Super Bowl LII – Aw or Awe?

There’s an old story about John Wayne. Probably apocryphal. John played a Roman centurion in the movie The Greatest Story Ever Told, an American film from 1965 produced and directed by George Stevens. John had a small role as did many other famous actors. All he had to do, at the end of the film, after Christ was crucified, was to say the affirmative line: ‘surely this man is the son of God’. Stevens wasn’t happy that John was putting enough into it so he asked him to put more awe into the line. So John (on the zillionth take) said: ‘Aw, surely this man is the son of God’.

And that’s the way I feel about the Super Bowl.

There’s aw and then there’s awe. There’s showbiz and there’s art.

Contrast two games played on Sunday.

One, the Super Bowl (so called from the fact that a bowl game is an end of season college game) between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. American Football being a sport derived from elite WASP colleges playing an amalgam of association football and rugby football which eventually evolved into the gridiron we see today.

The other, the Intermediate All-Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling Championship Final between Kanturk from Cork and St. Patrick’s Ballyragget from Kilkenny. This match followed the wonderful battle in the Junior All-Ireland Club Junior Hurling Final between Ardmore (Waterford) and Fethard St. Mogues (Wexford). Hurling being a sport first played about 2,500 years ago during the Tailteann Games and one which featured in the Battle of Moytura, near Cong in County Mayo in 1,272 BC when, to decide the fat of Ireland, the Fir Bolg challenged the Tuatha De Danann to a game of hurling, with twenty-seven Fir Bolg togging out against twenty seven Tuatha De Danann.


Here’s this year’s Super Bowl, which has something else in common with the centurion, John Wayne, given that it’s counted in Roman numerals each year. This one being LII, which as every one of the 67,000 Latin scholars crammed into the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday knows, means fifty two.

The attendance in Croke Park on Sunday (which is a larger stadium – just saying) was a little less, but who are the people at both games?

In Croke Park you have the parishioners from two villages and two small towns, supporting their friends, their neighbours, and their families. Those supporters drove up to Dublin on Sunday to fly the flag for the parish once again – it’s been a long season, for the community, to show the love and pride they feel for the men and families they grew up with and went to school with and work with, battling it out on the sacred soil of Jones’ Road in Dublin 3. This is personal, every watcher knows every player – these are friends, neighbours, relations. It’s intimate. There are hundreds, not thousands of cheering fans when the captain of the Kanturk team Lorcan O’Neill takes the cup into his hands and raises it to the sky.

This is awesome.


Back to Minneapolis, Minnesota …

Last week a warning was put out for girls in the region in relation to sex trafficking. Minneapolis police said it was working with 23 law enforcement agencies, patrolling the web to target people buying sex online and monitoring hotels for sex trafficking. With a million fans set to descend on the city, the authorities knew what to expect. Apparently, 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010 and 133 underage arrests for prostitution were made in Dallas during the 2011 Super Bowl.

This is disgusting. This is what happens when greed is let loose and evil men are allowed to run free and abuse the weak and treat women like objects. It’s also a fact that then when men get together in large numbers (in a twisted communality enhanced by drink or violence or the presence of uniforms) a toxic masculinity can take over.

Then there’s all that hoopla with millions of watchers, millions of dollars for the players, hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising for the sponsors, jets swooshing over the stadium, billionaire owners, twenty thousand dollar tickets from greedy scalpers, Hollywood A-Listers, a Justin Timberlake half time show (yawn), etc. And all the TV hype and an expectorating Pink and all the rest.

Then. Underneath all that showbiz stuff and the horrible actions of depraved men, there’s a game to be played, like when we peel away an old dry scab to let new skin flourish.

Ultimately, the Super Bowl is like that scene from Notting Hill – where Julie Roberts (playing a famous actress) says she’s just ‘a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her’. The young men in the dressing room in Minnesota are sick with nerves, and stiff with the knowledge that this is the biggest game of their lives. The trainers and mentors are trying to calm their charges and eke out the best performances they know their players can produce. The real fans from Philly and Boston love their home towns and are proud of their teams. There’s a ball, dedicated skilled men, opponents, process, focus, jobs to do, bodies to take of, plays to play, and an adversary to overcome. Guts and glory. There’s sport.

Hopes and dreams, a possible upset if the Eagles can get their game going and put some pressure on the great Tom Brady.

There’s a forty year old man with a wife and three children, throwing a ball to another man, small but fast and wiry, running down the field. And the running man catches it. But they still lose.

Two teams. Two sets of dreams. Two sets of wills, two sets of brains. Fate. Luck. The calls of officials. Four white lines. A clock ticking.

And for the Eagles to beat them, against all the odds, and eke out a win? It’s been done many’s the time before, so why not by them, and why not Kanturk? And so it happened.


The fans of the Patriots (the real fans), the fans of Ballyragget go home gutted. Sport creates dreams. Sport breaks our hearts. It bridges our path to the land of dreams. And then it crushes the bridge, throwing us into the abyss.

So, the differences between these two apparently disparate events are smaller and more ineffectual than the similarities. Despite all the apparent contrasts, and despite the fact that I know which stadium I’d rather attend on the first Sunday in February.

The words of the stunning song America the Beautiful, which was sung before The Super Bowl by Leslie Odom Jr (who donated his fee to charity) and a choir of beautiful young people, applies to both events last Sunday. God shed his grace on the sportsmen in both stadia, and crowned their good with brotherhood.

And it’s wonderful. And we cheer and we’re enlivened. Kanturk. Philadephia. Sport wins, greed and fakery and showbiz loses.

A man throws a ball, another man catches it. A man pucks a ball, another man catches it.

Sport, real sport, brings us to life.


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