I’m taking a brief sabbatical from the thundering type-type-type on this novel (in every sense of the word!) manuscript I’ve been slavishly devoted to for the last few spins of the globe (bite me, Flat Earthers!) to address a Very Important Brain Thinking Moment that occurred while riding around in the Silver Dragon and contemplating the ignoble defeat of the Falcons on Sunday night.
Now this has naught to do with players genuflecting or protests or Flags Against Humanity (that’s a thing, right?) so rest easy those pens of spiteful patriotism and righteous indignation. Well, perhaps sharpen them, depending on how you react to the next few scribbly bits.
We are all, thanks to the thick woolen blanket of coverage provided by our Great Lord and Master TELEVISION, familiar with every miniscule and microscopic moment of the game of football. The camera sees all: images are edited on the fly by a priestly caste of technicians ensconced in a control tower worthy of extraterrestrial contact, while every meaningful second (and some incredibly useless ones as well) is parsed and examined and explained to us with exquisite profundity by loquacious former players and self-styled experts, People In The Know, because our poor little brains can’t possibly comprehend the incredible complexity involved when twenty-two men line up on a field and attempt to move a ball from one end to the other while simultaneously committing assault and battery upon each other.
As such, we have all seen what happens (in slow motion, from multiple angles, replayed many times and then archived, to be resurrected by NFL Films and enhanced with a stirring soundtrack and sonorous voiceover reminding us of exactly how crucial this particular moment was for football history, the track of Western Civilization, and perhaps even the development of human life itself) when one of the men on the field delivers a moment of athletic prowess that rises above the already incredibly high level of skill on display: immediately after the play is concluded, a clenched fist is hammered to the chest plate of the ceremonial armor and then a single finger (index, not middle) is raised up and pointed toward the sky.
The hand motion itself is exquisite in its clarity and instinctively we all (even a faith-challenged bastard bereft of belief like myself) know what he means. I’m going to go close to the edge of a cliff, dangle from the end of a rope, sidle out to the thin part of a limb, maybe even leap to the island of conclusions, and posit that this gesture has something to do with Football Jesus. This positing is based on post-game news conferences where our mighty gladiators are quick to first and foremost give thanks to the Almighty God (of their choice and particular flavor, but usually some version of an Abrahamic persuasion) for the performance we have just witnessed.
It’s a gesture that is a genius of simplicity and communicates meaning with pinpoint precision.
Even I can’t imagine what sort of complicated hand motions one would have to make to say “I’m really quite chuffed that through an almost unfathomable process that included endless hours of rigorous training, body building, and sheer luck that I have the ability to physically perform, for one brief moment in time, better than all the other amazingly talented athletes sharing the field with me tonight!” Besides, only a damned atheist would think something like that. As we are always reminded, just as everyone in battle believes in something, football players believe in Football Jesus.
Football Jesus is different from the version of the Son of God you may already be familiar with from books, movies and television specials, or perhaps the interior of your chosen place of worship. This is a beefed up phenomenon, a singularly powerful specimen: the epitome of strength, power, flexibility, mobility, arm strength, and speed. Every game is held in his honor. What the Most Interesting Man In The World is to cheap and tasteless Mexican beer, Football Jesus is to the Great American Past Time (baseball… seriously, come on, you’re joking, right?). Every NFL Combine that has ever been held is merely a feeble attempt to emulate his greatness. His 40-yard sprint time is unfathomable. His vertical is superhuman. His stiff arm can stop the flow of mighty rivers. Every throw is on target, every kick splits the uprights or comes to rest on the one-inch line, every tackle shatters the soul and crushes the competitive spirit from the hapless body of the enemy.
There is no forgiveness in his heart. Football Jesus doesn’t turn the other cheek or insist the weak are going to inherit anything other than a massive cleat in their backs for being so weak. He delivers the Smack-Talk on the Mount and ends every sermon with the immortal words: “All night long, motherfucker! All night long!”
Football Jesus knows how to WIN. No one who has lost a game has said to the reporters gathered around the stall in the stable (sorry, the locker room), “I just want to thank God and Jesus for this loss and the opportunity to try my best out there.” Hell NO. Because Football Jesus doesn’t lose; Football Jesus is a WINNER. Who do we blame when our mortal emissaries down on the field screw up? We blame THEM. Because every dropped pass, missed field goal, missed tackle or tackle for loss means that they didn’t believe in Football Jesus enough. They didn’t give props properly. They missed the team prayer meeting. Their altar was found lacking in the eyes of Football Jesus.
And because they don’t believe, on any given Sunday, they SUCK and we hate them for not covering the spread, for fucking up our fantasy league, for causing us to endure the humiliation in the lunch room on Monday morning when Todd from Accounting comes in and says, “What happened to your Falcons last night? They looked like crap!”
That’s right they did, Todd. They did look like crap, because they didn’t believe in Football Jesus as much as those god-damned Patriots did. Bill Belichick must have planted his face ears deep in the swamp ass of Football Jesus after last year’s exhilarating Super Bowl victory (or humiliating defeat, if you will) over the hapless, inept, and apparently apostate Atlanta Falcons… and then they did it to them again last night.
Perhaps Matt Ryan just doesn’t have that same hotline to Football Jesus that Tom Brady does. Perhaps Julio Jones committed some sort of unfathomable atrocity against the God of Football. Maybe Robert Kraft is anointed and Arthur Blank spends his nights carving up his sacrifices on the Altar of Fútbol, too dumb to know he’s doing it all wrong. I don’t know. But if I have to watch another game like that, I’m going to hunt down Football Jesus and drop kick him through the proverbial goal posts of Life.