This Is Not God's Team

Love the Rams, but let's keep it earthly

Only a complete fool would publicly utter anything approaching a contrary word about our St. Louis Rams as they head triumphantly to another Super Bowl.

But here goes:

This "Praise the Lord, we won" thing is getting a little old. It would be nice to see at least a modest separation of church and football in this time of civic joy.

A few points should be shouted to the mob of angry townsfolk upon walking this plank.

First: Yours truly is a rabid Rams fan and PSL-holder, a guy who plans his life around games and spends an absurd amount of time thinking, talking and reading about them. This loyalist jumped around screaming like a 10-year-old at Sunday's game and will follow the team to New Orleans this weekend.

Second: The St. Louis Rams are a truly special group of athletes and coaches who give all St. Louisans every reason to burst with pride. It's wonderful that a sports team can bring together an oft-splintered community so seamlessly.

Finally: Satan was not specifically consulted in the preparation of these remarks.

Now, then.

As you probably know, the Rams have a number of deeply religious young men playing for them. They include three superstars -- Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Aeneas Williams -- who take every opportunity to invoke the Almighty in connection with their success. That's terrific, up to a point.

Consider what two of these heroes -- sports heroes -- had to say on the podium Sunday after the team's stirring 29-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football Conference championship game.

When asked how special this victory felt, Warner said:

"We just felt from day one that the Lord placed us in this position for a particular destiny -- this place, this time, for a special thing. And we've got such a great group of guys here that the Lord has assembled and we just give the praise and glory to God. And then we say, 'Thank you, St. Louis!'"

Then Williams, one of the feel-good stories of the year: "This is a special team and all I can do is praise the Lord Jesus."

Two other Rams heroes, Marshall Faulk and Grant Wistrom, also took the podium to speak with fiery emotion, but both kept their comments nonsectarian and earthly. Maybe it's paganism to say this, but it was refreshing to hear these heroes react as if the occasion were no more eternally glorious than a football game.

Warner's statements are worth a particularly close look. If he chooses to use the international stage to spread his earnest message of faith -- which he has every right to do, certainly -- then maybe it's also appropriate to offer equal time to what some will consider the Antichrist's position.

Clearly the Rams are a great group of guys, but when Warner suggested they were "assembled by the Lord" for this "particular destiny," one yearned for some of that "Sports isn't life itself" perspective that was promised after Sept. 11. This edition of the Rams -- one of the best football teams of all time -- was actually "assembled" by general manager Charles Armey, coach Mike Martz and others in the team's front office.

None is to be confused with a deity.

What's special about the Rams is that they are the best of the 31 professional-football franchises in the National Football League. It is not for mortals to know whether they are the holiest or the most spiritual in the NFL -- or otherwise singularly deserving of a particular "destiny" from on high. But here's one God-fearing vote for keeping him out of this entirely.

There's a fine point to be made about Warner's spirituality. It is utterly appropriate, even laudable, for him to share his religious message in the context of his own story. Warner's overnight rise from food-stamp recipient and grocery-shelf stocker to Hall of Fame-quarterback stature is arguably the single most incredible Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story in all of sports history.

What's more, he and wife Brenda have just as quickly become known as two of the finest and most charitable citizens in the community. They are wonderful people, and if they wish to shout their faith from the mountaintops -- and credit the Lord for their ability to persevere -- more power to them and to anyone inspired by them.

But the message should stay outside the lines of a football field. If the Rams' triumph Sunday was a godly matter, what does that say about the Eagles? Were they Satan's choice?

Also, there is the matter of nonbelievers who passionately love the Rams as a football team but would prefer things remained secular at the football stadium. Some will dismiss this as political correctness, but imagine how devout Christians in Los Angeles would feel if, after hitting a home run to win a big game, Jewish outfielder Shawn Green said he was able to do it because the Jews are the chosen people?

Or, better yet, what if a Muslim member of the Rams stood on the podium and offered all praise to Allah -- à la Muhammad Ali (who was hardly popular for doing this). What if he added that Allah had brought the team together for a reason? In today's climate, the Justice Department would be asking questions of Rams' family members.

I'm going to New Orleans this weekend, and I'm going with as much passion and enthusiasm as any of the thousands of others who will proudly represent St. Louis there. We should puff up our chests and party like rock stars all weekend, then sweetly invade the Superdome, home of the despised -- but neither demonic nor saintly -- New Orleans Saints, where we will root, scream and stomp in support of the Rams, in hopes of a victory.

But we don't need to pray for one.

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