In times of crisis, people fall back on their "highest" ideology. For a large number of people, this is their religion. In class we discussed, then, how atheists might see their beliefs as religion, or not, and spent some time (but not long enough) thinking about what might be a person's ultimate reference frame, if it's not religion. We mentioned a couple of things like nationalism, but I don't think that's properly ultimate, for a worthwile existence.
In the context of the country at war with itself that united over football, I don't think that's quite the same situation. They were in a crisis state the whole time, and I think the unification through nationalism came because people were sick of fighting and just wanted something else to pay attention to. It's not like they were like "OMG fighting suxorz! lets do futbol." The religions persisted.
Anyhow, I have a few other ideas for what a "lowercase" atheist might have as their ultimate reference frame, though of course I'm far from the authority on this sort of thing. To my mind, these things (for most people) would have to be some sort of something that involved morality, since that's what underlies most of human behavior and existence. What would fit, then, is some sort of secular religion. Ones that come to mind are environmentalism, capitalism, communism, socialism, secular humanism, classical morality, MMORPGs, etc. Just some ideas. I'd like to hear from some lowercase or Uppercase atheists about how they feel about that.
Also, I feel like people who are "half-assed religious" can share that ultimate frame with one of these other secular things. I'm pretty sure I do, but I don't know which one, or the ratio. I've never thought about it before.