Thursday, April 21, 2005

Football as religion and religion as football

Much has been written about the religious nature of football at Notre Dame. Football weekends are rife with ritual and ceremony. The very excitement lays in the predictability of events. Meredith Foley describes this aspect of Irish football in a 2001 essay:

At Notre Dame the religious ritual aspects of the football game are somewhat muted, but they can still be discerned by the careful observer. Prayers are typically said before, after and during the game. For example, the team attends Mass before the game, fans join hands and pray at crucial moments during the game, and Masses are said at multiple locations on campus immediately after the contest. Very often after the games one of my friends who is a Eucharistic Minister will dash out of the stadium to serve in the Stepan Center service 45 minutes after the game. She tells me that these Masses are also always filled with football fans and the presiding priest rarely fails to mention the day's game in either his homily or opening and concluding remarks.

It is also significant that touchdowns and point-after kicks are made into the open arms of the Jesus mural on the library. The religious message of the mural is that spiritually Jesus draws humanity to salvation with His outstretched arms just as He guides the Domers to success in the stadium. This undercurrent of meaning is what makes the sport such serious business for Domers. Heads may not literally roll after a losing contest, but certainly the faces of innumerable fans will be either raised or downcast for the following week depending on the outcome of the contest.

The combination of football and religion is not limited to Domers' feeling toward football; they often treat religion like a sporting event. People get genuinely 'fired up' about their team, and the recent selection of a new pope was no different. At each whiff of smoke during the conclave, people ran to televisions as if to watch the score. Brendan Loy describes the scene at ND Law Scool on Tuesday, and I can assure you that the rest of campus was doing the same thing.

There is a tradition of hanging signs out of dorm windows in the week preceding a home football game. These signs are usually made of bed sheets with painted messages. Some of these signs are ornate (like Zahm's "Here come the Irish" or Carroll's "Go Irish"). Others are crude or rude, or funny.

Campus Ministry still managed to surprise me, though, with their pro-pope sign.


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