The Confusions and Confessions of a Pagan Football Fan

When people write about the Fall they often write of death and transition. Those things are certainly a part of Autumn’s spell, but it’s a also a time for new beginnings. The school year begins in the Fall, as does the return of non-rerun primetime television. We often elect new leaders during the Fall as well. While trees prepare for their winter slumber we human beings are often restarting our lives at this time of year. Fall has always been my favorite season, but the reasons for most favored status have changed over the years.

When I was young it was most definitely because of school. Summer is nice and all, but sometimes you just miss the friends you only get to see at school or at school functions. Back when Saturday Morning Cartoons were truly a thing*, I used to get excited about those too. Saturday mornings began with “The Super Friends” when I was six years old, and new episodes made those mornings that much better. As I’ve aged, school and cartoons don’t nearly matter so much, but Autumn still has a hold on me. Some of that’s because of Samhain, Thanksgiving, pumpkins, apple, and cider (all favorite things), but a lot of that is because of pro football.

During the fall I live, sleep, and breathe the NFL (National Football League). I wear my team colors (black and gold) with pride and I check Pro Football Talk dot com like some people check their email or Facebook accounts. I admit to being obsessed, and to the yearly abandonment of my wife to Football Widow status. I am fanatical about my love of all things football, and most of society wouldn’t see that as odd, but you very well might.


You have your religious symbols, I have mine.

There are about 350 million people living in the United States. Out of those 350 million, 60 million watch the NFL on any given weekend. That’s about 17% of the population. By week eight of the NFL season over 150 million Americans have watched at least a little bit of football. Those are staggering numbers, and nothing else on television compares. Watching football makes me rather normal in a lot of ways, except in Pagandom.

The most recent Super Bowl was played on February 5 of this year, a date very close to our own Imbolc. As a result there were a few Imbolc celebrations and gatherings that Sunday here in the Bay Area of Northern California. One of those was scheduled at exactly the same time as the Super Bowl. When I pointed this out to one of the organizers, her reaction was “Oh? So?” leaving me dumbfounded. Over 100 million people watch the Super Bowl every year, and no church is going to schedule a bake-sale for that afternoon, yet many Pagans are completely oblivious to it.

I’ve often wondered about the complete disconnect between many in the Pagan community and organized sports. I don’t think any less of someone because they don’t watch football, but I do find it annoying how often I feel judged by it. Pointing out that your ritual is happening during the Super Bowl should not make me the oddball, but it does. In almost any other setting our positions would most certainly be reversed. No one is going to plan the company outing during the Super Bowl (and in some areas you’d be hard pressed to schedule anything during football season, I’m looking at you Green Bay).

As August rolls along and my wife once more dons her football widow black, I have a lot of Pagan friends who try to turn her into some sort of sports martyr. She knew what she was getting into when we got married (and planned our wedding date around both college and pro football!), it’s not something that was absent from the contract. I assume that their teasing is meant to be good natured (as infuriating as I find it), but my spouse is not some sort of cosmic anomaly, there are many sports widows and widowers out there. I don’t make fun of my friends when their world stops for new episodes of Dr. Who, and no one calls them obsessed when they wear shirts with a tardis** on them. Somehow that fandom is perfectly acceptable to talk about at gatherings, but if I mention that Peyton Manning is now a Bronco I’m met with eye-rolls.

I received a little bit of blow back last week after posting my Eight American Sabbats piece, with one of my friends commenting: “A Sabbat is a holy day, not just a popular football game.” That’s certainly true in some respects. A Sabbat is technically a Contemporary Pagan Holiday, but I was using Sabbat as a synonym for “holiday” and in that context she was most definitely wrong, at least when it comes to me (and millions of other people). Super Bowl Sunday is not just a football game, it’s a whole day of festivities. It’s true that that we are all going to celebrate different “holidays” and have different perspectives on what constitutes one. To me, a holiday is a day that invokes a sense of excitement or wonder that is shared by a fair amount of other people. (That’s why my birthday or your anniversary isn’t a holiday.)

When I think about the Super Bowl in that sort of context it’s most certainly a holiday. I wake up like a kid at Christmas, excited and bouncy. It’s not a normal day. There are only three times a year where I speak to everyone in my family: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Super Bowl. I have friends over, I shout at the TV, and I eat copious amounts of junkfood and hot-wings (Super Bowl Sunday is the Thanksgiving of Doritos). I look more forward to the Super Bowl than I do any traditional Pagan Sabbat (I don’t wake up on a Mabon Tuesday with butterflies in my stomach), but that’s just me. The Super Bowl isn’t a holiday for everyone, even though it’s often celebrated with more participants and gusto than many traditional holidays.

While many Pagans think it’s weird that I watch football with such passion and devotion, I think it’s equally weird that more Pagans aren’t sports fans. As a community we are plugged into a lot of things: great music, technology, movies and pop culture, but that never translates to sports. A great football game is like a great ritual, lots of energy everywhere and the hairs on your arms standing up. I’m not saying football is magickal, but it does raise some power (even if it’s not directed anywhere usually). The air in my living room is thick during football season, just like it is at a Samhain ritual.

I don’t expect you or anyone else to be a football fan, I just wish people stopped seeing it as such an unusual thing. I’m not abnormal for watching football. It’s not completely out of the mainstream to pause your life every Sunday morning/afternoon to watch the action on the old gridiron. Football has been woven deeply into the fabric of our national culture (for better or for worse, take your pick). Watching my Steelers win Super Bowls five and six were some of the happiest moments of my life. Seeing Eli and the Giants knock of the Patriots twice were gifts from on high that keep on giving.

Don’t worry, this blog won’t be turning into sports central after the NFL kicks off tomorrow. My sports fandom and my Paganism don’t converge all that often, just don’t expect me to post on Sundays.

NFL Predictions 2012
Division Winners AFC: Patriots, Steelers, Broncos, Texans
Wild Cards AFC: Ravens, Bills
Division Winners NFC: Giants, Packers, 49′ers, Falcons
Wild Cards NFC: Bears, Lions
Super Bowl: Bears over Texans

*In all honesty, I still watch a few cartoons. New episodes of Young Justice can’t get here fast enough.

**I have never watched an episode of Dr. Who, but I hear it talked about so much that I know what a tardis is.

If you are still reading and want a good laugh, check out these instructions laid out before a Super Bowl Party back in 2006. Completely hilarious things are in italics.

__________

OK, here are the details for sunday’s Super Bowl Party.

I think this is the 8th time I’ve hosted a Super Bowl party, but this year’s party will be A LOT different. The major difference is that this game is really really really important to me as it features my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, playing in their sixth Super Bowl, and first one in ten years. Because the Steelers are playing I’ll actually want to watch all of the game, but with the stereo hooked up to the TV and two TV’s going that shouldn’t be a problem.

Anyways, on with the details . . . .

*The game is scheduled to kick off a little bit after 6:00 pm. If you get to the house after kickoff you’ll have to use the backdoor so you don’t walk in front of the TV. You are welcome to come over as early as you want that day, if enough people show up we might have a Madden (video game football) 2006 tournament or something.

*I’ll be making chili for the game (as usual), but we won’t be providing any drinks, so bring some drinks for yourself. I’ll probably make a huge pot (urn) of coffee, because that’s what I drink during football games. Also, I’ll love you even more if you bring some junk food to share with everyone. We’ll have plates and cups for everyone.

*I don’t drink alcohol during football games, but I do drink lots of coffee. Don’t ask me if I want a shot, just let me do my thing.

*Seating will be limited, and the couch will be reserved for the two people other than me who sat there during the other playoff games. I’ll try to set up as many chairs as possible, but bringing pillows or folding chairs with you might be a good idea. I’m giving my couch seat to Lisa, as I’ll be pacing anyways. There will actually be an area taped off for me to pace in-stay out of it.

*Ari will be baking a Steeler cake.

*If anyone wants to wear Steeler gear, I will have some extra stuff people can wear, first come first serve (or first reserved . . .).

*In the event that the Steelers lose . . . .
Be nice to me, file out of the house quietly and don’t mention the game for a few days (or weeks).

*In the event that the Steelers win . . . .
I’ll play Mekong after the game and do a bunch of shots with anyone who is interested.

*Halftime . . . . . this year’s halftime show features the Rolling Stones. Ari will also be dancing at Moriarity’s, I won’t be hurt if you leave to watch her dance.

*I have a lot of silly superstitions, I know that they don’t really mean anything, but continue to humor me.

*Try not to point, laugh too hard, stare, etc., while I’m cheering on the Steelers.

*Seahawk fans are welcome, but don’t expect me to be very nice to you during the game.

*RSVP’s are REALLY helpful, that way I can make enough food and coffee and figure out the best places to put the TV(s) and chairs, etc. If you forget to RSVP, it’s cool, but it’d be nice if you did.

*Have fun, really, it’s just a game, I’m only staking my entire life on it.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Jason Hatter

    I am always sad that jenn and I never made it down for one of your football parties. Jenn loves football, and I can at least tolerate it nowadays.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicole.platania Nicole Parsons Platania

    I don’t watch football but it’s not because I’m Pagan, it’s because I really don’t like sports. I would take away cool points from you for not watching Doctor Who BUT I won’t because you could do the same for my lack of football watching. I think that makes us even :)

    • JasonMankey

      If I had my life to do over again I wouldn’t watch football, too much emotional investment in it.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Is the NFL going to sue you for using their logo on your blog post without paying them lots of money permission? I hope not…!

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    As a Brit, it will no doubt be no surprise that I have no interest in (American) football.

    What is, perhaps, more surprising is that I have no interest in Doctor Who, either.

    I do not really understand how certain secular interests get ‘hijacked’ by religious types as ‘an extension’ of their religiosity.

    Being Pagan doesn’t mean you have to dislike organised sports. It doesn’t even mean you have to live a completely rebellious/non-conformist lifestyle. I think a lot of people don’t get that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/msbputnam Michael Putnam

    I have to say I am not a big football fan, which is doubly odd seeing as I come from an area where boys start playing the sport at three and you can lose friends over which college you support. However, it has nothing to do with a disinterest in organized sport, I love soccer (aka “true football”) and rugby and could watch both all day with the same zeal with which you treat football.
    I have noticed that many pagans of about a generation before me have a somewhat aversion to the sporting world but the college group I work with I find that it’s pretty much split half and half (several of our girls actually go to games together).

  • Laura M. LaVoie

    As a Pagan and a die hard football fan (Go Lions!), I really appreciate this post. Especially this: “I don’t think any less of someone because they don’t watch football, but I do find it annoying how often I feel judged by it”

    I have been in so many conversations where I feel judged by liking football by other Pagans. They accuse me of being part of a culture of violence. They accuse me of being unintelligent because I like sports. They tell me I am wasting my time. I always feel like I need to defend my position, but it is sometimes like talking to a brick wall. Most of my closest friends are Pagan and even when I defend my love of the game they shake their head and simply decide to never speak of it again. “Agree to disagree” they say.

    For me, American Football is the ultimate strategy game. Every single decision made from the off season through training camp through the preseason and in every individual play of every individual game affects the outcome of the game. The vast majority of the players are incredibly talented and intelligent individuals. My favorite player is an honest to goodness engineer who has done engineering based humanitarian projects in Africa. In a preseason game he used his skills to catch a ball when he lost it in the lights of the stadium – he just ran to where he though the dang thing would be and he caught it!

    And trust me, it isn’t just about winning or domination or anything like that. If that were the case I wouldn’t be a Lions fan. In 2008 they proved they were the worst team in pro sports (not just football) with their 0-16 season. I could have given up then – but I wasn’t willing to.

    I love the sport. I think it is incredible. Every time I watch it I think of it as a little war game. Each battle is a part of an eternal Trojan war. Different symbols play other symbols. And, best of all, it is only a 16 game commitment! It is only played once a week and I always get to watch the Thanksgiving day game!

    Anyway, long story short – thanks so much for posting this. It is always good to hear from other Pagan football fans.

  • http://twitter.com/Turtle_Dawn Crystal Dawn

    I couldn’t care less about the NFL but I am a huge Ohio State fan. My Super Bowl is in November when we play Michigan and being in the stadium for that game is euphoric. So yeah, I get where you’re coming from!

    • Jason Mankey

      There is no college football team more evil than Ohio State, with the possible exception of Alabama. Go Michigan State! (Mostly kidding, Columbus is a fabulous city and Ohio State is a great school.)

  • Aj / Melia

    I’m a big time Bronoco fan and a Pagan friend of mine is all about hockey and the Avalanche. So you are not alone. :) As for Dr. Who…I’ve never watched it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marienne.foxwood Marienne Hartwood

    I can’t count the number of times when someone has pointed out a secular interest that they take as seriously as their faith path, and somehow they are judged as less spiritual because they don’t spend every waking moment focused on “the paganism package”. When it comes to sabbats, if we believe the folkloric mythos, then these were less about religious celebrations and more about recognizing and working with what is going on in the world. I’m not preparing to cull my herds in the fall and I’m not out in a snow-covered field birthing lambs in February. Therefore, I do look for inspiration on what *is* going on in my world, and I think there’s nothing wrong for other people to do that as well. Football may not be my thing, but I do try to be mindful for those who are fans of the gridiron. (Then again, hard to be a football fan in my life….the nearest team geographically is the Redskins, and I grew up in Dolphin territory to a dad who was a fan of the Browns. *cringe*)

  • Cara Schulz

    I am a die hard college football fan – the Nebraska Huskers to be exact. My Husband converted to the One True Religion while we dated. He was amenable to it, but after we took the pilgrimage to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, his soul belonged to the Huskers.

    The entire state (which I don’t live in anymore) takes football seriously. VERY SERIOUSLY. Game day is a ritual and it’s one of the best rituals I attend. Unless you go to Lincoln for a game, you just don’t understand and there’s no way I can explain it. If you have been there, I don’t need to explain it. You are nodding your head.

    So I’m with you on not understanding why more Pagans aren’t football fans. I’m especially blank on why more Hellenic Pagans aren’t football fans. After all, in ancient Greece, sports was part of most any religious festival and one of the ways you showed devotion to the Gods was by trying to improve in athletics.

  • C.J. Caswell-Brown

    Loved the article & can totally relate, especially when I got to the part about your team colors, black & gold – I knew then why I found myself here. For the record, encountered some similar feelings of disdain about the value placed on the games, but I can tell you as a former resident of Pittsburgh, football was a religon. THE RITUAL every Sunday, or Monday/Thursday night WAS FOOTBALL! Talk about an energy raising chant. Hearing/feeling 60,000 plus fans literally rock the stadium with “Here we go Steelers, Here we go”, -clap-clap. Intention, unison, hair raising energy, fruition. A great cosmic high, if not for a higher purpose. The creation of that much individual energy coming together, spiraling up & out, is one powerful experience! Maybe Thor will give us a “pass” on NFL fanaticsm. Blessed Be the “Hail Mary”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=516058758 MB Tankersley

    So I read you are a football fan, as well as an Old 97′s fan (complete with using the apostrophe correctly) & a (sort-of) NeoPagan as well. That is awesome. I certainly feel the same way when revealing my lifelong Cowboys religious tradition (handed down from my grandfather, an avowed deciple of Landryism & the Gospel of Staubach) whether in a pagan or Unitarian Universalist setting. Too bad you’re a Steelers guy, we could’ve been great friends.

  • CR7135

    I’m Pagan, and I love football and Dr Who. I guess it’s good that I don’t have many Pagan friends!

  • kenneth

    I guess there isn’t a big area of intersection between football and pagan cultures, though I never really noticed one way or another. It’s probably true that many pagans in their youth fit more into the goth kids or science geeks or debate clubs than jocks. At least in the Wiccan end of the spectrum, I find paganism is still majority female, and I know there are serious women football fans, but far more men will structure their lives around it during the season.

    There is also a weird conflation with Jesus and evangelical culture with football, especially in places like Texas and the Midwest. I can’t get invested in following any professional sport week to week. I’ll watch a game if someone has it on at their home or the bar, but plenty of seasons and Super Bowls have gone by the wayside without me knowing or caring. No skin off my back if others like it though. I seem to remember rescheduling a ritual or coven event once for the Super Bowl. No biggie.

  • gs

    I completely identify with you and commend you for writing this blog. I am also a Pagan and a die hard NFL fan. As a New Yorker, I’m a “displaced” Indianapolis Colts fan. And to top that off, I’m a woman so I definitely fit into a minority for years. Paganism is wide and diverse and each of us walk the path that speaks to us. I don’t think that it’s right for anyone to chastise another because they forgo a Sabbat ceremony for Super Bowl Sunday. As long as you are comfortable with your path, it matters not how you honor Nature, it matters only that your choices resonate with you. We NFL fans, regardless of our spirituality, will always “honor” Super Bowl Sunday.

  • http://www.miraselena.com/ Miraselena

    I’m a football fan, by association. I grew up around it…Giants and Jets battling throughout the season. Dad and Brother yelling at the TV. Then I married a rabid football fan – college and pro – who lives and breathes the game. At Pagan events, I have the two boys dressed in sports jerseys not Green Man tees. Not only do we have to coordinate family or Pagan outings around Sunday Falcons games but Saturday college games. I know about Peyton Manning and line of scrimmage.

    Your post was very funny and reflects on something more profound for me. Why is embracing American mainstream culture often seen as a negative in Pagan culture? I’ve written about this myself.

    Oh yes, I’ll have to repost my own tribute to fall football. You might enjoy it! Go Falcons!!


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