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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 • Polls • Prayer • Sports

soundoff (598 Responses)
  1. Vic

    Speaking of football rituals:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXwUmnfVVWs&w=640&h=360]

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvXDk9uR5vg&w=640&h=360]

    February 2, 2014 at 4:44 am |
  2. Jackson Littlewood

    31-27 Denver. I really think Peyton Manning and Terrence (Pot roast) Knighton will dominate the first half on their sides of the ball. Seattle can't do anything until late 3rd quarter. They almost get a comeback victory that the big game has lived without for awhile. Peyton Manning wins the MVP award and his second Lombardi Trophy.

    February 2, 2014 at 2:10 am |
  3. Mitt's Magical Mormon Undies

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qJDd-2tM-A&w=640&h=360]

    February 1, 2014 at 10:25 pm |
  4. stephen48739

    "It's a dog eat dog world and I'm wearing Milk Bone underwear" – Norm Peterson (Cheers)

    February 1, 2014 at 8:39 pm |
    • doobzz

      Ahahahaha! He had some good lines on that show.

      February 2, 2014 at 4:51 am |
  5. 32

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFyDUaSi-5w&w=640&h=360]

    they come from where ?

    February 1, 2014 at 7:16 pm |
  6. Kyle Herman

    Im from Beaver Dam, WI not Beaver Falls lol

    February 1, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      LOL!

      February 1, 2014 at 7:10 pm |
    • Say Please

      LMAO

      February 1, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
    • Ohio

      ROFLMFAO!!

      February 1, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
    • Haley Kermit

      OMG, funniest thing of the day...

      February 1, 2014 at 7:14 pm |
    • Salero21

      I don't get it. 😀

      February 1, 2014 at 7:16 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Now there's a surprise. You don't get too much...small minds tend to remain small.

        February 2, 2014 at 5:23 am |
    • Suddenly Last Summer

      LMAO, ha ha !

      February 1, 2014 at 7:18 pm |
    • OTOH

      LOL

      Keep a sharp lookout, Kyle - if other news outlets pick up this story, after enough time you're likely to end up being Kale Berman, age 27, from Niagara Falls, NY!

      (and they wonder about those old Bible copier-scribes!)

      February 1, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
    • Juniper Jukebox

      So what's to get? A beaver or whatever, eh.

      February 1, 2014 at 7:21 pm |
    • Tyler

      I think I just peed myself! OMG! lol

      February 1, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
    • snowelson

      Fuck me, that is too fuckin' funny man!

      February 1, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
      • Say what?

        Actually, I think he would rather have the beaver...

        February 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm |
    • Mental Board

      ROFLMFAO over and over....

      February 1, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
    • Seguine Touche

      I'm from Idaho Hills, Falls....lol.....Stop!

      February 1, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
    • Angel Eyes

      Best post of the day.

      February 1, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
  7. BornAgain Joe

    "Flatulence from 90 cows triggered an explosion that resulted in a fire in a barn in Rasdorf, in the central region of Germany, informed local police quoted by Reuters."

    February 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
    • Alias

      Why would god make cows that fart methane?

      February 1, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
      • Lighter

        Shhhh! You'll convert the atheists.

        February 1, 2014 at 7:24 pm |
  8. snowboarder

    supersti tion is superst ition. whether it is a game time ritual or one at your favorite religious insti tution.

    February 1, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
    • consequence

      And disrespect is disrespect..

      February 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
      • G to the T

        And respect should be earned, not given freely yes?

        February 2, 2014 at 10:51 am |
  9. John

    People also believe in talking bushes, walking on water, stopping the sun, parting Red Sea... The list goes on.

    February 1, 2014 at 6:13 pm |
  10. Poor Mormons

    I'm not a Mormon but if I was I'd gripe about the headline. Really CNN? If Romney hadn't been a candidate there never would have been this headline.

    February 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      Great headline.

      February 1, 2014 at 6:24 pm |
    • ikenelson

      Mormons don't actually believe that their underwear is magic.

      February 1, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
      • OTOH

        iken,

        No, they don't think that the underwear itself is actually magic; it is meant to be a constant reminder to them about other magic-oriented beliefs, however.

        February 1, 2014 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Lee

    Oh. Is that what magic smells like?

    February 1, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
    • snowboarder

      I really did laugh out loud.

      February 1, 2014 at 6:33 pm |
  12. skytag

    More looney tune delusions. What's funny is that when it's your god or your superstitious belief you know its true. When it's someone else's you know he's either delusional or deceived. Of course, he thinks the same thing about your supernatural beliefs. Never mind that there is no evidence for any of it.

    February 1, 2014 at 5:32 pm |
    • Bet you didn't know

      You don't have to believe someone's belief to let them keep it.

      February 1, 2014 at 6:34 pm |
  13. Morgan St. Knight

    I don't know what frightens me more... the fact that people are praying to God about sports when there are children starving or being abused all over the world, or the fact that the Seahawks have their own underwear.

    February 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
    • Alias

      Well you wouldn't want them in your underwear, would you?

      February 1, 2014 at 5:08 pm |
    • Check this out

      Given all the "perils" in the world even the "G-ds" need a laugh now and again. I would prefer they laugh at the posts prayers and ponder the serious prayers.

      February 1, 2014 at 5:19 pm |
    • RC

      Be afraid. Be very afraid......

      February 1, 2014 at 5:22 pm |
  14. dmink

    AND THE LORD SAID....lo...the SAINTS WILL WIN THE SUPER BOWL NEXT YEAR....which in lord years is a gazzilion years

    February 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  15. disappointed

    OMG. I've started reading the comments. Either this place is lousy with trolls, or this blog has a magnetic effect on weirdos and loonies. People debating (and some quite irately) about God, hell, atheism, heaven, blah, blah, blah. If the believers in God would leave their computers alone and go out and do something for the betterment of humankind (no, evangelical blogging is not effective, it's just annoying) rather than type 'turn or burn', their message of God's supremacy would be more coherent. If atheists would stop engaging in metaphysical discussion with believers, it would be more in-line with the "non-conversion" nature inherent to atheism. As for me, I'll leave too. See you on the other side???...

    February 1, 2014 at 3:47 pm |
    • disappointed

      O yeah. regarding the superbowl, I'm from Tennessee. GO PEYTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      February 1, 2014 at 3:51 pm |
  16. Sam Yaza

    you know let me just clear something up,... Yah and I hate the Superbowl every year we get some loon begging for their team to win; ever year its another virgin sacrifice to me,...(how many times must i tell you i hate virgins,...no experience. i mean that's what i want from sex having to teach you every step of the way) i mean i actually had dinner with that Almighty asshat (had to its regarding a certain client named pat; apparently Surts saying hell take him)
    any ways he was bitching as usual, about how was he supposed to answer their prayer when people are asking from both sides. its enough to give a god a headache, and they still want do something about the homeless crisis. let alone starving children. then he went own about humans being such garbage, yata yata, classic Yahweh rant, he needs to get laid,.. but the last time i suggested we got Jesus, and they guy will not use a condom. seriously greatest deadbeat dad ever, the only time you see my kid running a-muk is when the condom broke and the girl lies about being on the pill.

    love ♥

    February 1, 2014 at 3:43 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      The best part of the SuperBowl is the half time show and the commercials but those will be on youtube by Monday.

      February 1, 2014 at 3:49 pm |
  17. disappointed

    I made myself read to the end so I could post a well-informed comment. So here it is: this article was stupid.

    February 1, 2014 at 3:39 pm |
    • tony

      Best comment about the article so far!

      February 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
  18. Mitt Romenys pants

    I'm a believer yeah yeah yeah yeaaaahhh I'm a believer!

    February 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      You are dead inside, yes?

      February 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
      • Mitts pants talk back

        No I had Beans for lunch about 2 hrs ago ... I'm pretty active :))

        February 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
  19. bobsuruncle

    believing that you have free will when every detail of your life is recorded already is mental illness.

    February 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm |
    • Angry Inch

      God can change His mind. It has happened, I've seen it with my own eyes.

      February 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm |
      • OTOH

        AI,

        What makes you think that this "God" character wouldn't change 'his' mind again somewhere along the line in 'eternity'? Why would you trust such a fickle being?

        February 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm |
      • Angry Inch

        I never said I trusted God.

        February 1, 2014 at 2:55 pm |
        • OTOH

          AI,

          Do you worship that alleged being? Do you pray to it?

          February 1, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
        • Angry Inch

          No I do not. That would be weird.

          February 1, 2014 at 3:03 pm |
  20. ...

    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 |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.