Class called to order. For those late stragglers who were detained by the usual early morning transoceanic traffic jam, this is Anthropology 101, Ancient American Rituals, and today we're holding an oral pop quiz on Chapter Seven, late 20th century religious festivals.

All right, for starters, I have here in my hand an artifact retrieved from the ruins of the Domed Temple of Detroit, similar to one discovered a few years ago in the digs around the Domed Shrine of ancient New Orleans. Can anyone identify it? You there, on the 33rd tier, waving your mini-microwave dish.

STUDENT: I can't exactly see it from here, but does it have the scripted cipher Official Wilson on one side, and the inscription, Pete Rozelle, on the other?

PROFESSOR: Suppose it does?

STUDENT: Then I'd say it was the sacred relic that Americans of the 20th and 21st centuries called a football. Specifically, the NFL model, 13 ounces when inflated and the venerated centerpiece of their supreme national holiday.

PROFESSOR: Which was called?

STUDENT: Super Sunday.

PROFESSOR: Okay, you, on the second tier, in the Famolare leather headset. When did Super Sunday occur and what was so special about it?

STUDENT: It took place annually, either the second or third week of every January, depending on the oracular judgment of the high priest, Rozelle, who was called Commissioner. Now, as to what made it special, the ancient Americans had for some time been on the market for a mid- winter bacchanal on the order of the Roman Feast of Mithra, a day when they could gather family and friends together to eat, drink . . .

PROFESSOR: Hold it right there, young lady. Didn't they have Christmas and New Year's Day, not to mention the bacchanal of the Eve before?

STUDENT: True, but Christmas had become commercialized into what they called a "hassle," and New Year's Eve, in the vernacular of that time, was a "drag." They were obligatory holidays, not true celebrations. You had to buy presents, send out cards, attend parties where you met people you weren't really interested in and talk to them about things you really didn't care about.

PROFESSOR: What you're saying, then, is that unlike other ancient American holidays, Super Sunday wasn't commercial.

STUDENT: That's not what I'm saying at all. As a matter of fact, with the possible exception of Mother's Day and Father's Day, Super Sunday was the most blatantly commercial holiday of them all. During the religious ceremony itself--the ritual they called the Super Bowl--all Rozelle's clergy did was make commercial pitches for beer, automobiles, electric razors, colognes, you-name-it. But it was different, you see, because the holiday itself didn't make any immediate demands on its celebrants. Not even conversation. All they had to do was sit back, eat, drink, watch and emit an occasional roar.

PROFESSOR: Roar?

STUDENT: A primal sound, either about some aspect of the ritual or the clergy who were describing it.

PROFESSOR: I see. Not a bad recitation, young lady, considering that Super Sunday was primarily a holiday for ancient American males. Or was it? You up there on the 85th tier, next to the solar reflector. Tell us what you know about the Super Bowl ritual symbolized by this deflated spheroid artifact.

STUDENT: Well, for one thing, it was the ultimate in games, which, as we know, the ancient Americans tended to equate with spirituality. This was especially true of football, which was played in the fall and winter of the year, between teams representing--now on this point, the archaeological juries are still out--either city-states or religious orders.

PROFESSOR: For example?

STUDENT: Hmmm . . . Okay, take Super Bowl XVI. Or maybe it was XIX. They always dressed them up in Roman numerals, understand, to impress the worshipers. Anyway, it was played between the Society of St. Francis and the secular Order of Cincinnatus, in the Domed Temple of Detroit. The ritual itself, I might mention, was viewed in the flesh by only a limited number of ancient American patricians holding inner Temple privileges. Most of the worshipers watched it while gathered around their home or neighborhood television shrines.

PROFESSOR: Exclusively male worshipers?

STUDENT: No, sir. In the low- numeraled years, perhaps, but by the early 1980s, there were almost as many female celebrants as male. The women, you see, had come to realize that Super Sunday meant the last meaningful football game of the season, and their families would be reunited again after months of enforced religious separation.

PROFESSOR: All right, let's get down to the ritual game. Say, it was between the Society of St. Francis and the Order of Cincinnatus. When it was over, what social or spiritual values did it reinforce for the ancient Americans? You over there, in the Styrofoam sports jacket.

STUDENT: You mean, what did it prove? The most important thing in the world as far as Americans were concerned. It ended all religious arguments--at least until the following Super Sunday--as to which city- state or order could claim, Enumerati Primi.

PROFESSOR: Come again?

STUDENT: The ancient American cry, "We're No. 1"--invariably uttered by members of the winning team, with the ritual index finger of the right hand held skyward.

PROFESSOR: In supplication to the gods?

STUDENT: No. For that, they just waved into the camera and said, "Hi, Mom."