Super Bowl Sunday is a religious holiday. I don’t think it’s blasphemous to call it such. My own parish priest thanked us scattered few at Mass last Sunday morning for having the decency to merely delay our festivities. 

The Super Bowl is a political event as well. I no longer watch the State of the Union address because I find I get precisely the same information from the Big Game — but with the addition of cheerleaders. It remains a rare opportunity to gauge the soul and direction of a nation while sampling a diverse spread of dips.

As any ceremony does, the Super Bowl has its sacred, indispensable rituals. I’ve heard the “Star Spangled Banner” enough times to never necessitate another listen, yet was heartened to hear Chris Stapleton’s rendition. He kept it blessedly sedate, declining to use it to explore the frightening high and lows of the human vocal range. It was a lullaby and not a battle cry. You didn’t even mind when the military-athletics complex marionetted Pat Tillman’s memory for yet another year. The national anthem singer is our own groundhog. As Stapleton played, we saw no shadow.

For days before the game and throughout the Fox broadcast, the NFL clearly tried to drum up a plotline involving the two Kelce brothers, whom fate had placed on opposing teams in this Super Bowl. But it hardly had the pathos of, say, the Harbaugh brothers coaching against the other in Super Bowl XLVII. You could tell the players felt it, too. Before and after the game, Travis Kelce insisted that no one believed his team could win. But who doubts a team led by Patrick Mahomes? I wouldn’t bet against the Chiefs winning the war in Ukraine.

But luckily, football is merely the excuse to watch the game and not the reason, the same way the good people of Louisiana use the preparation of Lent to donate beads to the needy. It sounds like Soviet propaganda if you think about it: The Super Bowl remains the only program where people talk during the game but are silent at the commercials.

They are without a doubt the main and most informative attraction. For example, I learned we are not yet in a recession. Why? There were no black-and-white still photo montages championing the spirit of the American worker. When you see one of these commercials, invest in gold. If you see two such commercials, start buying bear traps.

The bulk of the advertisements were wearisome, the last sputters of an empty brain tank. I begrudge the heart still delighted by celebrity cameos; they have a capacity for joy I will never again sniff this side of Anaheim. I grew more excited when I recognized a regular commercial actor, and it was like playing Where’s Waldo in a sea of Waldos.

Still, I cannot sneer at the celebs themselves. As a freelance writer I’m quite willing to demean myself for even the rounding error on one of their paychecks. But there is something spiritually corrosive about watching the surviving cast members of “Saved by the Bell” hawk subprime mortgages. We like to picture our golden years surrounded by cherubic grandchildren holding fishing poles. But what if instead we spend our future surrounded by people we knew from high school? It’s a fate worse than death.

Perhaps the only commercial of real interest came from theHe Gets Us,” a nondenominational Christian evangelization campaign. Showing real-life clips and images of children helping others, the commercial ends with an unadorned graphic stating, “Jesus didn’t want us to act like adults.” It was startling in its simplicity; I was conditioned to expect the Holy Father stepping out eating from a bag of Doritos. Catholics, or at least myself, are rather lackluster when it comes to spreading the Gospel. Christ may have redeemed all mankind, but it remains gauche to bring it up in polite company.

But for all the talk, or lack thereof, of evangelizing through deed over preaching, sometimes just reminding people of Jesus gets the job done quicker. After all, Coca-Cola owns the soda market but still invests heavily in those polar bears. In any case, the “He Gets Us” commercial has already provoked public outrage from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Charlie Kirk, a strong indicator the campaign is on the right track. 

Super Bowl

Kansas City Chiefs fans cheer after the Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII 38-35 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, Feb. 12. (OSV News photo/Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Pondering these things as the game wore on, I regained focus just long enough to see Mahomes limp into the locker room at halftime on an aggravated sprained ankle. I envied the cocktail of painkillers he was about to receive. Not only did he play the next half, he probably tasted colors while doing so.

Rihanna’s halftime show came off as a rather ambivalent affair, which I found fitting. Rihanna has been the ambient white noise for most of young millennial life. My generation learned her discography through osmosis. Forming an opinion on her is like debating the musicality of that Netflix show that’s just the crackling of a yule log. She made a few feints at pushing the envelope, but Rihanna alone could not match the twin commitments of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.

Around halfway through I felt the ground tremble. I suspected an earthquake, but it turned out to be the rumbling discontent of fathers across the nation. This was confirmed by a text from my own dad expressing his confusion at the choice of halftime performer. This was to be expected, even appreciated. I am far more suspicious of a dad who likes Rihanna. Dads should never know what “Pon de Replay” is; it’s like a velociraptor learning to open doors.

The game grew tense in its final moments. A questionable flag allowed Kansas City to milk the clock to its final seconds, leaving just enough time to attempt a field goal for the win. Their kicker Harrison Butker had a rocky season coming back from injury, this game no exception. He had even missed an earlier field goal that would have made this current attempt at immortality moot. But as he lined up, I could spot a brown scapular poking out from under his jersey. It rather spoiled the ending.

As Butker ran into his teammates’ arms in triumph, it suddenly all seemed so beautiful. The jingoism, the country singer, the cameos, the mélange of pharmaceuticals coursing through Patrick’s ankle, AOC and Charlie Kirk, dads and Rihanna. Even Terry Bradshaw’s ridiculous little Peaky Blinders hat filled me with the milk of human kindness. It is a lesson in Grace; even when we fail in our fallen state, God will set us up with a chip shot field goal anyway. Because not only does he want us to succeed, he especially wants Philadelphia to lose.