Reaching for a Higher Goal
Football playoffs are days away. A former New Orleans Saint is concerned about the way Catholic men are playing the real game.
Does football season mean that Sunday Mass gets a back seat to the local NFL team?
Danny Abramowicz doesn’t think so.
The former All-Pro wide receiver challenges men to become more consistent in the practice of their faith. This is a transition he knows about personally: He used to be far more consistent with football than with Catholicism.
After graduation from Xavier University in Ohio in 1969, Abramowicz was drafted in the 17th round in the annual NFL draft. He proceeded to have a successful eight-year career, the most notable years of which were with the New Orleans Saints, who began their quest for back-to-back Super Bowl championships Jan. 8 by taking on the Seattle Seahawks.
When he retired from the NFL in 1975, he held the league’s record for consecutive games with a reception (105). He later became a special teams coach with the Chicago Bears from 1992-1997 and an offensive coordinator for the Saints from 1997-2000.
“Take that same dedication I had and other guys have for sports, and direct it to what really matters, what will last through eternity,” he said. “Sports are great, but they need to be put in proper perspective.”
Abramowicz does have the right perspective today, and he helps other men to have it as well. His chief apostolate is Crossing the Goal, an outreach to Catholic men which includes a show on EWTN by the same name, along with local conferences, “prayer/share” groups and retreats.
Abramowicz authored Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint, released in 2004. He and Claudia, his wife of 44 years, have three children and four grandchildren.
Shortly after taping new episodes for the “Crossing the Goal” show, Abramowicz spoke with Resister correspondent Trent Beattie.
How did you get started playing football?
I started playing football in the sixth grade at St. Peter’s Elementary School in Steubenville, Ohio. We played with leather helmets; I mean they were literally leather. Can you believe that? It was a tough, coal-mining and steel-mining area we grew up in, and sports were a community-building thing there.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in football since you started playing?
The equipment has changed tremendously. The nutrition and training have also changed so much. When I played, our biggest guys were 265 or 275 pounds. My last year in coaching (2000), the smallest guy on our offensive line was 300 pounds.
The rules have also changed in favor of the offense. They used to let the defense “clothesline” you, do all kinds of nasty things, so the scores were lower. Now they score more points because of the stricter rules on the defense, but I still think the key is the team that plays the best defense and special teams.
Do you think we as a country pay too much attention to sports?
Sports are great. Most other TV is trash, except EWTN, of course. But with sports, the programs themselves are decent TV. It’s just that we have to ask ourselves, “How much time are we spending on the spiritual life?”
On a recent flight I was sitting next to two guys, and for four hours they went on and on about fantasy football. If I closed my eyes, I probably would have thought they were 12-year-old boys by the way they were talking, taking it so seriously. Now you’ve talked about sports for four hours, but are you going to give the Lord even one hour at Mass? That’s when all the whining and excuse-making comes up.
What would you tell someone who skips Mass on Sunday in order to watch a football game?
Well, with most of the games, you don’t even have to be there until the fourth quarter to know the result anyway, so it’s not like you have to take a huge amount of time out of your day. There’s still plenty of time for Mass, for putting things in the right order.
For someone who skips Sunday Mass for a game: You’re telling me that God comes after football? The Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, suffered, shed his blood, died, was buried and rose from the dead just so that you could go to Mass if you feel like it?
You’ll have to answer to the Good Lord on Judgment Day. You make the choice; you have free will. People don’t like to think about judgment, about how we’ll all end up either in heaven or hell.
It’s up to the free will of man to decide which place you end up.
Do you think that, while the country as a whole is too devoted to sports, more individual Catholic athletes and coaches are willing to share their beliefs today than in years past?
They are, but Protestants are still better than Catholics at evangelizing. Catholics don’t know how to evangelize, and that’s why we started Crossing the Goal. It’s not about just talking the talk, but how you live your life. Your own actions evangelize your family and those around you. If you’re a God-fearing coach or athlete, that’s an example of a real man.
One of the aspects of Catholicism that has helped you most is Eucharistic adoration. What would you tell someone who is unsure of the efficacy of this practice?
We should receive Our Lord daily at Mass if possible, and then my wife and I go to adoration at least one hour out of the week. You just focus on the Lord. You don’t have to worry about anything but the Lord, and he’ll touch your heart. The idea for my book Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint came to me in adoration, and that’s where Crossing the Goal came from as well.
You learn to walk in the Lord’s ways, deepening your prayer life. In adoration, it’s you before the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the monstrance, so it’s a time of peace, of fulfillment. You’re filled with his Presence.
What are some of the things that Catholic men most need to hear and do today?
I’ve been speaking to men’s groups for 25 years, and men need to be challenged to live their faith. Men tend to think religion is for women and wimps. That’s not true. When I used to stumble out of bars years ago, now that’s a wimp. A real man is someone who takes the initiative and leads his family in the faith. The man is the spiritual head of the family, and women want to be led, not by tyrants, but by loving men who look out for them.
A lot of guys like to be macho and put on a tough-guy show. On the outside, everything looks great, but they’re horrified at the prospect of looking inside themselves. They’re afraid of what they’ll find inside, but what’s inside is what really matters. That’s what we take with us and what lasts for eternity, so that’s where the substance of a real man is found, where virtue originates.
If you go to our website — CrossingtheGoal.com — you can see our resources. We have shows on spiritual warfare, the Our Father and other important topics. We have shows on DVD, playbooks, and you can ask us questions through the site. We give men the tools they need to lead their families.
Aside from your own book, are there other books that Catholic men specifically would do well to read?
Yes, Father Larry Richards has a book called Be a Man!, and Tim Gray and Curtis Martin have one called Boys to Men.
Do you have a patron saint?
Our patron at Crossing the Goal is St. John the Baptist, and Pope John Paul II is someone we admire as well. Our patroness is Our Lady of Guadalupe, so we’ve got a lot of spiritual power as far as advancing a culture of life.
Trent Beattie writes from Seattle, Washington.
- January 16-29, 2011