Yep. That was me. In the very first row of seats (from the ceiling) at the Thursday Night Football game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings.
Experiencing the National Football League is a total emersion experience. It may be impossible to simply stick your little toe into the ocean of one of the United States’ richest not-for-profit companies. When the NFL is in town every one notices. I’m not totally sure, but I think I saw an Arizona lizard wearing a Cardinal’s jersey this week.
So dominating is this beast that a whole region simply reduces the details into two words: The game. “In town for the game?” They ask. At first I thought they might be asking about my wife’s Words with Friends, but deep in my soul I sensed there was an earnest interest into a much more cult-like game.
The cults with which I am familiar demand….
- Strong and blinded allegiance to a heroic figure regardless of the presence or absence of character. For some very strange reason, I had a picture taken with a man dressed up like a bird.
- Special clothes. I am not sure if the NFL has secret undergarments that are required of all fanatics or if a simple Larry Fitzgerald jersey will do. By the way, someone needs to let the out of shape middle aged NFL fans know that Brett Favre RETIRED and is an honored and decorated Green Bay Packer. At the Viking’s game I saw way too many Favre Viking’s jerseys. This is a bit like wearing the wedding ring from your ex-wife.
- Face painting and costumes. This one dude looked like his face was pushed into a hot wax basin filled with melted red and black lipstick. He thought he looked like an Arizona Cardinal, but in reality he closely resembled a drunken vampire. True thing! One lady, in purple and gold, was wearing a set of horns and I saw a guy with a Viking tattoo on arm.
- Chants, slogans and adoration. When passersby see another cult member in the special cult clothes of their heroic figure, huge noise would flow from these folks who otherwise look semi-mentally stable. Seriously, five guys walking in their purple and gold jerseys see seven or eight folks in similar garb drinking beer on an outdoor patio. The five and the seven erupt into some kind of unintelligible, yet exuberant, whoop. It sounded, to me, like the sound a cow moose would make when giving birth. Of course, I have never heard that sound, but it seems fitting.
- Body contact. Everyone wearing the same colors had instant approval to touch each other. High fives, fist bumps, hugs and even more seem to be granted to every loyal member who ventured out in the same colors.
- Lots and lots of spirits. As if this experience is unbearable to a healthy and stable mind, I noticed eight or nine people at our hotel swimming pool gearing up for the big event many hours before kickoff. When someone entered wearing the correct colors, everyone would holler and yell and then down another spirit or two. One of the female fanatics entered the Jacuzzi because, “I was partying last night in preparation for the game and I think I can sweat it out.” Not knowing exactly what that meant, I left the Jacuzzi immediately. I couldn’t get over the image of “sweating it out” floating around in the bubbles.
- A specially revealed book and someone to demand obedience to the book. From time to time these folks in black and white stripes would blow whistles and throw yellow flags. I’m not sure what all that is about, but the folks near me were yelling, really yelling, “That’s not the rule. The book doesn’t say that.” I’m just guessing, but maybe the guys in black and white stripes are considered the religious police.
- A long time after “the game” had started, the intensity increased dramatically. Honestly, there was a decibel meter on the huge screen that showed 106 decibels from the screaming fanatics. As the Vikings moved down the field for an apparent overtime causing field goal someone said something like, “The end is near! Stop the Vikings. The end is near.” Apparently, even the NFL has an eschatology.
Being in the first row of seats, next to the ceiling, provided me opportunity to do a little bit of thinking, sort of like a monk during the monastic movement, perched high up in the monastery. Images of Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder, who lived for thirty-seven years on a small platform that was anchored to a tall pillar, floated through my mind.
First, I thought, the Seahawks Twelfth Man is far more sophisticated than this.
Second, I wondered what all I could learn from this experience about developing wildly committed disciples of Jesus.
From now on, I will be wearing an Apostle John jersey with the number 3:16 on the back so I am properly clothed for “The Game” set before me and so I can cheer wildly when I see others wearing the same colors.
Currently, I am studying the Rule Book and doing my best to imbibe the right Spirit.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the face painting/tattoo thing figured out yet.
It seems to me that the end is near in the Apostle John’s game too. Unlike Teddy Bridgewater, the Quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, I must not drop the ball with only five seconds left on the clock.