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Kovacevic: In God we trust ... our pastime

| Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — If American culture has a heaven, then this must be that place times seven.

The streets of Indiana's surprisingly sleek capital are decked out in Super Bowl bunting. The logos of the New England Patriots and New York Giants light up the sides of skyscrapers. And inside monstrous new Lucas Oil Stadium, more than 1,500 accredited journalists — some actually working — descended on players and coaches Tuesday as part of Media Day, which is now such a big deal it not only merits capital letters but also a corporate sponsor. (Clue: It's a certain energy drink looking to expand its brand beyond providing September baths to John Harbaugh.)

This was a ton of fun, too, even for the fans allowed inside for the first time. They paid $50 a pop and, judging by the name-shouting and laughter, didn't mind a bit. Anything to be part of the event.

Same could be said for the Steelers' Brett Keisel. A participant a year ago, he was reduced to a reporter's role this time but seemed to love it. He bounced about the room with a camera crew to ask questions on behalf of his sponsor — Head & Shoulders, what else• — and that included a chat with Lousaka Polite, the New England fullback formerly of Pitt who doesn't have a follicle to spare.

"It's good for the scalp, man," Keisel reassured from behind the Beard.

It's a wonder NFL players don't think this really is capital-H Heaven.

Then again, maybe they do.

In what just has to be the most self-absorbed, self-important trend to accompany the NFL's ascent into our undisputed national pastime, more and more athletes are openly expressing that their deity of choice has some direct, vested interest in the outcome of their games.

You know what I'm talking about, and it's not Hail Mary, Touchdown Jesus or the Immaculate Reception. It's not Tim Tebow taking a knee or Ben Roethlisberger pointing skyward. And it's certainly not praying for the well-being of the competitors.

It's stuff like this from Baltimore's Ray Lewis after the Ravens' AFC Championship Game loss: "God has never made a mistake. Ever. There's a winner, and there's a loser. And when you lose, you've got to suck it up like a man and say, 'You know what, Father• If it's your will, so be it.' "

Right, because the Almighty took His eye off the Afghan war, the Syrian revolution, the adventures of Seal Team 6, starving children, the battle against cancer and the latest on the Kardashians to blow Billy Cundiff's kick wide left.

Even as that wayward ball took off, cameras caught the Ravens' Terrell Suggs on the sideline mouthing, "Oh ... my ... God."

Here's another, this from Denver defensive end Robert Ayers after Tebow's 80-yard overtime touchdown pass beat the Steelers the previous week: "God believes in us, and he's going to keep putting us in great situations. We've just got to take advantage of it."

And you thought it was Dick LeBeau jamming nine men to the line of scrimmage.

This isn't unique to football, of course. Dwight Howard, the soon-to-be NBA free agent, offered this gem in the past week when asked if he might try to hook up with Chris Paul: "If God wants it to happen, it will happen."

But there is more in football than anywhere else. There are countless references to "baseball gods" and "hockey gods" within those sports, mostly playful. Pitchers cross themselves upon taking the mound, and goaltenders bow their heads before a face-off, but you rarely hear that God — the Authentic Article — was pulling for or against one of their teams. And maybe that's because He, like most, doesn't pay attention to those sports as often.

How else to explain the tortured plot twist that saw Miroslav Satan score 16 career goals against the New Jersey Devils?

I asked New England safety Patrick Chung on Tuesday if he felt uncomfortable with the growing link between football and religion.

"No, not at all," he came back with a soft smile. "You've got to give thanks, man. With our team, you see it and hear it a lot. We don't apologize for that. We give thanks for everything. It's all about the Man Upstairs."

Apparently so.

An hour later, this was Victor Cruz, the Giants' wide receiver, on his hopes for Sunday: "Once, God willing, we win it, it's going to be a moment I'll treasure forever."

That's fine by me, so long as Keisel gets the lead role in the movie.

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