Rational people, who understand little of the world and of themselves, have once again been mystified, this time by the flood of fervor over the Washington Redskins.
Rational people do not understand the connection between near-hysteria in the capital ("John Riggins Is God," as a sign perceptively put it) and the dark deeps of the human spirit. The rationalist, who rarely makes much effort to understand his benighted brothers, does not understand these common outpourings and supposes that Elvis Presley, Savonarola, Hitler and Joan of Arc were all raised to the heights by the media, when the obvious fact is that the media (in all times and all places) are a good two years behind in matters of this sort.
The poet Pindar has always been accounted a master, even though he wrote about nothing except runners winning races at Greek games (the games themselves were religious events, of course). Rationalists have sometimes tried to hint that this powerful verse was accounted for by his fascination with young male athletes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. That poet was determined to identify with strength, with struggle, with self-discipline and with triumph, which (Pindar insisted) affected not only the athlete but the entire world about the athlete, and affected it for the good.
That is a purely mystical notion.
A rational man would fail to see how a runner (at Corinth, Olympia or Pasadena) could affect the whole state. Sure, it's nice the guy won, but then somebody had to win, and the rationalist would even go so far as to congratulate him, just as you might congratulate a guy for being promoted to deputy assistant alternate Sunday editor. But you would not go out of your skull with joy, and you wonder why anybody else does.
What is lost sight of by rationalists is the spiritual, mystical and religious aspect of the Super Bowl.
I do not mean this victory was comparable to the Resurrection or anything like that, but I do mean that whenever masses of people identify so strongly with a team that winning a game is felt as a deliverance, then we are not really talking about athletic skill or luck, but are talking about that very impulse of the spirit that underlies religion.
And that is neither good nor bad in itself. In religion it means identification with the divine. With the Redskins, it means a similar identification with the semidivine (as for example, self-discipline, beauty, vigor, passion, pain accepted and overcome, and ultimately, triumph).
Just as there is a leap of faith in religion, beyond what is probable in a laboratory or by logic, so there is the same leap of mystical faith in the Super Bowl celebrations. There is no way to prove a connection between a team winning a ball game and a city's sense of enriched brotherhood and general joy.
Such a development is only possible by a purely mystical and purely irrational decision that we are the team and the team is us.
Those who are rationalists fail to see how easy it is for the average large-bottomed desk man (whose last large exertion was turning off a faucet) to identify with any running back, any hog. And you either understand how easy that is if you're a spiritual type or you don't if you're a rational type.
It is possible only if you believe there is something more to life than the sum of arms and legs and Cheetos bags. It is possible only if you believe there is a life common to all, in which everybody shares (no matter how different in one way or another) what flows through mankind in general.
And yet we do not see it in dogs, glorious creatures though they be, nor in rationalists. Where does this common spirit come from? Squirm as you may, it comes down to a totally improbable notion that there is an Ideal or Perfect consciousness in which men at large all partake.
Hence I was not surprised to see the sign, "Riggins Is God," which, whatever else you may think of it, undeniably shows that somebody out there sensed the connection between the game and the spirit of man. Also, you see all these menus in restaurants headed by "Broiled Dolphin, the Redskin Breakfast," which is as close to a totem meal as anybody dares. The Redskins eat the Dolphins and we eat the Dolphins and become mystically identified with the 'Skins. Later, I suppose, there will be "Roast Hog, the Perfect Food," since classically you eat not the god's enemies but the god himself.
I saw on television a slow-motion film of Riggins running and a male voice sang "You Are So Beautiful," in reverent tones. A trifle embarrassing, I thought, but perfectly understandable in quasispiritual terms.
And I have read endless comments in the press about the "great gift" we have been given by the 'Skins, and the unity procured unto us by the team, and the words "heretic" and "true believer" have appeared more than once. These are all perhaps subconscious acknowledgments of the religious aspect of the Bowl.
I have been asked, by the way, who John Riggins is by a highly intelligent, alert, normal, healthy young reporter. Riggins is not (as one might say in a moment of hasty confusion) that Dallas quarterback who was injured. Riggins is the running back of the Redskins. Or, if your mystical taste prefers, god. graphics/ Rationalists fail to see how easy it is for the average large-bottomed desk man to identify with any running back, any hog. Illustration, no caption, by Susan Davis for The Washington Post