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Patrick McCaskey, co-owner of the Chicago Bears, recently started Sports Faith International to highlight the important connection between athletics and religion.
BY Father Matthew T. Gamber, SJ
is a co-owner of the Chicago Bears professional football team.
He has recently started an
organization called Sports Faith International to highlight the important
connection between sports and religion. A Chicago native and the grandson of
one of the founders of the National Football League, George Halas, McCaskey is
active on the speakers’ circuit where he enjoys talking about his Catholic
faith and the role it plays in his life as a busy sports executive.
He spoke with Register correspondent
Jesuit Father Matthew Gamber.
Your family business is
professional football with the legendary Chicago Bears. How did that happen?
My grandfather, George Halas,
started the Bears in 1920. He played on the team for 10 years. He coached the
team for 40 years. He was the owner of the
team for 62 years until he died in 1983, at the age of 88. He left the team to
his family. We are trying to extend his legacy. The Bears have nine
championships, 13 retired numbers, 26 Hall of Famers, 75 Pro Bowlers and 695
tell us a favorite memory from your Catholic childhood or teenage years?
parents wove a pattern of hard work and discipline for the lives of their
children. They stitched this pattern with love.
mother always found it amusing when someone asked her how much hired help she
had. That was probably the reason my father nicknamed her “Laughing Girl.” She
did all the cooking and laundry and housework. The only real time she got a
break was when she went into the hospital to have another baby.
those refreshing interludes, Mrs. Passarelli took care of us. Instead of
dinners of hamburgers or hot dogs, she prepared homemade pizza or spaghetti and
meatballs. While waving a wooden spoon covered with meat sauce, she would yell,
“You kids stop fighting.” She never had to tell on us because my parents knew
us very well.
were many fights in our home, and my parents used belts, fly swatters, spatulas
and pizza paddles as instruments of discipline. When my father’s discipline was
thought to be too severe, we buried one of his watches in the vegetable garden.
version of family planning was to have the children born during the Chicago
Bears’ off-seasons. We had seven victories and four ties. Six brothers
eventually shared a bedroom. Each brother had two and a half drawers. Everyone
carved his initials on his drawers, but there were many fights over the halves.
was very important in our home, and chores were an essential part of our
training. Grass had to be mowed, and snow had to be shoveled. Dog pens had to
be cleaned, and vegetable gardens had to be cultivated.
father was not a straw boss. He worked harder than any of his sons. When he
cultivated a vegetable garden and found one of his watches, he could see the
humor of the situation.
of us were raised with discipline and love, and each of us was special.
Is it true
your mother, Virginia Halas McCaskey, has only missed one Bears game?
mother has missed more than one Bears game, including one to attend a
grandchild’s confirmation — letting him know God was more important than
anything else. She is still mad at the bishop for scheduling the confirmation
during a Bears game.
Were you a
football player or athlete?
was a normal Catholic boy: I wanted to play quarterback for the University of
Notre Dame. I was on the 1966 Notre Dame High School varsity football team that
was 9-0 and outscored opponents 341-80. I was the defensive signal caller,
right outside linebacker, blocking back on the punts, and All-American
quarterback. I was also a 4:37 miler. After high school, I had to give up
playing football because of severe eye problems. So I ran cross-country at
Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. I won several races, including the conference
championship, set several records, and made All New England. After corneal
transplants and cataract surgeries, my eyes are fine now, but I still can’t
play quarterback for Notre Dame.
part of an organization called Sports Faith International. What are its goals?
Faith International is a newly launched media initiative dedicated to utilizing
traditional and new media to show the connection between sports and faith. Last
February, my late grandfather, George Halas, Danny Abramowicz and Chris Godfrey
were inducted into the Sports Faith Hall of Fame. On Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009,
Well Mara, Dave Casper and Mike Piazza will be inducted into the Sports Faith
Hall of Fame. We are also looking for Catholic high school athletes to highlight.
characteristics are you looking for in inductees to the Sports Faith Hall of
I would call the virtues of St. Paul: effort in competition, discipline,
resilience, concentration, team work, sacrifice, fair play, respect for rules,
confidence, determination, leadership and respect for others.
What do you
do to keep your faith active and strong?
go to church and Bible study. There are 1,328 chapters in the Bible. If I read
26 chapters a week, I can read the Bible in 51 weeks and have a week off for
spring break. Sometimes I have to read 100 chapters in order to get up-to-date.
team chaplains and priests who travel with the team. How do the players respond
to the presence of the clergy as part of the Bears?
players appreciate the clergy and the opportunities to have fellowship. We have
Mass and chapel service four and a half hours before kickoff, home and away. We
also have a players’ Bible study on Friday afternoons after practice.
give an example or story of when you have been glad to have a priest with the
Communion before Super Bowl XLI, the priests let me speak.
said, “I was tempted to call former girlfriends and say, ‘If you had married
me, you could have gone to the Super Bowl.’ Then I remembered that after Jesus
rose from the dead, he didn’t taunt the people who had rejected him. Let’s win
this championship with sportsmanship.”
recall a time when as a team owner you have turned to prayer?
is a Bears’ prayer: “Bitterness is spiritual cancer. Forgiveness is spiritual
rapture. Weather is a reminder that God is the boss. The Spirit strengthens us
even after a loss. Jesus Christ is the Man; salvation is the plan. When we
dance God’s dance, he gives us another chance. God’s work is efficient; his
food is sufficient.”
“good sportsmanship” evident in the Bears and the NFL?
want to win championships with sportsmanship. We are hopeful that the world
will not end until the Bears have the most championships. Sportsmanship is very
important to us. In the National Football League, players from opposing teams
meet at midfield after games and pray together.
would you give to a young athlete who wants to excel in his sport but also stay
close to the Church?
My advice is to go to faith-based schools on
every level: grade school, high school, college and graduate school. At
Catholic schools, I learned that good character and Gospel values are just as
important as good grades. Athletic ability is a gift from God; one of the ways
to thank God for it is to stay close to the Church.
Father Matthew T. Gamber, SJ,
is based in Chicago.