Super Bowl Meditation
Above Image: Martin Parr. USA. Abilene Christian University Wildcats at Oklahoma, join in pre-match prayer. 1995.
To start, consider this koanic dialogue, adapted from the Japanese tradition: The student asks, "What wins championships?" The master responds, "A wide receiver that can fly will never die." The student asks, "Wide receivers win championships?" The master responds, "The special teams unit is appropriately named." The student asks, "The special teams unit is most important?" The master responds, "Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said it best." The student asks, "Oh, defense is the key to victory?" The master responds, "The locks change every year." The student asks, "So every Super Bowl is different?" The master responds, "The pigskin was never made of pig."
Koan’s are meaningful only in that that they are meaningless. They are unsolvable riddles meant to frustrate your inner logician to the point of surrender. So, surrender then. Soften your focus, like a running back after a linebacker hits him with enough force to break down the average suburban front door. Release your grip, like a quarterback after a lineman karate chops his throwing arm so hard that the synapses force his hand open. Loosen your legs, like a tight end after a chop block renders him momentarily numb from the waist down. Or, in other words, relax.
Eli Reed, USA. Illinois. Chicago. 1998. Football practice at Martin Luther King High School on the side of the road. The football field is scheduled for completion in 2000.
Now that we’re working with an empty mind and an open heart, close your eyes. Imagine you are a player on the field, maybe a free safety. It’s 4th and goal, because of course it is. There’s a minute left in a tie game, because of course there is. Listen to your labored breathing, every inhale and exhale amplified within the confines of your helmet. While the opposing quarterback makes a few adjustments at the line of scrimmage, reflect on the fact that nearly every moment of your life was oriented by the remote possibility that this moment might come. And here it is. Welcome. You’ve arrived, and holy shit, you recognize the offense’s formation from the hundreds of hours you’ve spent in a dark room watching game tape. You know exactly what they are about to do.
Martin Parr. USA. On the sidelines before a football game at the University of Central Oklahoma. 1995.
The quarterback finishes audibling, settles behind the center, and suddenly, your vision blurs, and you are no longer just you, the free safety who is about to be the most celebrated athlete of the next 24-hour sports news cycle. You are also a fan in the nosebleed section who is noticing that the free safety—about the size of an ant from this distance—is sneaking toward the left side of the field as if he suspects that’s where the ball is about to be thrown. You’re not straddling these two perspectives. You have two feet firmly planted in both. That is, you are now simultaneously inside the game and outside of it. Participant and observer. Subject and object. Man and God.
It occurs to you that you might actually be Jesus Christ. But the quarterback has just called ‘HIKE,” so you set that possibility aside for now because you have work to do. You turn and sprint toward the back corner of the endzone. When you get there, you turn back around and look to the sky. There it is. It’s exactly where you thought it would be, exactly where it’s supposed to be, as if this game makes perfect sense, as if it was already written.