This is Ruben Israel's third Super Bowl in a row: "Last year was in New Orleans... and the year before in Tampa Bay."
Lucky fan, right?
Oh, no, Ruben doesn't have a ticket; he's more concerned with the action before the game.
As football fans file into the stadium, Israel's game is already underway. He's competing for their attention. His uniform is a pair of foam boards draped over his shoulders by nylon straps, sporting messages about "judgment" and "repentance." He arms himself with a Bible instead of a pigskin, and he does more talking than running around or hitting.
"We go to a church called Bible Believers, and the emphasis is preaching, and that's what we do." But it's preaching to the unconverted that they're concerned with, so events like the Super Bowl take top priority in their schedule. "Our church meetings are not on Sundays, because usually Sundays we're out someplace. So they're on an off day. Everything's geared so we can preach."
On this particular Super Sunday, Israel is spreading his church's message from just below the trolley station at Qualcomm in a section of parking lot fenced off specifically for protesters. The area is adjacent to a route that ticket holders must traverse leading up to the site's security gates, giving demonstrators a decently conspicuous location for their activities. The "protest zone" was even replete with an ear-crackling public-address system. A similar zone was provided next to the Convention Center for the week leading up to the game. Israel was impressed with the provisions. "I think the police department here in San Diego did a superb job," he praised.
In the aggressive demonstration game, the venerable Israel rarely sees anything new. "We've been doing this for an incredible amount of time. After awhile, the police and some of these other guys know what we're about."
If there's a major event, you can be sure that a Bible Believer contingent will be there-from the Academy Awards to the Super Bowl to major peace marches. "We have 24 chapters nationwide," Israel says. "I pick my phone up, and there are guys just like me at it. I don't have to be there, but my fingerprints are all over the place. And so every weekend, somewhere in this nation, there's two or three events going on just like this.
"For this particular event, [our message] is tailored towards football," he said. ""You guys are gonna be penalized when you stand before God. It's not going to be 15 yards. It's going to be hell.'"
Other times, things take a more radical tone. Israel advocates an almost militant form of Christianity; war is necessary, and not so evil. He was at the anti-war rally in Washington D.C. earlier this month, booming his baritone call over the heads of peace activists. "We were there to protest the protesters," he quips. "When people hear about wars and see a little baby being killed, everybody wants to stop and not do it. But the reality is, that's war. War's ugly, its bad. Nobody wants it. And so, as Christians, we try to give that different perspective."
This put Israel at odds with another fac
tion on Sunday-protesters not thumping Bibles were taking a stand against impending war in Iraq. A group comprised primarily of Arab-Americans led the charge at Qualcomm. "Since 9-1-1," Israel says, similar groups have become his nemeses at events throughout the country.
And Israel sees the anti-war tide rising. "I would say, as of the past month, it's really mushroomed a lot more," he says. "I would say, it would be like nothing in the '60s, like the peace rallies in the '60s. I would say it's not even anything as far as [being comparable to anti-war sentiment during] the Gulf War. But it's working its way that way now."
At events such as the Super Bowl, however, Israel can relate to his fellow protesters in at least one respect: they're all facing tremendous indifference from the fans. Raider Nation showed the activists a much stiffer defensive front-manned primarily by Apathy, Lethargy and Irreverence-than their team showed the Buccaneers on the field. Says Israel, "What's shocking is most of the people will get more emotional over the football game today than the reality of heaven and hell or the war in the Middle East. That's more shocking. That just shows you the x-ray of humanity in America today."
Maybe some activists knew a thing or two about football fans. The protesters Sunday numbered approximately 30, and totals were sparse at other organized rallies throughout the county over the weekend. Asked if he was surprised by the small turnout, Israel responded, "This is about average that show up [for a Super Bowl]."However, this is all just part of Ruben Israel's self-appointed rounds. Neither a lack of compatriots nor a lack of interest from his audience is likely to deter him from his next big event. "Rejection is part of Christianity," he says. "We take it because we have big shoulders."