William McKenzie: Is the Super Bowl really a game or has it become pagan ritual?

By William McKenzie

The Dallas Morning News

Published: Friday, Feb. 4 2011 12:08 a.m. MST

The game arrives. At last. Thank goodness.

Of course, I mean the Super Bowl, which has been in the planning stages for what seems like a decade. In watching the run-up, with reports about A-list parties, obscenely-priced tickets and young prostitutes, I'm torn between feeling like I'm watching a modern form of Baal worship and wanting to exult in the excitement of Super Bowl XLV.

There were probably many Baal-worshipers who felt a similar conflict back in biblical days, when men made figures to honor their gods. Some then likely were horrified at the frenzied creation of the idols yet also were enthused by the excitement of such a venture, right down to the permissive fertility cults.

Today, this internal conflict is fueled by the fact many industries, including my own, will benefit from this game. So, why be a spoil-sport, especially after the economy has been so ho- hum.

Plus, a sense of community is bred out of such intense preparation. And I'm not even talking about the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers getting ready for Sunday's game. Dedication, teamwork and discipline are needed to pull off a Super Bowl, not just win one.

But there are days when this Super Bowl business seems like a pagan ritual. Right down to the elaborate ushering in of the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy into the Dallas Convention Center last week. With all the fanfare surrounding its entry, you would have thought a royal visitor was coming to town.

Related to this idol-worship aspect is the psychology of being a fan, which long has interested me for what it says about the mind. Mine particularly.

My family can tell you I've long been a big sports fan. I still can see Frank Clarke racing down the Cotton Bowl to catch a bomb from Don Meredith during the most exciting game I've ever attended: the 1967 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl between the upstart Dallas Cowboys and the invincible Green Bay Packers.

My only sporting moment close to that one was watching the Texas Rangers finally clinch a World Series trip last fall by beating the hated New York Yankees at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. Like almost every fan at that game, I stayed at least 30 minutes after the finish to cheer my brains out about the lowly Rangers at last going to the Series. And when I got a chance to attend a Series game, you bet I jumped to go and loved every minute of it, even though the Rangers lost.

So, guilty as charged. Still, I don't know what to do with the frenzied aspect of being a fan. What does that say about the inner recesses of our minds? I'm not sure I want to know.

Nor do I know what to do with the Baal-aspect of sports. I plan on watching the game along with the 100 million-odd other viewers. My family even has a tradition of watching the Super Bowl with our former next-door neighbor.

But here we are in Dallas listening to reports about this great party and that fantastic player, while simultaneously learning about the Super Bowl being ground zero for prostitution and sex trafficking. Thank goodness for organizations like the Dallas Women's Foundation drawing attention to that unseemly side of Super Sunday. While we prepare to root, someone's lost teenage daughter will sell her body to an anonymous Super Bowl fan and then move on to the next guy. How awful is that?

Alongside this is the event's parading of fame, power and celebrity. Sure, public service activities surrounding the Super Bowl. But they're a sidebar. By Sunday's game, we may be marching statues of football gods onto the altars at Cowboys Stadium.

Of course, I'll be watching, wondering how to respond. May there be plenty of nachos to go around.

William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. E-mail: wmckenziedallasnews.com

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