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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. tony

    Avoid having a quick smite between meals. Leads to obesity.

    February 2, 2014 at 7:26 pm |
  2. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Smite the foe, dear Lord. Let it be their children who cry tonight, their mommies and daddies the ones disappointed, drunk and pissed off.

    February 2, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
  3. TG

    It is of interest that many, now and former professional athletes profess to be religious, to be "Christian", or Muslim, or Buddhist. But is being religious have any merit ? No. Why ? Because it is not merely the profession of religiousness, but as Jesus said, "the one doing the will of my Father".(Matt 7:21) Thus, works are involved, works that define a person, works that show who are being obedient to our Maker, Jehovah God.

    Jesus said that his genuine disciples would "have love among themselves".(John 13:34) And an apostle of Jesus, Paul, wrote that "love does not work evil to one's neighbor; therefore, love is the (Mosaic) laws fulfillment."(Rom 13:10) Which of the religions of the world have put this into practice, showing true love and unwilling to involve themselves in the nations wars and political wranglings ?

    Have not individuals, from Baptist, to Catholic to Muslim, to Buddhist, shed much blood, as for example, Catholics in the Crusades and Inquisitions (in which Spanish Inquisitor General Torquemada had some 114, 000 innocent people killed, of whom 10, 220 were burned on stakes, from 1483-98 C.E.), the Muslims who shot and killed almost 70 people and wounded some 175 in a Kenya mall in September 2013, because they "failed to name the mother of the prophet Mohammed or recite Koran lines" ( The Washington Times, Sept 23, 2013), or Buddhists who have fought bloody battles in the Sri Lanka Civil War, in which an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed over 26 years [1983-2009].

    Jesus said that those who are his genuine disciples would be showing agape love, love that considers others ahead of itself, even to the point of death (John 15:13) as well as making disciples of people of all the nations.....teaching them to observe all the things I (Jesus) have commanded you."(Matt 28:19, 20) These would be teaching others about God's kingdom (Matt 24:14), a heavenly government that will bring to ruin the commercial, political and false religious empires of the "world".(Dan 2:44; Rev 17:16; Rev 19:21)

    February 2, 2014 at 5:22 pm |
    • TheHonestToGoodnessTruth

      Yeah, that about says it all.

      February 2, 2014 at 5:27 pm |
    • tony

      Good works don't need belief. They are good in their own human right.

      February 2, 2014 at 7:22 pm |
  4. Observer

    Giving more credence to some H. sapiens' thoughts on the existence of a man in the sky who created the universe because said H. sapiens is a rich and successful thrower or kicker of a ball is practically the definition of the fallacy of argument from authority.

    February 2, 2014 at 4:48 pm |
    • rodboy

      Obs, you miss a lot don't you – like Hawkings big blunder or the fact that physics today precludes creation from nothing, so our fairy tale as you call it is more plausible than the one you have. Besides it is like insurance – if I am wrong I will be where you are – if you are wrong , I will be roasting marshmallows on your forehead.

      February 2, 2014 at 4:58 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        What kind of disgusting azzhole terrorist god would allow people to suffer in a lake of fire for all eternity for any reason whatsoever? Yvck!!

        It's very easy and honest for me to say "I don't know" since it's the truth, and it's a lot more sensible than making up some stupid bvllsh!t about some big invisible sky wizard chanting magic spells for six days to make a "perfect" creation that goes into the nuclear meltdown of "sin/corruptibility" with the slight twist of one woman's wrist.

        What kind of stupid god makes gravity obvious, but can't appear more visible, detectable, and relevant than unicorns or leprechauns? I mean, people all over the globe believe all sorts of different things about god because there's nothing to stop them from believing anything with the certainty of faith, but yet a muslim terrorist and a chrstian abortion clinic bomber use the same math and chemistry because they MUST.

        Biblegod isn't just stupid, he's the biggest d!ck to have ever been imagined by man.

        February 2, 2014 at 5:11 pm |
        • lngtrmthnkr

          capt. every loony bin that kills in the name of God ,hurts his name. Every whacked out charlatan looking to get rich by using God,hurts his name. Every line in the Bible that is harsh or misconstrued ,hurts his name. I don't know how he stands it. I don't know why he plays hide and seek with us. Maybe to see who is really hungry enough to seek him. I was you 42 years ago. I cursed him for my Father's death and blamed him for the suffering in the world. Yet , even after all I said , when I called out for help, he answered in a heartbeat,and in a dramatic way. I found out that he was different than I thought before, and that he was what I always thought a God should be.

          February 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Long Term. A lot of assumptions there. If you believe that your god created the universe and all in it, then it must have created all the suffering.

          February 2, 2014 at 9:36 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Fairy tales have fairies, our faeries rather, in them. Modern physics and cosmology don't have them. Your myths do in spades – hearts, clubs and diamonds too, for that matter.

        February 2, 2014 at 5:20 pm |
      • tony

        Physics today allow for the spontaneous appearance of particle pairs with opposite canceling characteristics. That's how we think black holes evaporate.

        February 2, 2014 at 7:25 pm |
      • Saraswati

        You clearly haven't actually read Hawkings on the subject.

        February 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm |
      • sam stone

        jeebus is waiting, rodboy

        February 3, 2014 at 5:30 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Pascals Wager fails every time.
        The fact that you deny or fail to understand the overwhelming evidence against the biblical creation story doesn't change the fact that the account you hold dear is simply fallacious and was written by primitive man who were clueless.

        February 3, 2014 at 6:22 am |
  5. MrSatyre

    And I should care why???

    February 2, 2014 at 4:42 pm |
  6. yellow#5

    Just once, I want to see an athlete BLAME Jesus when they lose.

    I mean, if you're thanking God for the win, it's got to go both ways, right?

    February 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm |
    • igaftr

      A man crawls out from under the rubble that was his house until a few minutes before, and thanks god he is alive, but never mad at god for trying to kill him...to believers it doesn't go both ways...part of the mental gymnastics required to be a believer.

      February 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
    • rodboy

      Pain and suffering is usually the way we find G O D. The right prayer is , let us be good sports, be safe and love our enemies.

      February 2, 2014 at 4:59 pm |
    • TheHonestToGoodnessTruth

      There's always a reason to thank God, whether you win or lose.

      February 2, 2014 at 5:19 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Then it might be interesting to see the theists thanking god when they lose.

        February 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Thank you God may I have another.

          February 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm |
  7. Vic

    Did you know that today is Groundhog Day, and for the first time it coincides with Super Bowl Sunday?

    BTW, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his lair and while not predicting the Super Bowl winner, Phil predicted six more weeks of Winter. No surprise there.

    Go Broncos!

    February 2, 2014 at 3:33 pm |
    • Science Works

      And DO NOT miss The Girls for Science commercial Vic..

      February 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm |
      • Vic

        Yeah..naughty!

        February 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm |
        • Science Works

          That shows where your head is at Vic – thanks !

          February 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
        • Vic

          Hey, I am a red blooded man..LOL!

          February 2, 2014 at 4:37 pm |
        • Science Works

          Vic and it is provided for free ?

          GoldieBlox Super Bowl ad strives to entice girls to science
          Carolyn Said
          Updated 11:56 am, Saturday, February 1, 2014

          http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/GoldieBlox-Super-Bowl-ad-strives-to-entice-girls-5194465.php

          February 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm |
        • Vic

          Oh well, I got something else when I looked it up..LOL!

          February 2, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
        • Science Works

          Sort of like when you quote the stuff from the gateway to hell ?

          February 2, 2014 at 5:04 pm |
        • Vic

          Say what now?!

          February 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm |
        • Science Works

          The Front page of CNN ?

          Athletes you didn't know were religious – is it close to the ti-tle of article ?

          February 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm |
        • Science Works

          Oh Vic and the biggest flush of BS (in the US) is halftime – go figure!

          February 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm |
    • Akira

      Lol. It's 6 more weeks of winter until spring, regardless if he sees his shadow or not...

      February 2, 2014 at 4:09 pm |
      • Vic

        Well, calendar weeks but not necessarily weatherwise. It's a tradition for fun only, the weather prediction is usually done by a group called the Inner Circle, in reality. LOL.

        February 2, 2014 at 4:19 pm |
  8. brian

    It's funny how business and religion promote each other. But golly gee, do you suppose it has something to do with money?

    February 2, 2014 at 3:26 pm |
  9. George

    Oh I am such a Christian as I try to rip your head off in a sports game. LOL

    February 2, 2014 at 1:59 pm |
    • If horses had gods ... their gods would be horses

      Christians have been ripping heads off for 2000 years!

      February 2, 2014 at 3:30 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Maybe it's because of these types of comments....?

      February 2, 2014 at 5:37 pm |
  10. ThinkAgain

    The caption of the photo of Peyton Manning says that he committed his life to Christ after a preacher asked him if he was 100% sure he'd go to heaven. So basically, Manning believes in Jesus to cover his fanny in the afterlife.

    My preference is to follow Jesus' (or any other being's) example of compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, helping those less fortunate and in general leave the world a better place from having lived in it – BECAUSE IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO. You will you experience in the here and now the happiness and peace you seek – and the afterlife will take care of itself. Christianity is a cultural phenomenon, like all religions; what matters is how you live your life, not the rituals you practice.

    February 2, 2014 at 1:48 pm |
    • Blue Dog

      Right on. You can be an atheist and still do the right thing.

      February 2, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
    • Vic

      God Almighty is infinite in everything, of which is Greatness. Out of His Mercy and Grace, in His "Ultimate Provision" for our "Salvation," a supreme safeguard He made a path available for, no matter how much we fail or succeed in our lives, as long as we "believe." God is the "source" of this saving "LOVE" and not us.

      It escapes a lot how serious the "Ultimate Sacrifice" of the Lord Jesus Christ is, bigger than all of us combined.

      February 2, 2014 at 2:47 pm |
      • igaftr

        more opinion, vic.

        You will never acheive total enlightenment.

        February 2, 2014 at 3:30 pm |
        • counterww

          Total enlightenment is knowing and loving God through Jesus Christ. Nothing else can compare. Nothing.

          February 2, 2014 at 3:52 pm |
        • igaftr

          funny...everyone who ever believed in a god ( and there have been THOUSANDS of gods) would say the same.

          As far as any can tell, there are no gods...men made them all up.

          February 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          counter, If you didn't try all other religions and atheism, which I'd bet you haven't, you really can't make that claim.

          February 2, 2014 at 4:25 pm |
      • tallulah13

        How can it be an ultimate sacrifice if he was alive three days later then shuffled off to paradise? It sounds like a temporary sacrifice to me. The ultimate sacrifice is death - real death, not get-better-after-three-days death.

        At any rate, what you are celebrating is an innocent man's death by torture, and why? So that you don't have to be responsible for your own actions, and can live forever after you die (!). What a bunch of blood-thirsty savages you christians are.

        February 2, 2014 at 4:36 pm |
    • lindseywagners

      This notion of an "afterlife" arose out of our imaginations because life itself has harm and suffering all over the place. The human race needs to recognize that procreation itself should be illegal because it's the very act that produces consciousness, which is the only way a "harm" can exist in the first place. The human race accomplishes nothing in the universe and yet we procreate and procreate in order to satisfy our own desires, all the while there is a tremendous amount of suffering that goes on each second.

      February 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm |
      • lngtrmthnkr

        Lindsey, you have a kind of fatalistic ,negative view of life. Many people live a long life of loving relationships and achieve happiness . There are keys to happiness and many people have them. What you give is usually what you get . Give love and caring and it comes back. Some say life is what you make it, in most cases ,it's true.

        February 2, 2014 at 5:27 pm |
  11. ThinkAgain

    My prayer for today:

    May no one be hurt on or off the field; may everyone play to their best ability; may it be an exciting athletic contest; and may the team who plays the best today win.

    February 2, 2014 at 1:44 pm |
    • George

      Or ya kidding?? !! They are trying their best to hurt each other.

      February 2, 2014 at 2:01 pm |
  12. Jackie Rawlings

    Many athletes have and always will give thanks but Tim Tebow used it for profit and marketing. Every player gives thanks and it was just part of being a Christian. But no one used it for a Marketing tool. No story here just someone with nothing to do before the Super Bowl.

    February 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm |
    • Well

      In all fairness, when I'm pondering the nature of consciousness Tim Tebow doesn't enter into it as a consideration.

      February 2, 2014 at 1:46 pm |
    • George

      It's that "everybody look at me" disease.

      February 2, 2014 at 2:03 pm |
      • doobzz

        The "look at what a humble Christian I am. I kneel and everything! LOOK AT ME BEING HUMBLE!"

        Kind of like the pope.

        February 2, 2014 at 11:37 pm |
    • Vic

      While Tim Tebow might have had the wrong approach in sharing his faith with the world, I don't doubt his intentions.

      February 2, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        You know what they say about the path to hell.

        February 2, 2014 at 3:37 pm |
  13. Universe

    Quran says (Islamic Scripture)

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” [19:35]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “Recall that your Lord said to the angels, "I am placing a representative on Earth." They said, "Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?" He said, "I know what you do not know." [2:30]

    “They say , "We live only this life; we will not be resurrected. If you could only see them when they stand before their Lord! He would say, "Is this not the truth?" They would say, "Yes, by our Lord." He would say, "You have incurred the retribution by your disbelief." [6:30]

    “We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.” Quran [17:70]

    “O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Quran [7:35]

    “O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.” Quran [7:27]

    “Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting God, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load! [6:31]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    February 2, 2014 at 12:11 pm |
    • Alias

      Fortunately Islam is as crazy as all the others.
      One day the world will live in peace without all the lies.

      February 2, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
      • You think so?

        Check out the tribalism friendly comment by George of the Jungle at the top of the page. No Alias my friend humanity will never live in peace or become one world without labels, and without violence. Maybe one day millions of years from now if the planet holds up, but I doubt it.

        February 2, 2014 at 2:16 pm |
  14. Ah

    dear god,, please help me catch this pass. If I do, I might get another million dollar raise in pay.

    Ignore the hungry children,,

    February 2, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
  15. Akira

    Did they change the headline yet again?

    February 2, 2014 at 11:55 am |
  16. Shazzam

    Magic or not, a lot of people on here today have their tighty whities on TOO tight. Loosen up and just enjoy.

    February 2, 2014 at 11:27 am |
  17. lindaluttrell

    I respect players for their athletic prowess on the field and how they conduct themselves off the field. While many might disagree, I have always believed they should set a positive example for their younger fans who admire them.

    February 2, 2014 at 11:17 am |
  18. tom LI

    As to the religiosity of these or any people...makes no matter to me, as what people say about their faith is usually superficial, and in no reflects their non-faith based style of living, and behaviors towards others. Let others say things about these people, and how their faith plays a role in their lives, or not...not the people themselves..!!!!

    February 2, 2014 at 10:58 am |
  19. tom LI

    Ryan Hall the marathoner says Jesus would have been an amazing athlete...uh...yeah he was a SUPER Being! He cold walk on water, not swim! He would have likely been a cheating athlete!

    February 2, 2014 at 10:56 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      His stroke would have had to be within regulations. There's no evidence that Jesus could swim at all.

      February 2, 2014 at 10:58 am |
      • tom LI

        and once again sarcasm flys over the comments trolls puny heads...!

        February 2, 2014 at 10:59 am |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          you'll get it with a little work, I'm sure

          February 2, 2014 at 11:01 am |
    • Ah

      he can no longer walk on water,, those holes in his feet. He sinks every time he tries it now.

      February 2, 2014 at 12:12 pm |
      • doobzz

        Makes it hard for him to dog paddle too.

        February 2, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
  20. Reality #2

    Dear Peyton,

    : (only for the new visitors to this blog)

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e. the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni (or magic underwear) i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc.) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    February 2, 2014 at 7:28 am |
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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.