Long ago, in my Rocky Mountain News days, the Denver Broncos made a couple of trips to the Super Bowl. As you would imagine, newsrooms in Denver rolled out the heavy artillery to cover these events. Well, I turned in memos arguing that -- as religion writer -- I should be included in the teams sent to cover these festivals of civil religion. I never got my wish, but an editor later confessed that I had a point. Religion stories kept popping up, such as the issue of whether it was acceptable for members of these two gladiator squads to share a prayer meeting and/or Bible study before the kickoff? Would that be contrary to the spirit of the event? The NFL was worried.
At this point, I think it is very hard to argue that big-time sports, especially professional football, do not represent -- in sociological terms at the very least -- a kind of religious subculture in postmodern America.
Baltimore is not Denver, but our Charm City comes very close. My city's liturgical color, obviously, is purple -- with few, if any, Lenten overtones at all (other than, perhaps, the need for repentance by offensive coordinators when facing the Pittsburgh Steelers).
I realize that GetReligion readers seem to care very little about sports, but this is a story that -- for better and for worse -- transcends mere sports. The following Baltimore Sun story is built on a combination of tragedy, devotion, religion and sports. I really do not know what to think of it. Here's is the opening anecdote:
Patrick Dolan's parents didn't need a suit to bury their son.
"Patrick was not a suit kind of a person," said his father, Bill.
"I think he would really like to be buried in his Lardarius Webb jersey," said his mother, Geraldine.
And so on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Patrick Dolan went to his final resting place wearing the No. 21 jersey of the Ravens cornerback -- a shirt he had worn during only one game before he was stabbed to death on a Baltimore street in Belair-Edison.
Patrick Dolan was Baltimore's 200th homicide victim this year. The 19-year-old, riding on a city bus, missed his stop, got off and was walking back to a friend's house on Juneway. It was 10:45 on the morning of Nov. 23. Relatives said a man asked Dolan for change for a $10 bill, then grabbed his wallet. He fought back and was stabbed in the chest and back. Police listed the motive as attempted robbery; no arrest has been made.
Dolan's sprawling Irish-Catholic family, built around a matriarchal grandmother who lives on 34th Street in Hampden, is one big Ravens cheering squad.
Sure enough, Webb and several other Ravens become key players in this drama -- to the degree that the family faces the issue of whether to bury their son with him holding a football that has been signed by several superstars.
Of course, what I want to know more about is the funeral itself. I assume the choice of burial attire is totally up to the family or to the deceased, if there was a directive of some kind. This is an age in which people will do what they want to do. After all, the world of designer sports caskets is nothing new these days.
But what about the church? Read the following passage and tell me which even carries the most symbolic value, especially for Joseph, the younger brother.
Geraldine and William Dolan buried their son the next day, on Saturday, after a funeral Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas in Hampden, the church where their son had been baptized, by the priest who had officiated at his first Communion.
On Sunday, the parents watched the Ravens play the Buccaneers at M&T Bank Stadium. A relative had slipped four tickets into William Dolan's pocket the previous day. ...
The Ravens tickets ... came with a sideline pass for pre-game festivities. Joseph got to stand on the field before the game dedicated to his brother.
"Patrick would've been so happy," his mother said.
This is a religion story, right?