John Lennon got in trouble for aptly pointing out that the Beatles were becoming more popular among young people than Jesus.
More than ten years later, Jake Walsh tried to tell me that the Jets weren’t the most important thing in the world. We were walking home together from school.
God, what an asshole, I thought.
“What about Jesus?” he said in that needling voice. “You think the Jets are more important than Jesus?”
I threw up my hands in disgust at such a preposterous comparison. All of a sudden he was a theologian; was I John Lennon? was he Billy Graham? Jesus hadn’t had access to football in his day, as Dad had already pointed out to me - and a good thing, too. Had he been a fan, he would have accomplished very little on Sundays, which was okay because it was technically not his Sabbath, anyway. He would have been a fan of the college game. My unanswered prayers only reinforced my suspicions that He was not a Jets fan, if a football fan at all.
Certainly God must have been a Steelers fan, with old NFL loyalties, since the Steelers had won two of the last four Super Bowls and were on their way to winning it again. Not to mention the Immaculate Reception alone.
Jake loved diming people out. He took my reluctance to answer his theological question as an affirmation. “Hey,” he said to a man raking his yard. “Hey, mister? Here’s a guy who loves the New York Jets more than Jesus.”
The man stopped raking and shrugged. “I’m Jewish.”
“Jewish,” Jake said in response under his breath.
“What?” he said.
We had all learned what prejudice was recently. Saying the word “Jewish” in such a nasty way sounded wrong. Jake was undaunted, though. He wouldn’t give up the battle for Christ’s preeminence. He found a woman walking her child in a pram down the sidewalk. “Lady?” he said running up to her. “Lady, do you think you go to hell if you love the New York Jets more than you love Jesus?”
The woman looked confused, then horrified. Jake Walsh would eventually grow up to be a graduate of Harvard Law, a successful attorney, and no fool. He knew what he was doing. His pitch to the jury was successful. The verdict was: “Why that’s horrible, little boy,” she said to him, stopping dead in her tracks. “Where’s your mother?”
“Oh no, ma’am,” he said, straight-faced, turning slowly, almost reluctantly toward me. “Not me. My friend here, right? He says that the New York Jets are more important than Jesus.”
“No, I didn’t,” I said. “Jake, I hate you.”
“See?” Jake offered.
“Why, what’s your name, son?” the woman asked me tenderly, bending down a little.
“Jake,” I said.
Jake shook his head with exasperated sorrow. “That’s my name,” he said. “See? He’s a liar, too.”
She straightened up a little. “Well, I don’t know what’s going on here,” she said, looking at me, “but I think your mother would be very…,” she shivered a little, “…very upset to hear such things. I don’t care how important the New York Giants are to you.”
That only made it worse. “Forget it,” I said.
“I will not.” She seemed unusually old for a woman with an infant, but it may have been those cat’s eye glasses that nobody but my Aunt Ann still wore. Without a priest present to guide her, she figured out what my penance should be. “I think you should go right over to that statue of Jesus over there,” she said, pointing toward St. John's Church.
“I want you to kneel and pray in front of it. Do it now. Both of you.” She looked at Jake. “You go and pray for your friend.”
“Oh I will,” said the Devil himself. “I promise.”
She made us go; from across the street she stayed still and made sure we went to Jesus and knelt at His feet. Though I did not understand the concept of irony, something within told me that the generic, white-stoned, Anglicized Jesus, with His arms raised in benediction, looked a good deal like a referee signaling a touchdown.
“You’re an asshole,” I said to Jake, pretending to pray. “An asshole.”
Jake’s saintly expression had yet to leave his face, even still. He leaned in, and pointed to the Man In Question. “Are you talking to me or to God?”
“I hate you.”
“That’s a sin, too. Hating’s a sin.” The prosecution rested.