(JTA) — Rabbi Daniel Alter expects some added fervency during daily prayer services at the Denver Academy of Torah in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.
Alter, the academy’s head of school, recalls that when the Colorado Rockies faced the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 World Series, his students were more focused on prayer than ever before.
“That created a conversation on the role of prayer,” Alter said. “It brought up questions: Does God care? We probably will be having some of those conversations in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.”
With the Denver Broncos set to face off against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, it’s likely Jewish students in Colorado won’t be the only ones praying with a little extra zeal this week.
A poll taken earlier this month by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 22 percent of respondents believe God plays some role in the outcome of sporting events.
In its sampling of 1,011 adults, the Washington, D.C.-based organization found that 26 percent of respondents pray for God’s intervention to help their team and that 48 percent completely or mostly agreed that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.
Daniel Shapiro, the strength and conditioning coach for the men’s basketball team at the University of Washington, would seem to be among them. Players and coaches for the Huskies regularly assemble for pregame prayers, a tradition maintained by many in pro and college sports, including two that Shapiro has coached: the Sacramento Kings of the NBA and the University of Dayton. But Shapiro, who was at the Jan. 19 NFC championship game that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, says the prayer ritual is less a request for divine intervention than an acknowledgment of a higher power.
“One thing I’ve noticed is, they never pray for a win. They pray that everyone stays uninjured and that He lets us give our best effort, which I think says a lot,” Shapiro said. “My take is it’s not up to God. If you pray for a win, and then don’t [win] — then what? He let you down? It’s more about we acknowledge your presence.”
Larry Bensussen of Bellevue, Wash., who will be attending the game on Sunday at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, said he doesn’t think God cares much about the game’s outcome either. But like the 21 percent of respondents in the religion survey who say they don a favorite jersey when viewing sports, Bensussen said he is superstitious about what he wears for big games.
On Sunday, Bensussen will be attired in the No. 54 jersey of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and a proven good-luck pair of pants, along with plenty of warm clothing for the first-ever cold-weather, outdoor Super Bowl.