I was at the Boston Garden well before a Celtic's game and saw Larry Bird walking down the hall.  As he passed, an inner grin welled up.  There he was!  I felt the presence of impor­tance.  It was possibly the stupid­est emotion I have ever felt, but it was real.  He then passed an even more middle aged couple, gave them a self-conscious hero's wink, pulled in his face, flushed and looked at the ground.  He caught him­self playing God.  He was uncomfortable, ashame­d.

I was struck by the religious aura I felt around him.  I was also struck by his very human reaction to his God-like status (how odd it must be to impact others so strongly with so little effort.)  Bird certainly had no qualms about playing God on the court, but I liked the fact that he seemed dis­gusted with himself for flashing the facade of divinit­y in street clothes—outside the boundaries that sepa­rate athlete from spectator.  It made me worship him all the more.

My son Danny dragged me to a soccer game at Foxboro Stadium in order to see his heros—his gods—play a game where you're not allowed to use your hands. 

The stadium was bathed in bright artifi­cial light, warm with connec­tion.  The corporate camp fire.  The lights, I decided, were the sun; the players were the gods, and the gigantic TV screen that showed in­stant re­plays and tire ads, was the bible, the story tell­er.

I had it wrong.

In the midst of trying to fathom this most popu­lar of sports, I felt a familiar electronic distraction—flick­ers of per­fectly packaged electro­nic images and sounds.  Out of the crowd's verbal cacophony emerged a reas­sur­ing male voice, while my eye was captured by an image of people moving with grace and prac­tice.  It didn't fit the visual disarray on the field.

A glance at the gigantic TV revealed an idyllic family scene; people listeni­ng to one another, responding to one another.  Reassuring music.  Just enough camera jerki­ness to simulate the verité of a home movie.  And two women giggling as the scene faded out to give the illusion of spon­tane­ity.      Effort­less impact—like Bird's wink. 

Polished spontane­ity.  Media cool. 

It was just another adver­tise­ment on the gigantic TV screen at one end of the field. 

But it was going on during the game.  Right in the middle of the game! 

Suddenly, there were two events competing for fan atten­tion, and one was a far more prac­ticed, close up seduction.            There were no longer any boundaries between the stadium and the event we were allegedly there to witness.

The player-gods were no longer being brought to us by the sponsor—they were bringing us to the sponsor, who flicked its images of us, at us with the practiced informal­ity of an aw, shucks media hero. 

Fans who complained vociferously ­about the players said not a word about the ads.  The stadium had winked, and we had nodded. 

If events like the Superbowl have become, not occasions to gather with others, but excuses to watch TV, perhaps going to a stadium is just an excuse to watch TV outdoors—a pilgrimage to a familiar god.  An arrogant, grasping, limit­lessly greedy god.  A god with­out boundaries or re­straint.

Bird, at least, had the decency to blush.