I've watched enough postgame interviews to know that what wins football games isn't the quarterback or the offensive line; it's God. So to figure out which team is going to win this year's Super Bowl, I went straight to the guys who serve as middlemen between God and the players. The team with the best chaplain isn't just going to win but, from what I understand about theology, will also totally cover the spread.
Almost every NFL team has a chaplain who runs weekly Bible study and holds a short service on Saturday nights before games. Although I'm sure honesty is a key part of each of their belief systems, it is not a huge part of mine, so I left out the part about wanting to talk to them strictly for gambling purposes.
The Giants' chaplain, George McGovern, is a kindly, white-haired man who is paid by Athletes in Action, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ that places pastors with most of the big football colleges and pro teams. After being a campus chaplain at Rutgers, he worked with the Jets and Mets from 1990 to 1995 before getting traded to the Giants and Yankees. McGovern is going to his third Super Bowl with the Giants, and the Yankees have won five World Series under him. God loves this guy more than he loves Tim Tebow.
I asked McGovern why his speeches have been so much more successful than those of any other George McGovern, but he said he has nothing to do with the outcome of the games. Which seemed like exactly the kind of Job-like humility that God loves. McGovern insisted that when he meets the 25 or so players and coaches--the most attendees in team history--for the Saturday sermons, he doesn't even talk about the game. "It's not a pep talk. It's not a 'God, help us win tomorrow.' I've never heard a player or coach ask for a victory. It's always thanking God for opportunities or health or 'Give us the strength we need to play with passion,'" McGovern told me. I did not like the sound of this. From what I know about the Old Testament, God doesn't respond to the soft sell. He's more of a tie-your-firstborn-to-the-altar kind of guy.
When I asked McGovern to inspire me, he gave me a bit of the 20-minute sermon he delivered the night before the Giants beat the 49ers in overtime. It was actually a very thoughtful, touching talk about fatherhood that quoted Moses and the apostle Paul. But it didn't make me want to win a game. It made me want to skip the Super Bowl party I was going to go to and take my son to the park.
I was about to put a lot of money on the Patriots when I learned that the Patriots are one of the very few NFL teams without a chaplain. They do, however, rely on Don Davis, who was the team's chaplain until 2010, when he moved to Virginia. Davis, who is going to Indianapolis to give the team sermon on Saturday, is a two-time Super Bowl winner and ex-Patriots linebacker. This guy sounded like a King David--level winner, the kind of guy who would talk about parting seas of linebackers and the fact that if God wanted the Giants to beat the Patriots, he would have landed the Pilgrims in East Rutherford, N.J.