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Is it okay to pray for a Bucs win? Here’s what religious leaders say.

“Whether (God) has a favorite, Kansas City or the Bucs, you’d have to ask him.”
At Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa, the sign facing Dale Mabry Highway roots for a Buccaneers win in Super Bowl 55.
At Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa, the sign facing Dale Mabry Highway roots for a Buccaneers win in Super Bowl 55. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]
Published Feb. 6, 2021

When his son played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rev. Louis Murphy Sr. prayed with him before every game.

It was something they had done for years, as Louis Murphy Jr.’s football career took him from the high school fields of Pinellas County to college and the NFL.

The elder Murphy, senior pastor at Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist church in St. Petersburg, prayed for his son’s safety. He prayed for his protection, and to help deliver a victory.

So is it okay for Tampa Bay fans to be praying for a Bucs win in Super Bowl 55?

Murphy doesn’t think it’s sacrilegious. But he also doesn’t think God has a favorite team.

“David prayed for victory,” he said, referring to the biblical figure who overcame Goliath. “The children of Israel prayed for victory.... I think God is concerned with every aspect of our lives, but whether he has a favorite, Kansas City or the Bucs, you’d have to ask him.”

As the Super Bowl drew near this week, local religious leaders had a variety of views on the topic.

“I’m never opposed to prayer in general,” Rabbi Philip Weintraub with Congregation B’nai Israel said with a laugh. “However, I believe pretty strongly in free will. I think the results of the Super Bowl are far more about how well people practice than how much people on one team or the other are being prayed for.... I think God has bigger things to worry about than the Super Bowl.”

Weintraub said he believes that God has the capability to be involved in any aspect of life, but that prayer should often lead to action, whether that’s in praying for the strength and endurance of players or for the well-being of more vulnerable communities.

“I believe in God’s compassion and God’s support in all things, but also think it’s a little amusing to pray for the Super Bowl,” he said. “Sometimes we’re the ones answering our prayers. Hopefully, prayer will inspire action not just for football games but for doing good in the world.”

At Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa, the electronic sign on church property says “Go Bucs.” Rev. Len Plazewski, the pastor, said people can pray for whatever outcome they want, but he doesn’t know whether God might take an interest in the big game.

“I don’t know that he’s going to put his thumb on the scale based on that,” he said.

As a football fan, he said, the game is a reminder of gratitude.

“With this year, it’s nice to have something that reminds us of normalcy,” Plazewski said. “We should be grateful to God we’re able to have a season, have a Super Bowl. It’s great we can celebrate this sport that so many of us, myself included, enjoy and look at countless blessings. But also keep the perspective of what’s most important as well.”

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Imam Abdul Karim Ali, president of the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association, said prayer for the well-being of a city and country and its people is always a good thing. But, for this weekend, he is focusing his prayers on the health and safety of all.

“I’m very excited for our area,” Ali said. “We’re grateful and excited our home team is at the game. It’s bringing folks together. It’s a good feeling and good spirit.... We don’t wish bad on anyone, and hope and pray that only good takes place in this event.”

But he added, “Go Bucs!,” in a strictly non-theological sense.

Rev. Clarence Williams, with the Greater Mt. Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg, said it’s a stretch to connect the Super Bowl with religion. But as a former football player, he said wins and losses often bring spiritual lessons. He recalled sitting in a locker room after losing a game.

“When you sit there with the worst feeling you could imagine, only to be magnified with the roars of the other locker room, and you walk back to your bus in loneliness…. spiritually there is a connection.”

Emotions are often teachers, and communal sports like football remind us how we’re connected, Williams said. “I think the Bible teaches us ‘iron sharpens iron.’ It teaches us how gregarious human beings are, how we learn from each other, how we help each other grow.”

It also gives players a pulpit, like preachers, he said, to spread messages of what’s good and important to them.

“Is God a Buc or a Chief? I don’t know you can continue the connection at that point,” he said.

Rev. Murphy also serves as chaplain for the Gibbs High football team, coached by his now-retired son. His grandson is a Gladiators quarterback. While prayer for every aspect of life is important, Murphy said, it’s not always a bad thing when you don’t get the answer you want.

“I think that looking back on my life, my greatest growth has been because of my losses, my failures, not my winning and achieving,” he said. “One has to learn how to lose as well as how to win.”

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