The last two years, I spent Super Bowl Sunday covering the Lingerie Bowl. This year, I spent it in church. This is the Las Vegas definition of checks and balances.
Last year, more than 111 million people watched the Super Bowl on television. Everybody watches the Super Bowl on TV. Well, maybe not Tibetan monks. But everybody else.
Which sort of explains what I was doing at Prince of Peace Catholic Church at 5 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.
I had this idea: that it would be fun – er, enlightening – to watch the first half of the game with a priest from Baltimore, and the second half with a priest from San Francisco. Or vice versa.
I called the diocese; the diocese called back. We don’t have any priests from Baltimore, the church lady said.
To which I said, “Isn’t that special?”
But she said the diocese had a priest from San Francisco, the Rev. John McShane, and that she would have him call me. And I knew he would, because if you can’t trust a Catholic priest to return a phone call, who can you trust?
(I should point out that I had called the diocese on Monday, two days before I learned that a picture of Ray Lewis, his hands pressed together in supplication, would appear on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” under the headline “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” So maybe this wasn’t such a wacky idea after all.)
Father McShane, who talks just like the Irish priests in the movies, confirmed that he was from San Francisco, that he was a huge 49ers fan, that he would love to hang out with me on Super Bowl Sunday. But he had to celebrate Mass at 2 p.m. – “at the prison” – and again at 5. He had planned to watch the end of the game at a parishioner’s home. I was welcome to join him, he said.
And as much I wanted to join him for the prison Mass, I don’t know all the words to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and they check you for shanks and whatnot, and you usually have to go through all kinds of red tape to attend Mass in prison. Besides, I have heard that some of those ladies at the Jean Conservation Camp are pretty mean.
So I thought the 5 p.m. service at Prince of Peace on East Charleston would be more the prudent choice.
I had grown up an altar boy, though it had been awhile. Father McShane assured me the church would not fall should I walk in. He was right, though I did detect a bit of rumbling around the vestibule.
Church hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was toting around the wine and water cruets and ringing the bells during the consecration. This was the youth Mass, so there was a guitar and a piano, and a bit more singing than I remembered. But there still were a lot of hallelujahs and amens, and a gratitude of thanks was read to the parishioners who had contributed $56,000 to offset the theft of an air conditioning unit.
Those thieves must have some nerve.
Father McShane had us out of there in a respectable 53 minutes. During the sermon, he lifted the hem of his vestments to show the congregation he was wearing his lucky 49ers socks. He explained that even if God didn’t answer his prayers for a 49ers victory, that God still is good and gracious – that sometimes he doesn’t answer prayers until a later date.
Which may or may not explain why the Giants won the World Series (prayers answered), and why Notre Dame will have to wait until next season (prayers pending).
Father McShane called my name just before the end of the Mass. He did it in a nice way, not in the way Mother Superior used to say it when I goofed off during choir practice. He explained to the congregation that we were going to watch the second half of the Super Bowl, so he wouldn’t have time for the meet and greet afterward.
I told him the 49ers were down 28-6 the last time I checked, that he should start working the beads on his rosary.
Then there was a power failure, and then the Niners came storming back, and by the time I joined him for an excellent bowl of chili con carne with cheese and jalapeno peppers at the residence of Prince of Peace churchgoers (and 49ers fans) Larry and Elizabeth Mogavero, San Francisco had nearly pulled even.
So to recap: I mention to the first priest to whom I’ve spoken in years that his team is getting run out of the Superdome, and then there’s a power failure, and then the 49ers rally in … well, near miraculous fashion, and he gets to see it all, because of that power failure.
And so then I’m beginning to think that God really does care who wins the Super Bowl.
So when it was 31-29, before the 49ers went for two to tie it, I asked Father John McShane from Fulton Street in the City by the Bay, near Golden Gate Park, where he could hear the roar of the crowd every time Joe Perry or John Henry Johnson or Hugh McElhenny scored a touchdown at old Kezar Stadium, The Question:
If, in his estimation, does God care who wins the Super Bowl?
“God is neutral,” the good padre said.
And that was good enough for me. Because the Cubs are going to have it tough enough this season without having to overcome my spotty record for fulfilling my Sunday obligation.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.