good purpose...

        Peace!!!

        February 1, 2014 at 11:48 am |
  12. My Way

    I m supposed to care about this? How a list of the jocks who think the god thing is phony

    February 1, 2014 at 10:44 am |
  13. Ah

    Many players are known to be superst!tious. Christians and muslims are some pretty strange people.

    February 1, 2014 at 10:21 am |
  14. devin

    SHAZAM!!! The entire post just disappeared.

    February 1, 2014 at 9:51 am |
    • fyi

      Yeah, there's a bratty little hacker who comes in and deletes posts randomly for "fun". If he/she has a point, nobody knows what it is. CNN refuses (or is powerless) to deal with it. It stinks, but try not to take it personally.

      February 1, 2014 at 12:06 pm |
  15. Serge Storms

    I wonder which team the Flying Spaghetti Monster is pulling for.

    February 1, 2014 at 9:29 am |
  16. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Here's a suggestion: As you watch the Super Bowl, rather than praying for your favorite player or team to do something with the little ball, think about how much wealth is moving around. The game is ultimately about moving wealth into the hands of people who accumulate vast wealth while much of the world is living in poverty. Yes, this is wrong. What's really happening is not a game. While you're watching the little ball move around, think about how things might be set right.

    February 1, 2014 at 9:16 am |
    • bostontola

      "this is wrong"

      Are you suggesting that the NFL is involved in some kind of fraud? The players are not trying to win, the games are fixed, etc?

      I always thought people simply enjoy athletic competi.tion and were willing to pay to see it at the highest level. The Super Bowl ticket is expensive and mostly businesses and wealthy can afford it, but that is far from wrong. The SB is still accessible on TV, unlike a lot of luxury items accessable to only the wralthy.

      The SB seems more like a broad cultural event that spans wealthy, middle class, and most poor. There is a lot of money involved, but so is there in the movie industry and other big entertainment. How is the NFL wrong? Forgive me if I missed the sarcasm if that is what was intended.

      February 1, 2014 at 10:19 am |
      • Barcs

        I'm pretty sure he was talking about how the players are ridiculously wealthy, and the majority of fans are middle/lower class and pay the outrageous ticket prices and inflated stadium food costs. 8 dollars for a 12oz bottle of water? I can buy the 5 gallon jug for cheaper than that at the supermarket. These guys are paid outrageous salaries to play a game, while the fans who are the reason they exist are price gauged. It's messed up.

        February 1, 2014 at 11:52 am |
        • bostontola

          It would be if you had no choice. I'm seeing it at a local sports grill, great entertainment, reasonable price.

          February 1, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Sorry, Bostontola. The revolution will not be televised. Enjoy watching your game.

      February 1, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
  17. Sadie

    Go Hawks!

    #Faith, Family & Football.

    February 1, 2014 at 8:49 am |
    • Ah

      #farts, food and football

      February 1, 2014 at 10:27 am |
  18. JJ

    Look at all those guys in the Colt's locker room holding hands and praying after the SB win. That's so bazaar. Talking about peer pressure if you weren't a believer. Of course, the team probably wouldn't even hire you unless you were a Christian.

    February 1, 2014 at 8:35 am |
    • G to the T

      *bizarre

      The other one's a market...

      February 1, 2014 at 9:27 am |
  19. saggyroy

    And when their careers tank, do they also thank God?

    February 1, 2014 at 8:34 am |
    • sam stone

      "i'd lke to thank my lord and savior jesus christ, for this pulled hamstring which kept me out of the biggest game of my career"

      February 1, 2014 at 9:17 am |
    • bobsyuruncle

      God supplies them with dementia so they won't know what they're missing.

      February 1, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
  20. Reality #2

    Dear Peyton,

    There is a quick, painless and easy cure for being Bred, Born and Brainwashed in Christianity and it starts with an updated Apostles' Creed:

    The Apostles' Creed 2014: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

    And if you don't win Sunday, you won't go to Hell but a lot of us will not be happy with you.

    February 1, 2014 at 6:54 am |
    • Jim

      A person who has met Jesus is convinced that, Jesus is who He said He was."THE GREAT I AM,", "God incarnate", there are millions who attest to this fact.

      There is hope in Jesus for you, my friend!

      February 1, 2014 at 7:20 am |
      • midwest rail

        "...there are millions who attest to this fact."
        Don't you mean who hold to that belief ?

        February 1, 2014 at 7:49 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Proper use of words tends to be a huge issue in this world sadly.

          February 1, 2014 at 8:09 am |
        • Barcs

          homeschooling = bad.

          February 1, 2014 at 11:55 am |
      • JJ

        Are you saying it's a fact that anyone living today has actually met Jesus?

        February 1, 2014 at 8:38 am |
      • the serpent

        Appeal to Popularity fallacy. Just because a lot of people believe something, that doesn't make it true.

        February 1, 2014 at 9:16 am |
      • sam stone

        you have met jesus? what does he look like?

        February 1, 2014 at 9:20 am |
      • G to the T

        Just like Peter said to Paul – I don't believe you've ever met the man.

        February 1, 2014 at 9:28 am |
      • bobsyuruncle

        Millions heard that? Really?

        February 1, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.