Left: Max McGee beats Willie Mitchell for the catch in Super Bowl I
Right: Don Beebe catches Leon Lett for the strip in Super Bowl XXVII
But first a little digression. Those who know me know that I am as old as the Super Bowl, at least in the sense that I will turn XLI years old sometime in calendar year 2007. Those who know me really well know that the third or fourth full week of January always brings me some measure of emotional turmoil. For some reason, the Super Bowl seems nearly always to coincide with a memorable event of some sort in my life, for good or for ill. The Super Bowl I'll always remember watching took place on January 31, 1993. Lance and Jayne Bultena came over to what was then my home in Falls Church, Virginia, where we watched the defining play of Super Bowl XXVII: Bills receiver Don Beebe stripping the ball from Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett at the end of what appeared almost certain to be a 64-yard fumble return. The touchdown Lett would have scored would have pushed the score to 59-17 in the Cowboys' favor for a Super Bowl record. But Beebe, his team's fate beyond recovery, never gave up on the play. The resulting touchback remains the most memorable Super Bowl play that had no impact whatsoever on the outcome . . . and immeasurable inspirational impact on viewers.
And so I find myself on the Sunday before the Super Bowl, as much in need of a sermon as in the mood for one. Here it is.
Let's begin with the text of Genesis 4:10-15 (RSV):
 And the Lord said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.  And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.  When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth."This is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Hebrew Bible. (All of Genesis, alas, seems particularly prone to misinterpretation.) Some Protestant denominations and the Church of Latter-Day Saints have struggled to overcome their history of treating this passage as a justification for physical and spiritual abuse of blacks. Misinterpretations of the so-called "curse and mark of Cain" do not concern me. It is patently obvious that the mark of Cain is a protective emblem -- indeed, the last gift that God confers on Cain before the first-born son of Adam and Eve "went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden."
 Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me."
 Then the Lord said to him, "Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.
The true significance of the mark of Cain is that it marks the first instance in the Judeo-Christian canon in which a human protests to God, "No. That is unjust. That punishment is more than I can bear." Among the readers of this forum, I am quite certain that I rank far, far behind Marc Roark (of Livres-Loi) and "Red Lion" in the firmness of my religious faith. I question whether any rational, let alone benign, order rules this world -- except in one respect. I am convinced that firmly reaching the contrary conclusion -- that is, requiring us as humans to live without hope, without redemption, without some sense that justice will prevail -- would inflict greater emotional pain than any of us could bear. The phenomenal ability of human beings to overcome more pain than they can bear may be the only evidence of God that I am able and willing to credit.
And for that reason, if no other, I consider the mark of Cain a blessing rather than a curse. In like fashion the Super Bowl comes to me every year at a particularly difficult time. Every year, between the commercials, the halftime show, and the postgame hysterics, I look for plays that remind me of Don Beebe. As Cain learned, it is a sign, however hard to discern, of divine mercy that life does not punish us in ways we cannot bear. And the Super Bowl, my favorite midwinter ritual, emerges every year like the rainbow after the flood. Even when it's a blowout, the players don't give up. And neither should we. Suffice it to say that I'm pleased to treat the Super Bowl as my personal mark of Cain.