It's that time of year again, when an estimated 130-140 million Americans will tune into at least part of the Big Game. An event of this enormity challenges us here at to provide some sort of Jewish spin.

So I called together a few people in the central office here in Brooklyn for an impromptu brainstorming session. (Considering that football is very much a team game, it's kinda appropriate that a blog post on the topic should be a team effort...) Here are the results:

The Forward Pass

Menachem Posner, a veteran member of our site's Ask the Rabbi team, recalled reading that the "forward pass," a staple of modern-day football, was not part of the original game of football. A little digging on the net on my part confirmed his memory: during the first decades of collegiate and professional football, only lateral passes were allowed. The ball could only be moved forward, past the line of scrimmage, by a player running with the ball. In 1906, the rules were changed, and the forward pass became legal. This change was implemented because many players were injured or even killed (!) while playing, due to the crush of players converging to tackle the rushers. The forward pass – originally ridiculed – opened up the game, and also allowed for spectacular 50-yard passes.

The Lesson: When trying to get the ball to the end zone, you can do it slowly and methodically, running with the ball as fast as your legs will take you—all while trying to stay clear of all the tackles seeking to throw you to the ground. Or... you can throw the ball way ahead. Life – like football – has to be a mix of both elements. Meticulous movement forward, and the occasional quantum forward pass. Even if you then get tackled, the yardage you've gained is yours to keep... (And then there's always next play.)

Game Time

The editor of our Audio and Video sections, Shmuel Lifshitz, in his youth a Bengals fan, took a few moments off his busy schedule to share this thought:

The average football game takes around three hours. That is the time that elapses from the opening kickoff till the clock runs down at the end of the fourth quarter. But how much of that is actual playing time? Around 11 minutes. Yup, zero in on the time spent between the time the ball is snapped and the moment the play is whistled dead, tally all the plays together, and you'll get around 11 minutes of action. Or around 6% of the total time.

What occupies the rest of the time? Commercials, player huddles, instant replays, commercials, timeouts, halftime, commercials, players milling around waiting for a play...

The Lesson: What's really important is not necessarily that which occupies most of our time. That half hour a day you spend studying Torah, the hour you spend with your family, the minutes you devote to prayer—that's the action. All else is just the hype that surrounds, pays for, and facilitates the action.

(Football fans: Aside for the 11 minutes of action, you too could be watching the banquet. Scroll up for the link. Even if your team is losing, this is a winning team everyone can cheer for.)

Defense or Offense?

My turn.

A while back I was at a friend's house and a football game was on. My friend kindly offered to explain the game to me. (Coming from Detroit, I have no incentive to be a football fan, and was never too versed in the game.) He explained to me that there is a "defensive line" whose members try to tackle the quarterback. And then there's the "offensive line," whose job it is to protect the quarterback against the defensive line, and prevent him from being sacked.

I was initially confused. The defensive line is on the offensive, and the offensive line is defending! I guess this is what's meant by "The best defense is offense" (and vice versa?).

The Lesson: Offense needs to incorporate defense (in which case the defense is really just camouflaged offense) and vice versa. Offense = doing good stuff; furthering our life agenda (but thankfully without risking concussions and torn hamstrings, strings that apparently only athletes possess). Defense = being on guard against unsavory influences and habits.

Put on your thinking caps and figure that one out...

Blizzards? Bah!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a lesson I heard from my father, Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg, a few years ago following a notoriously freezing cold football game, well, well below zero, which was nevertheless attended by around 80,000 pumped-up fans.

(Side note: My father will certainly read this blog post, as he does all the posts I write—but will likely understand very little of it. He happens to be one of those whose 6% is more like 60%, leaving little time for sports. Though he does fondly remember the Brooklyn Dodgers games he attended as a child.)

The Lesson: Go to synagogue this Shabbat. No excuses accepted. If you want to go, you will.

How to Secure a $100 Million Contract

After this article was written I sent it off to Tzvi Freeman, a.k.a. Rabbi Infinity, for editorial review. Here was what he had to add to the discussion:

Super Bowl 2008, Giants vs. Patriots. Everyone figured there's no way the Giants have a chance. No one can figure out how they got there in the first place. Yet in the fourth quarter, quarterback Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes, including the winning drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown to Plaxico Burress.

You can see the footage where Eli Manning has the ball in the clear in that final play. You can imagine what's going through his mind. Heart rate tops 180+. The world shifts into slow motion. He figures, "I'm in the clear. I throw the ball, we get a touchdown and the Giants win. I'm the hero of season. I get the biggest contract offered in football history."

That's when players freeze or fumble. As soon as you think of yourself as your own person, you've lost. Everything has to be the team and the game. And Manning had been fumbling a lot that season.

The Patriots have six rushers after Manning. Manning lofts a pass to the end zone where Burress catches the ball to give the Giants a lead with 35 seconds left.

At the end of the game, a reporter asked Manning, "How did you do it? How did you avoid the rush?" He replied, "I made myself small."

Manning recently was offered the biggest contract in football history.

(For two more Super Bowl ideas, see What's so Super about the Super Bowl? and Super Bowl Beer Commercials.)

Do you have any lessons or thoughts you'd like to share?