At the start of the 20th Century, less than one percent of the population practiced any sporting activity. Sport was used only as a form of military training or as a pastime for the upper class. To increase participation in sports for the health of society, and help promote the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympics, called upon the Vatican for an endorsement. Pope Pius X readily agreed. "All right," responded the Pope to an audience, "if it is impossible to understand that this can be done, then I myself will do exercise in front of everyone so that they may see that, if the Pope can do it, anyone can do it."
Over a century later the vast majority of the population exercises. Pope Francis, the present Roman Pontiff, had this to say in audience:
In rugby one runs towards a goal. This word, which is so beautiful and so important, makes us think about life, because all our lives lead towards a goal. This search is tiring, and requires commitment and struggle, but the important thing is not to run alone. To arrive at the goal we need to run together, the ball is passed from hand to hand, and we advance together, until we reach the goal. And then we celebrate!
Sports are not only good for our health—Saint Paul spoke of "running the race" (1 Cor 9:24) and the need to present our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Rom 12:1)—there are also moral and spiritual lessons sports instill, as Francis suggests. So, when enjoying the Super Bowl, perhaps we can be grateful to the Church to whom we owe, in part, its popularity.