So what’s spiritual about football?

(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.


It’s that time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to … football? Yes, at least here in America with four teams left standing and two more weekends of playoff games culminating in the Super Bowl, there is a lot of interest in football, even if you maybe haven’t been following it until now. And, of course, if you happen to live in or near Cincinnati, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Kansas City, you might be particularly interested in what goes down this weekend. And even if not, the teams that are still standing are good enough to get this far, so the games are usually thrilling ones even if you are not partial to any team. Here in southern California, we’ll probably be rooting for the Rams, although we’re not going to be heartbroken if the 49ers win because we like them too. 

Believe it or not, Marti is into this. It’s no secret that Marti does not share my love for baseball, but she does like football. The slow pace of baseball drives her up a wall, but she likes the speed of football and the explosive nature of the play. She’ll even watch the ads. That’s because we watch so little TV that we are entertainment starved. She can cry over a 60 second McDonalds commercial.

We got hooked on the 49ers in the early 1980s when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Joe Montana era began. We loved watching Joe Cool. His infectious smile told you he loved playing this game and the more impossible the situation, the happier he got. So Marti and I might be rooting against each other on Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised if she started pulling for the 49ers; I, on the other hand, have a thing about being loyal to the home team no matter what.

So some of you who are not into football might be wondering why I’m writing about this in the Catch? Isn’t this supposed to be a spiritual reflection on life? What could possibly be spiritual about football? Well, it’s like anything else in life; it’s how you see it.

I think there is a spiritual way of thinking about anything. Harry Blamires calls it “thinking Christianly.” Let me try:

  1. Football provides us with something to talk about. With religion a sort of no man’s land and politics a war zone, sports are somewhat safe. And you need things to talk to people about in the marketplace.
  2. All sports are full of practical illustrations about life — even faith. I love it when players from opposing teams hug each other or give each other a hand up. The two quarterbacks in Saturday’s Divisional playoff between San Francisco and Green Bay had a friendly chat in the middle of the game and ended with a fist bump. Paul talked in the New Testament about running the race and receiving the prize at a time when the Greek games were no doubt popular. 
  3. Sports are a legitimate break from the tensions of life. True, sports have their own tension, but it’s someone else’s for a change! Let them worry; we’ll watch (except for those times we can’t bear to!)
  4. And then there’s the people to enjoy watching with. (I know of some churches who throw Super Bowl parties so members can invite their neighbors who wouldn’t normally come to church.) Same thing can happen in your home. It’s a way to build relationships with your neighbors.
  5. Games are just plain fun, and in case you didn’t know it, fun is spiritual.

So there will be two more weekends of football left — the last three big games. If you choose to — enjoy. And don’t think it’s just some secular activity that has nothing to do with your faith. Proving that false is pretty much up to you. 

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12 Responses to So what’s spiritual about football?

  1. Peter Leenheer says:

    I teach sunday school. The majority of parents when they drop of their kids say, ” Have fun!”. When I leave sunday morning to go and teach my wife’s send off is always, “Have fun!” For years I have had fun teaching the gospel to kids. Thanks John for that affirmation. The last number of years I have forgotten that. I will get back to teaching the kids that God is fun to obey, to listen to the miracles he does, and how he takes care of us. Life is an adventure with God and that is a lot of fun. Thank you for that reminder to enjoy the fun side of life.

  2. Wayne Bridegroom says:

    Ah, football & spiritual lessons. I played high school football back in the early ’60s…half back on offense and corner linebacker on defense. Being selected to the all conference first team, elected by teammates as honorary co-captain for our homecoming game and the third leading ground gainer in our league meant that I was pretty good. True enough.

    But there is more to the story. If the linemen didn’t open a hole for me to run through I wasn’t going anywhere. On top of a good line we had a quarterback who could fake the defense “out of their shoes.” They thought the ball was going one way but in reality it was going in a different direction, Sure, I was good. But good doesn’t cut it in a team game. If all eleven players don’t mesh, that team won’t win a game.

    The apostle Paul talks about this. The kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom. If you will, the day is coming when those linemen will get the credit they so richly deserve. Further, the church is given a variety of gifts and gifted leaders according to 1 Corinthians. It takes every believer using his/her special gifting to make the church function properly. In addition, if one suffers we all cry. If one rejoices, we are all glad.

    How the church was designed to function makes sense to me because I played high school football. And it’s not just playing the game. Try being in the locker room after a heartbreaking loss or the exhilaration after a hard fought victory. We were a team! Likewise the local congregation.

  3. Mark D Seguin says:

    Dear Pastor John in my household you scored a home run & a touch down with Today’s Catch! And about stood up and cheered over this one of you 5 points: “…fun is spiritual.” and Amen!

    PS I invited a few of my family members to read, or Praise God now to be able to listen to you read the Catch b/c Football is very close to being a “Religion” to my friends, family and neighborhood! And I’m praising God the Rams won with the Detroit Lions great ex-Quarterback Matthew Stafford! Just love him & his wife! So HAPPY gorgeous Marti loves Football too! And I understand her a bit about watch Baseball, even thou growing up I loved playing the game, but now it’s like watching paint dry and b/c of the fast pace of Hockey after a guy in College paid me 4 extra hours in tutoring him in Algebra he gave me a seat of his Season tickets to watch a Red Wings Hockey game & have been a fans Since, plus Winning a few Stanley Cup’s helped too, LOL

  4. drewdsnider says:

    There are times when I’ve thought that God created football to give us a metaphor for the walk with Christ. Larry Csonka described his “favorite five seconds” — in the huddle, with his linemen saying, “Follow me … we’ll get it there” (not to mention the pride the linemen had in being able to do it, even though it was Csonka who got the headlines) — a classic example of Paul’s description of “many members – one body”. And the story of Roy “Wrong-Way” Riegels in the 1929 Rose Bowl is a great story of both of redemption (after giving up a safety when he thought he was scoring a touchdown, his coach told him “that was the first half, and the first half is over. Now, get out there for the second half!”) and of the fact that usually, it’s those on the same team who will try to stop you from going the wrong way.

  5. Toni Petrella says:

    Great comments about football. Sports are fun to participate and fun to watch breaking up tension. No matter who you cheer for pick a side and get involved. Relationships are important in sports and just like in life itself. Sometimes being a part of any team is the best and being in God’s family is the best team of all as each member has so much to share with others.

  6. John A Fagliano says:

    I’d never seen a divisional playoff round like the one we had this past weekend. All four games came down to a last second field goal attempt. All four of them were good. Three of them longer than 40 yards. Three of them won the game (each for the team on the road) and one tied the game for the team (KC) who won it in overtime. The bar has been set high for the Championship games and Super Bowl. If those game are lopsided and boring that would be a let-down.

    Sports have a way of drawing you in. It’s unscripted. No one knows what will happen. It’s the only true “reality” programing that there is. It shows us what can be accomplished when people work together. The mistakes remind us that they are all just flawed humans like us. Our emotional involvement in the tension others face unites us with them. We share the same humanity. And once it’s over the results are eternal. They are etched in history that will never change, even though sometimes it only takes a few seconds to decide a whole game! There is something to be learned for all of us if we are so inclined to learn. There is no such thing as anything “secular”. God uses it all.

  7. Lynn Suzanne says:

    This Catch really nailed it. Although I’ve loved NFL since the MN Vikings had their incredible Purple People Eaters defense, and stoic Bud Grant seemingly always the gracious leader…. it has at times felt like a guilty pleasure. Certainly I’ve not seen the spiritual side in the way you explain it here. When I think of all the years I’ve shared game-day excitement with family and friends… wow. Boots on the ground. Thank you so much for this Catch!

  8. Peter Leenheer says:

    What is fun about God is to expect the unexpected. That is also fun about sports. My sons, when younger went with me to Oilers NHL games from time to time. No matter what the score I stayed till the final buzzer. They always thought I was silly to sit there and expect the unexpected. When my oldest sun grew to be an adult he related the following story.
    Our Edmonton Oilers hockey team was very mediocre. He had gone to a game and left before the end of the third period when they were losing to the St. Louis blues by a score of 4-1. When he got to his car in the parking lot he turned on the radio to listen to the post game chatter. To his surprise the score was 4-4. So he rushed back to witness the overtime. The Oilers won 5-4 in over time but he did not see any of it.

    He said to me, “Dad I now get why you always stayed till the final buzzer. From now on I will do the same”. God surprises us with the unexpected, that is fun. Leave room for it in your life. It may not happen often but expect it.

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