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A sports writer explains fan behavior

Is God Wearing a Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson jersey?

Many believe there's a link between sport and the supernatural.

“God, please help my team win.”

How many Broncos and Seahawks fans will utter these words or say this quiet prayer leading up to and during the Super Bowl this Sunday? My guess is a lot.

I never believed that fans—no matter their religious affiliation or what higher power they give honor to—were actually looking for some divine intervention when they made these prayers. I simply felt they were searching for some comfort since they knew they had no control over the game. After reading the results of a survey conducted earlier this month by the Washington DC-based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), I now realize how very wrong I was in underestimating the importance fans place in their sports-related prayers.

It didn’t shock me—in fact, I thought it was a little low—that 21 percent of the 1,011 respondents of this survey “have either a special ritual or a lucky item of clothing they associated with a big game.” Who doesn’t know someone who’s worn the same “lucky” shirt or sat in the same spot on the couch because that’s exactly what is helping his or her team win?

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But what did surprise me is that 50 percent “see some aspect of the supernatural at play in sports, meaning they either pray to God to help their team, have thought their team was cursed at some point in time, or believe that God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events.”

"Football fans stand out in their belief in the supernatural," according to the PRRI.

Fifty-five percent of football fans believe that some type of supernatural force is at play in sports, 31 percent believe their team has been cursed and 33 percent pray for God to help their team.

So the question remains: Will God be wearing a Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson jersey on Sunday? Who knows.

What we do know is that fans who believe in the power of prayer won’t have to wait long to find out if they’re answered.

Matt Beardmore is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger.

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