Sports journalists had to work hard to avoid the religion ghosts in Super Bowl LII.
Nevertheless, most of them seem to have succeeded in doing so. That's strange, since it's easy to make a case that religious faith was a key factor in the chemistry behind the amazing Eagles victory. We are not talking about evangelism here, we're talking about football facts.
Let it be noted that here was a substantial wave of Godtalk coverage just before this high holy day on the American cultural calendar. Click here for a GetReligion summary of that -- including the Bob Smietana Acts of Faith piece in The Washington Post, which had lots of details on the Bible study and baptism culture in the Philadelphia Eagles locker room.
There was even a solid religion-angle in the annual battle of the Super Bowl ads, as in that bizarre spot featuring some very religious and very famous words from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here's the top of the solid USA Today piece on that:
When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon imploring hearers to imitate the servanthood of Jesus, he probably didn't envision them buying Ram trucks to do so. And yet there was King's voice Sunday night, booming through millions of TV speakers during Ram's latest Super Bowl ad:
"If you want to be important -- wonderful. If you want to be recognized -- wonderful. If you want to be great -- wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness."
What was the precise meaning of "servant" in this context?
Anyway, back to strong role that Christian faith and community service played in holding this Eagles squad together in a year in which many key players were lost with injuries, including its young superstar quarterback.
Now, I would assume that sports-beat pros covering this kind of event pay careful attention to the hometown papers for both participating teams. That would mean that lots of folks saw the pregame piece by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes talking about the faith-bond between the Eagles QBs -- all of them. The overture is long, but the detail matters on several levels.
Sincerity bewitches us all. It turns a cynic into a believer and makes a skeptic doubt himself.
When Nick Foles chokes up as he discusses his wife, Tori, and her battle with a circulatory problem; or Lily, their 7-month-old; or his turbulent NFL life that he would have abandoned if not for his beliefs, not for a minute do you doubt his authenticity.
The landscape of sports has long been littered with godless God guys who soil the platform with false testimony. Do not count the Eagles’ quarterbacks among them. Not Foles. Not Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ injured franchise quarterback whom Foles will replace in Super Bowl LII on Sunday. Not third-stringer Nate Sudfeld, whose family is trying to save the world one soul at a time. Not the Rev. Frank, because offensive coordinator Frank Reich keeps it real, too.
All are sincere men of God. They all walk the walk. “They are,” said Sudfeld, “who you think they are.”
Wentz’s Audience of One foundation feeds and clothes kids all over the world. Foles wants to attend seminary to become a youth pastor. Sudfeld’s grandfather and father, both preachers, developed Assist International, a second-generation nonprofit that targets the developing world. After his 14-year career as an NFL backup, Reich spent part of his decade away from football at a theological seminary and is an ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
They don’t trumpet their faith without provocation, but neither are they ashamed. All are convinced that their shared devotion makes the Eagles better.
Oh, and key members of the coaching staff are believers-- led by head coach Doug Peterson and Reich, a former seminary president (honest).
With all that in mind, let's briefly look at some of the elite media coverage of the game and the post-game comments. This snippet from the faith-free New York Times main story captures the tone:
“I think the big thing helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman,” Foles said. “I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me, and all I had to do was go play as hard as I could.”
Three rules govern the Eagles’ quarterback room: be on time, take great notes and play with swagger.
The bottom line: Would the quarterbacks in that room agree with that statement about the three keys to their success and the ties that bind them together?
Over at ESPN, there was this wink-wink nod in a generic piece about the Foles journey from outcast to big player on the NFL scene.
Foles was 4-of-8 with two touchdowns on passes that traveled 20 or more yards downfield on Sunday, after going 4-of-6 on such throws in the NFC Championship Game. Prior to this stretch, Foles was 1-of-12 overall and 0-of-10 as a starter passing that deep this season, per ESPN Stats & Information.
The born-again quarterback benefited from Pederson's aggressive playcalling, which allowed the Eagles to hold the lead for most of Super Bowl LII.
Get it? His career was dead, but then he was born again. Cute.
Here's another ESPN piece that took a valid angle in this story -- the fact that the Eagles locker room includes lots of players who are active in the community, for a variety of reasons -- and turned it into a single-theme piece. The double-decker headline captures the heart of this faith-free feature:
The Eagles are more than just socially conscious, they’re Super Bowl champions:
In the year of the protest in the NFL, Philadelphia finishes on top
Did you miss the point? Well, then there was this punchline: "The term 'woke' definitely applies to the Eagles."
However, the Philly.com team obviously knew what was going on here and included several hints in the post-game coverage.
It was impossible to avoid the words of the Most Valuable Player in the game. Here is the top of a piece with the headline, "The miracle of Nick Foles -- not beyond belief." In addition to the piece's commentary on Foles' baby-calming skills, it opened with the obvious:
Like his son, Larry Foles said he never gets too up or down. But was there one moment during the evening when he thought Nick had his finest moment? Where he found himself overcome with emotion? The answer may surprise, considering the countless clutch passes he had completed.
“When he held his baby on the stage during the award ceremony,” Larry Foles said. “And he made his speech. I did cry then.”
Nick Foles answered a few questions.
“All glory to God,” he said.
“I felt calm,” he added.
Another Inquirer piece led with this:
MINNEAPOLIS -- If Nick Foles knows anything, he knows comebacks.
He came back from football oblivion, pushed the game’s margins by poor play on bad teams. He was one prayer session away from quitting the game at just 27 years of age.
Once again, here is my main journalism question about this Super Bowl angle: In terms of factual material about the team and even this game, do the voices of the players and top coaches matter?
FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from post-game coverage, drawn from Inside Edition.