We cover stories about the intersection of sports and religion a lot here, but I had to point out this New Orleans Times-Picayune piece about the strong ties the religious community has to the New Orleans Saints. I'm a huge fan of sports but not a huge fan of the way that some clergy elevate sports to the level of the divine. Still, this story did a good job of explaining how this interplay works in the unique alternative universe that is New Orleans. Reporter Tammy Nunez builds much of her story around retired Roman Catholic Archbishop Philip Hannan.
The archbishop is the most visible and recognizable symbol of the NFL organization's intertwined relationship with religion. Hannan is recovering from an Oct. 30 stroke that caused him to miss his first home game in the Saints' 43-year history. He's the face of the local religious community that counts itself among the Who Dat faithful.
"I don't think (Saints owner Tom Benson) puts him there just to flash the archbishop around or anything like that, " United Methodist pastor Gene Finnell said. "I think (Benson) respects his clergy leadership and enjoys the fact that he can share something really special for him with those church leaders."
Hannan is perhaps the first religious leader to become a Saints fan. He gave the franchise the church's blessing when a newspaper contest picked the team's mascot. State officials wanted to ensure it would not offend the church.
"I said it was OK, but you should keep in mind that all the Saints are martyrs, " Hannan recalled with a chuckle.
But I also liked how it showed the different approaches other spiritual heads take, too. For instance:
"There is a basic Jewish teaching that you don't separate yourself from the community, and this is a major event in our community, " said Rabbi Bob Loewy of the Gates of Prayer Synagogue, who wears a No. 18 jersey when the Saints play. "We're all part of a larger community, so one of the things we've done is to try to find ways to give it our own unique flair. I taught (members the congregation) the Who Dat saying in Hebrew."
We hear from a Dominican nun, a Methodist campus minister, a Lutheran pastor and others. Much of the discussion deals with religious communities' roles in rebuilding Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
Some of the clergy discuss different views of prayer. The Lutheran, for instance, says she prayed to God that he would let the team do their best. Other religious leaders prayed to recover fumbles, to win coin tosses, and the rest. Other clergy discuss how they incorporate the Saints into their sermons, drawing parallels between spots stories and everyday lives of parishioners.
Interesting. And yet I wanted to hear more about Voodoo. I found some other links over at The Wild Hunt. Journal News reporter Gary Stern snarkily notices that Christian Saints players were giving credit to God. But Lisa Dickerson, sister of NFL player Eric Dickerson, puts the credit elsewhere:
The Colts were up against every single "Southern root doctor, voodoo priest, and conjurer" in the Bayou last night. Johnson knew the Saints were getting special help when she watched the NFC Championship against the Vikings two weeks ago: quarterback Brett Favre took a beating, playing terribly after a whole season of the best football of his long career.
And this Shreveport Times article from last week spoke of the varied religious influences for Saints fans. It begins with a ritual being performed by a New Orleans native involving a shot of rum, a cigar and a procession to a cemetery:
But Monday the procession was different. Less than 24 hours before, Marie Laveau, the famous "Voodoo Queen" and lady [Michael] Butterworth was headed to visit, had finally given in -- with a little help from St. Jude.
The New Orleans Saints, a team many believe Laveau cursed because the Superdome was built on top of her "secret grave site," earned a trip to the Super Bowl.
I also have to provide a quick link to this roundup of the top religion moments in Superbowl XLIV.