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Punt, Pass, Dance, and Pray
"The Lord did not tell me I could not high-step," [Deion] Sanders said. "He did not tell me I could not dance when I get in the end zone. He told me I could dance, but when I get finished dancing just give Him the glory and I said, 'It's a deal.'"
-- The Boston Globe, August 26, 1997
January 29, 2001

Yesterday's Taco Bell Super Bowl XXXV between the Beverly Hills Steelers and the Boise Dolphins set a record for duration: 8 hours, 13 minutes. One reason was the new rule allowing television advertising timeouts after incomplete passes. The main factor, however, was the breathtaking post-touchdown performances.
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Beverly Hills observed the occasion of their first touchdown, scored by running back Rev. Timmy Johnson, with the reverend leading his teammates in the obligatory end-zone prayer meeting. The Steelers obtained Johnson from Baltimore earlier in the season after being penalized repeatedly for not providing a venue for prayer after scores. Johnson and his teammates congregated by the goalpost to huddle on their knees and thank Jesus for backing them in their struggle against the Dolphin eleven. This was followed by an impromptu celebratory dance by the offensive line, featuring trademark NFL moves such as the pelvic thrust, the shaking of the derriere, and simulated intercourse with the artificial turf.

Boise demonstrated in the first quarter that they would have trouble scoring on the famed Beverly Hills defense, and so the burden of celebration fell early on the Steelers. Luckily, they had at their disposal the estimable skills of Clyde Washington, who gathered in a thirty-seven-yard touchdown pass to open the second quarter. Washington, a recent convert to Judaism, erupted into the hora as his colleagues joined hands and encircled him. After the dance, team equipment personnel brought to the end zone a full complement of yarmulkes and tefillin, and Washington led his shoulder-padded congregation in a short service, davening and chanting with true reverence for his accomplishment.

Asked after the game which prayer he had used, Washington confided, "We had to make do with the prayer for the briss. There is as of yet no b'rucha for the in-your-face touchdown catch." Teammate Bud Pounderson, champagne dripping from his great blonde beard to the floor six feet and four inches away, piped in, "Shit, in training camp I didn't know a kaddish from a kiddush."

Near the end of the half Boise got a break that prevented an embarrassing shutout. After Beverly Hills tight end Bill Kryznyk scored on an eight-yard pass, both benches looked to the end zone with anticipation. Kryznyk, an avowed atheist, had drawn penalties throughout the season for refusing to lead his teammates in prayer. It turned out, however, that Kryznyk had prepared a trick play for the Super Bowl: he folded his hands behind his back and observed a secular moment of silence. His teammates, stunned, followed suit nervously, avoiding the gaze of the referees.

Their trepidation was warranted, for as Kryznyk broke from his stance he was greeted with the sight of a bright yellow flag flying through the conditioned air. Silence, after all, is not prayer. Beverly Hills would be penalized fifteen yards on the ensuing kickoff.

Thus starting from excellent field position, Boise managed to move the ball far enough to set up a long field goal; as time ran out in the half the ball end-over-ended through the uprights, and both teams headed for the locker room. No celebration or prayer is required after field goals, except in the final two minutes of the game.

Early third-quarter events assured the crowd that the Boise field goal was not to be the beginning of a comeback. A long Beverly Hills drive resulted in a short touchdown run by Ely Farnsworth, who followed it with a nine-minute hellfire-and-damnation sermon to his blockers, standing tall on the pulpit of his center's back, the latter crouching on hands and knees. After Farnsworth's service the Steelers cleared the bench for an end-zone square dance. Quarterbacks promenaded defensive linemen and guards swung linebackers in a spontaneous eruption of joy at what was now an assured rout.

For the first fifty-five minutes of play, Boise players could only pray from the sidelines. But with five minutes left to play, as sudden as a gunshot, Dolphin fans had a moment of brief elation. Bernie "Rare Gas" Snodgrass, so often calumniated by hostile catcalls of "'Horse's Ass' Snodgrass" in stadiums around the league, hauled in a Beverly Hills punt at his own one-yard line. He dodged three initial assailants, high-stepped his way through a crowd of would-be tacklers, and was on his way. He juked around the kicker at midfield and jogged the final fifty yards, taunting the opposing bench as if the forty-point advantage belonged to his own team. As he reached the goal line his cocky stride transformed seamlessly into nothing less than balletic interpretive dance. His humble beginnings, his rise to local athletic fame, and his garnering of professional riches followed by substance abuse, hospitalized withdrawal, and religious rebirth: all were reenacted as Snodgrass stiffened, bowed, and pirouetted about the end zone as though on a Broadway proscenium.

As Snodgrass dropped to his knees and bowed his head in solitary prayer (his teammates didn't dare dilute his moment of glory), the crowd rose as one to cheer, then cut short in horror at the sight of yet another yellow flag. The referee had called Snodgrass for excessive and premeditated celebration (while celebration is mandatory, it must be spontaneous). As the crowd booed the officials upstairs reviewed the dance on instant replay. Fifteen minutes later the ruling came down: the dance had indeed been spontaneous. Not only was the call overruled, but Snodgrass and the Dolphins were also awarded a two-point conversion for the sublimity of the dance. No one can say that this man's $1.2 billion salary is too high.

As the final whistle blew, some Steelers dropped to their knees in impromptu prayer groups while others formed a chorus line at midfield to kick up their legs and belt out "Jesus Christ Superstar." In the locker room afterward, all forty-five jubilant players and coaches huddled around a wrist computer to participate in President Gingrich's traditional video conference with the winning team.

"God bless your football team," the President intoned. "You showed all the world that a team can change cities three times in a season, replace half its players during the playoffs, and still win a championship."

"Thank you, Mr. President," Coach Deion Sanders said, speaking through his tears. "We just stressed the fundamentals: block, tackle, and pray like hell."


Marshall Jon Fisher is a freelance writer and the co-author of Tube: The Invention of Television (1996). He has written recently for The Atlantic Monthly on computer scams, furniture restoration, and bike-messenger racing, and for Atlantic Unbound on Paris and ecophobia.

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