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Who will win the Super Bowl? That ref upstairs may know

By Cathy Lynn Grossman

USA Today

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis talks with reporters during a news conference on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, in New Orleans. The 49ers will face the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game on Feb. 3. Willis has said he believes God determines the outcome of football games.

Mark Humphrey, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Many Americans believe someone very highly placed already knows whether the Ravens or 49ers will win the Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday.

God.

The Sports Illustrated cover story this week asks, "Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?"

And a new survey from Public Religion Research Institute finds 27 percent of Americans overall says yes. They believe God has a stake in the outcome of sports games -- although two-thirds of the nation (66 percent) say they'll tune in to see what the Almighty decides.

This varies by where people live and what faith, if any, they profess. According to PRRI: 36 percent of Southerners say that God plays a role in who wins; 28 percent of Midwesterners; 20 percent in the Northeast; 15 percent of Westerners.

This maps to the distribution of religious denominations in the USA. The strongest votes for God's role come from 40 percent of minority Christians and white evangelical Protestants, 29 percent from Catholics, 19 percent from main-line Protestants and 12 percent of those who claim no denominational identity.

Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, in a statement Tuesday, said, "In an era where professional sports are driven by dollars and statistics, significant numbers of Americans see a divine hand at play."

They also like it if folks show their appreciation to the ref on high.

Patrick Willis of the 49ers says his grandmother already knew that.

Tuesday, at the team's media day in New Orleans, Willis said, "Before each game, all week, as I do every day, I pray about 10 prayers a game. And what I always end it with is, Lord, let your will be done today."

And then, whatever happens, he says, "I don't let it get me the way it used to because I prayed His will be done regardless of what I want."

According to the survey, 53 percent of Americans -- chiefly Protestants (70 percent) and minority Christians (60 percent) -- agree. They think athletes and coaches such as Willis and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis who publicly thank God during or after a sporting event are rewarded with "good health and success."

The survey of 1,033 adults was conducted in English and Spanish on Jan. 16 and Jan. 20. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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