So, this Sunday is the Big Game. (Since the NFL likes to come down hard on those who do not pay to use the official name of their championship game, we will refer to it here as the Big Game. Or Superb Owl LII.) Parishes with Sunday evening Mass may want to think about moving it into a side chapel this Sunday. The eyes of the nation will be glued to NBC to watch the New England Patriots battle the Philadelphia Eagles for football’s coveted Lombardi Trophy.  Well, some will be watching to see who wins the game. Others will tune in to see who wins the Puppy Bowl or what commercials are the best.

Whatever the reason for watching or who one is rooting for, the Superb Owl commands the attention of more people than will attend church in the United States this Sunday. That’s ALL churches–Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant. (See this article for some very interesting insight into church attendance.) As a matter of fact, twice as many people will worship at the altar of NBC Sunday night than will attend all churches in the U.S. that morning.

We could discuss how this reflects our culture, the lack of interest in religion and the like from now until the last Budweiser commercial plays, but facts are facts. So let’s start where the people are, and in this case, they are watching the Big Game. And we can’t ignore that or pretend it isn’t true.

St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthian church, “I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” That is the road Bruce Scifres chose to travel. For 27 years, Scifres was the football coach at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis for 27 years before taking over as the executive director of the Catholic Youth Organization for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. While he is no longer directly coaching young men, he is now coaching thousands of coaches who, in turn, coach tens of thousands of young men and women in nine different sports in and around Indianapolis.

“When we teach kids to play for a “higher purpose,” extraordinary things happen,” said Scifres. “As a coach, I spent a lot of time convincing our players that they had a duty and an obligation to give their very best at all times. In doing so, they will bring pride and honor to their parents and loved ones. Perhaps more importantly, there is no better way to thank God for our many blessings, both physical and mental, than to make the most of our God-given abilities each day. I used to tell our players before every game, “Take God with you on every play. Say a quick prayer before the ball is snapped each time. Ask for courage, focus, toughness, or intensity… whatever you need on that play!”

Scifres continues, “I also told them never to ask for victory, because I really don’t think God cares who wins high school football games, but I do think He wants us to always give our best to make the most of our gifts. I would also tell them to “Play every play like a man in God’s eyes, because His are the ones that count!” As our guys played their last game for us and the last whistle had blown, I would always encourage them to “Take God with you on every play… in everything you do…throughout the rest of your lives. It will serve you well.”

Oral Roberts, the great tent revivalist, evangelist and faith healer, would say, “The sports page is the Bible to many people in this country. Thus, we need to find a way to get the Gospel on the sports pages.” That is why he placed such emphasis on excellence in the athletic programs at Oral Roberts University.

As you prepare for the Superb Owl this Sunday evening, think of how you can get the Gospel on the sports pages for those around you. It might be inviting friends to watch the game with you that could then lead to deeper conversations at another time. It might be volunteering as a youth coach in your town. Perhaps it is making sure your son or daughter has a coach that will teach more than just the basics of the sport.

The following video introduces you to Bruce Scifres and his focus in making football more than just about the final score of the game. Even if it is the Big Game, Superb Owl LII.

(Go Eagles.)