Just Being a Good Sport? Or Blasphemy? You Decide

We are now entering the 2013 football season. During the games of this season two seemingly innocuous, but nevertheless sacrilegious, puns are directed toward our Blessed Mother, the “heart” of the Holy Family. These commonly used little insults, namely the “Immaculate Reception” and the “Hail Mary pass,” will be paraded out in full force by sports commentators on television sets throughout the nation.

The term “Immaculate Reception” was coined following a December 23, 1972, divisional playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. With only twenty-two seconds left, the Raiders were ahead by a single point. Franco Harris caught a game-winning touchdown pass that had bounced off another player just before the ball was about to hit the ground. This “miraculous” ending led to the infamous moniker called the Immaculate Reception, a play on the Immaculate Conception, the dogma proclaiming that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ and the Son of God, was conceived without original sin.

The Immaculate Reception moniker was first used publicly by Myron Cope, a Pittsburgh sportscaster. He thought that changing Conception to Reception was not only clever but humorous as well. However, Cope was initially hesitant about using this on his show. Perhaps he was concerned how the Church Militant would respond to what could be interpreted as an insult, to this sacred dogma? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the Church would not only have voiced abhorrence to such an insult, but would have demanded a public apology for such brazen behavior. The Catholic Church had moral authority back then, and mocking its dogmas could lead to serious repercussions. But this was 1972. A change in the Church’s ecumenical thinking was now in full swing. Cope might have recognized that the once Church Militant had now softened and was more concerned with embracing the world rather than standing forthrightly against those evils that were corrupting it. Whatever his thoughts might have been, Cope decided to take a chance. He used the term “Immaculate Reception” on his television show. It was not only well received, but has endured until this day. In fact, a statue of Franco Harris catching the “Immaculate Reception” pass is in the Pittsburgh International Airport for all to see.

In our upside down world, many would consider the changing of the Immaculate Conception to the Immaculate Reception as a harmless little joke. They would argue that poking a little fun at the Church and its beliefs is nothing to get alarmed over. Good sports recognize this and know how to “go along to get along,” rather than over-react to a little Catholic ribbing. The secularists would insist that people should not take their religion too seriously if they want to get along with others. After all, that is what being ecumenical is all about.

But there is another dimension to be considered. Would Jesus Christ consider the “Immaculate Reception” to be a harmless little joke? On the contrary, the Son of God most certainly considers it to be a serious insult to His Mother, who was conceived without original sin and brought Him into this world to save mankind? Over the centuries, Christ has repeatedly sent His Mother into this world, warning mankind about the chastisements that would be inflicted upon us if we failed to follow His laws. Does this sound like a God who would “laugh off” irreverent wordplay about the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth? How would He react to those who participate in this unholy charade, especially those of us who have been reared in the Catholic Faith and should know better?

Yes! The Immaculate Reception entered the world unscathed and even heralded by football enthusiasts across the country. It not only became an accepted part of American football folklore, but it opened the floodgates for other insults that would be directed toward Our Lady. Three years after the Immaculate Reception, on December 28, 1975, another playoff game took place between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were leading the Cowboys with only twenty four seconds remaining. The Cowboys had the ball at midfield. Roger Staubach, the Cowboy’s quarterback, threw a fifty yard pass that was caught for the winning touchdown. Staubach was interviewed by the press following the game. He was quoted as saying, “I got knocked down on the play….I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”

Staubach, who is a practicing Catholic, meant no disrespect when he made this comment. In fact, he was probably earnest in seeking her assistance in his quest for this victory. However, it is unlikely that the secular press would have viewed it in this light. To them, the Hail Mary became the new moniker for every desperation pass thrown in the last few seconds of a football game in which the odds of winning were very small indeed. It is unlikely that they would have considered that the Hail Mary is a most revered prayer, the first part given by God Himself. Rather, the Hail Mary pass became the newly coined phrase to replace the “alley-oop” and the “long bomb” as the last ditch effort to win a football game. Like the Immaculate Reception, there were no complaints about the light-hearted way in which the Hail Mary was treated. The term caught on and continues to be used today.

To add insult to injury, the greatest Hail Mary pass that was ever thrown occurred on November 23, 1984. Boston College, a Catholic institution, played the University of Miami on this day. Boston College was losing the game with only six seconds remaining. Doug Flutie, their quarterback, threw a forty-eight yard desperation pass toward the end zone, which was caught for the winning touchdown. Again, the Hail Mary pass moniker was paraded out in full force in describing the play. In fact, Boston College commissioned the construction of a statue of Doug Flutie, who is a Catholic, commemorating his throwing of the pass that led to their victory. On the base of this statue, there is a sign referring to the Hail Mary pass in quotes. This statue is proudly displayed on the campus today. The Hail Mary moniker had become accepted and quite common since the Dallas Cowboy’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings nine years earlier. As a result, no one seemed concerned that treating the Angelic Salutation in this fashion could be viewed as sacrilegious to those inside the Catholic Church and scandalous to those outside of the Church.

While many would contend that the preceding is “no big deal,” the important point to consider is how Jesus Christ, the Son of Our Lady, would view this irreverence. What would He think about the Hail Mary prayer being treated in this regard? Would He view this as a harmless little usurpation to be ignored or “blown off” in the spirit of good sportsmanship? Concocting clever rationalizations and “going along to get along” will hardly be acceptable when God finally judges out true motives and the results of our actions.

Blasphemous language and behavior is sacrilegious. It shows contempt for God and His Church, thereby depriving Them of the sacredness to which They are entitled. The Hail Mary, which is an integral part of this Holy Tradition, is as follows: “Hail Mary. Full of Grace. The Lord is with Thee. Blessed are Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God. Pray for our sinners. Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Think about these hallowed words and how they have now become associated with a forward pass, once called a “long bomb” by the secular media. Is this just a harmless act of good sportsmanship? Or is it blasphemy?

It is during the Fall, the football season, that we will hear the Immaculate Reception and Hail Mary pass monikers carelessly repeated over and over when a desperation pass is thrown and caught. In fact, the cavalier use of these sacred names has filtered down from not only the professional and college ranks, but to the high school level as well. Consider the following headlines, which recently appeared in the Sport sections of those newspapers covering high school football:

High school team Hail Mary: Escalon edges Pacheco with Hail Mary (Posted on 9/8/013 in USA by Belga News); Cameron the quarterback can’t keep relying on the Hail Mary Pass (Posted on 9/2/013 by The Telegraph); Hail Mary pass dubbed ‘Plain City Prayer’ leads to wild finish (Posted on 9/8/013 by MaxWire National Blog Covering High School in America).

Have we become so spiritually dulled that we fail to recognize that such mockery is an insult to God, His Mother, and the Mother of His Church, even though we may not directly intend it to be so? Cloaking our answer in rationalizations will only worsen the problem. The first step in correcting this insult is to call it by its rightful name. So for the final time, is this just being good sports? Or is it complicity in blasphemy? You Decide

Dear Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, forgive us for so carelessly disrespecting Your Holy Name.

* Current article adapted from No Prayers Allowed at the Game? Quarterly Magazine (2012) published in From The Housetops by The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Saint Benedict Center, Still River, Massachusetts 01467

  • GeneDe

    Our dear Lord exclaims in the Bible: (paraphrasing) when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?

    I think we know the very probable answer to that divine question; one of which will be a very severe justice.

    As for me, I used to love to watch football, but have, for many years now, been very selective due to many factors; one of which is the scantily clad cheerleaders gyrating their female forms when the cameras zoom in, this doesn’t include the sometimes just as bad commercials. This itself is a scandal. But how many fathers watch this with their sons, with little condemnation or explanation? How can a young man develop the proper view of the great gift of the opposite sex? And if a father has daughters, how is this handled?

    What a tangled, faithless web we weave.

  • Bonifacius

    What is the “insult” here? It’s called an “immaculate reception” because it’s perfect. It’s called a Hail Mary pass because the idea of success is little more than a prayer. I’d take it that these are evidence of the influence of Catholicism on American culture, that perfection is associated with the Immaculate Conception (yes, by means of wordplay) and that we associate desperate attempts with prayer to Our Lady. I can understand taking offense at “immaculate reception,” I guess, but “Hail Mary pass” not at all.

  • John Chapman

    Seriously? So many of you Persecution Complex “victims” complain about how the secular world
    edges out religion and refuses to acknowledge that it even exists, and now you’re complaining that elements of Catholicism are given positive publicity?! I can understand people feeling ambiguous about the term “Immaculate Reception” but even then it’s used to denote something outstanding and praiseworthy. The Hail Mary pass I think can hardly be objectionable. Scandalize those outside the Church? Don’t be absurd. You should come off it and ease up a bit. I’m sure God has a sense of humor. He made you didn’t He?

  • schmenz

    If nothing else this naming of trivial sports efforts using sacred phrases is tasteless in the extreme, and it exposes for the public minds that are puerile to say the least. I wont comment on the fascination many Americans feel for a group of, shall we say, intellectual lightweights throwing pigskin around a field for three hours or more (and mostly on Sundays, sad to say), especially when said sports extravaganzas are boring, time-wasting and big business. But when all these “daring” sports stars start using revered Catholic terms to describe their meager accomplishments all one can do is look with pity on such examples of the second-rate.

    Regarding sports in general, spend more time with your children in Little League, soccer and other such wholesome pursuits. Leave the professional sports to the crooks.

  • Bonifacius

    I can never figure out the traditionalist mindset. Catholicism is supposed to pervade and suffuse all our endeavors, however trivial. But on the other hand, where it actually already does pervade and suffuse our endeavors, as in sports, where batters cross themselves at the plate and a long-shot attempt is called a Hail Mary because the quarterback would have to put his trust in the Blessed Virgin to think the play will be successful, then it’s blasphemous. So the traditionalist tries to have it both ways, provided the world is wrong and he’s right, but more importantly, he’s in the querulous minority, which is more important.
    This same site hosts articles about how ladybugs are called that because they’re Our Lady’s bugs. Get that? *Bugs* named after the Blessed Virgin! How terrible!

  • Bonifacius

    Right, an “immaculate reception” is one that is considered extraordinarily well-performed.

  • schmenz

    “Catholicism is supposed to pervade and suffuse all our endeavors, however trivial.”

    And Catholicism should never be trivialized by unthinking, doltish sportscasters either.

  • “It seems that during the Middle Ages, a plague of small insects (probably aphids) attacked the crops, threatening Europe with starvation. The people had recourse to Our Lady, and petitioned her to save them from this plague. In answer to their prayer, a cloud of small, black-spotted, orange-red insects arrived and promptly ate all the offending pests.”

    Do you get that a bug who stopped a plague is more worthy of honor than a good pass or catch?

  • Bonifacius

    But why is the highest endeavor in a field considered so contemptuously here? A good pass or catch is *not* considered trivial within the context we’re discussing. The players on the field, and their fans, are taking it quite seriously. *You’re* the ones who consider it trivial, not the people who use the term.
    And a bug is still a bug.

  • Faithful Catholics try to see the big picture in all things.

  • Bonifacius

    Right, and it was faithful Catholics who originally used the term, because they knew to pray to Our Lady when making such desperate plays: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail_Mary_pass
    Because even football is part of the big picture and belongs to Our Lady’s domain.

  • Having been raised in a non-Catholic family, I had the misfortune of learning the name of the brand of underwear before I learned the term ‘fruit of thy womb’. It’s difficult enough to pray well without these trivialities as distractions. If I err in this matter, it is on the side of caution.

    Now, when are we going to start doing some good?!

  • Bonifacius

    But, once again, that doesn’t have anything to do with insulting the Blessed Virgin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_of_the_Loom#History

    “The Fruit of the Loom brand dates back to 1851 in Rhode Island when Robert Knight, a textile mill owner, visited his friend, Rufus Skeel. Mr. Skeel owned a small shop in Providence, Rhode Island that sold cloth from Mr. Knight’s mill. Mr. Skeel’s daughter painted images of apples and applied them to the bolts of cloth. The ones with the apple emblems proved most popular. Mr. Knight thought the labels would be the perfect symbol for his trade name, Fruit of the Loom — a name that bears resemblance to the phrase “fruit of the womb”, an expression meaning “children”, which can be traced back to use in the Bible (Psalm 127:3).”

    The expression “fruit of the womb” isn’t specific to the Angelus — it’s a biblical expression meaning “children.” Fruit painted on cloth — cloth as “child” of the loom, hence the brand name.

  • Strawmen.

  • Crusader00

    This brings up a reasonable point I had not thought of before. Perhaps the first time it was clever, but the continued use of these phrases is banal.