Ah, Super Bowl Sunday. Another one of those days on the liturgical calendar of American civil religion when reporters have to stretch and stretch in an attempt to find valid story angles to fill niches in the inevitable wave of coverage.
Religion-beat pros can get sucked into this whirlpool, as well. The traditional Super Bowl religion-angle story is, of course, the whole "Does God care who wins a football game" story. As I have noted many times, the more devout the believer who is actually involved in the game (classic example would have been the great Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry), the less likely they are to believe in some kind of cause-and-effect prayer equation here.
Thus, most believers simply say that athletes should pray to play their best and for participants to avoid injuries.
But this is not the kind of theological problem that devout Christians actually think about, when faced with something like the Super Bowl. So, if reporters are looking for a valid story linked to The Big Game, what might that look like?
This year, let me point readers toward a feature by a former student of mine, Tim Ellsworth, a communications pro at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., who also writes sports features for Baptist Press. What's his angle this year?
Clue: It comes before a fall.
HOUSTON (BP) -- They work at a job where millions of people watch them. They are cheered, admired, lauded and pampered. People recognize them, hound them for autographs and care what they have to say.
Falcons' long snapper Josh Harris and Patriots' wide receiver Matthew Slater share how professional athletes often struggle with pride.
"As soon as I start believing in what I've accomplished on the field or believing what people say about me as a person, that's the minute that pride can well up in you and become an issue," Slater says.
Welcome to life in the NFL -- or in any professional sport, for that matter -- where the very nature of the job can easily lend itself to pride or arrogance for those who aren't careful. For Christian athletes, pride can be a serious temptation and a nemesis that has to be fought.
This is a subject that, tragically, connects very easily with other kinds of headlines linked to life in professional sports, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, guns and many other forms of dangerous behavior by young adults who, at times, are tempted to feel immortal.
At the same time, journalists need to realize that there are professionals of another kind -- serving in a variety of faiths -- who are linked to almost all sports teams and, logically enough, have given this subject some thought.
Daniel Gray, an assistant chaplain for the Atlanta Falcons and young adult pastor at The Church at Chapelhill in Atlanta, said pride is one of the biggest struggles for the players to whom he ministers. Gray said it's easy to forget that the bulk of NFL players are only young men in their 20s.
"They have the same issues as anybody else in their season of life," Gray said. "The only difference is, they have a lot more money."
There are other logical story angles that grow out of this, beginning with the fact that superstars face different issues than journeymen.
So read it all. If you see any other nuanced, not-so-obvious religion stories today linked to the Super Bowl, please let us know in the comments pages.