Top Ten Catholic Heroes of the Super Bowl
Professional football was long considered a “Catholic” sport, drawing rugged players from the working class blue-collar immigrant families of which a good percentage were at least culturally Catholic. Times have changed in the intervening years, but the faith lives on, more quietly and imperfectly perhaps, among some of today’s greatest stars.
We’re sure we’ve missed several good candidates for this list, so we invite you to send us your own favorite Catholic stars of the Super Bowl. We’ll even publish some of your replies. Send your feedback by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With that, here is our list:
#10: Dave Casper
Dave Casper, nicknamed “The Ghost,” is considered one of the greatest tight ends ever to play professional football. Captain of the 1973 national championship team at the University of Notre Dame, he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round and became one of their star receivers. In Super Bowl XI in 1977, he scored the first touchdown of the game on a short pass from quarterback Ken Stabler in the second quarter. Casper finished with four catches for 70 yards as the Raiders defeated the Vikings for their first-ever Super Bowl victory, 32-14.
His greatest Super Bowl highlight, however, might have been just helping the Raiders get there. In the divisional playoff against the Baltimore Colts, he caught a 42-yard post pattern in the waning moments that set up the Raiders for a game-tying field goal. Then, in the second overtime, Casper caught a touchdown that won it for Oakland.
Casper was selected to four straight Pro Bowls (1976-79). He was traded to the Houston Oilers in 1980 and later finished his career with the Raiders in 1984. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
#9: Chris Godfrey
Chris Godfrey came out of the University of Michigan and broke in with the New York Jets in 1980. After a three-year hiatus, he was back in the NFL with the New York Giants from 1984-88 before ending his career in 1988 with the Seattle Seahawks. His Super Bowl glory came in Super Bowl XXI, where as an offensive lineman he helped protect quarterback Phil Simms in the 39-20 victory. When the game ended, it was Godfrey and fellow lineman Brad Benson who carried head coach Bill Parcells on their shoulders. "I was thinking, 'God, when am I going to be able to let this guy down,'" Godfrey said later. "But I was extremely happy to be with him, close to him at that moment. He's my coach, but he's also my friend." After his retirement from the NFL, Godfrey founded LifeAthletes (www.lifeathletes.org), an organization that promotes virtue and sexual abstinence for teens.
#8: Ricky Nattiel
The Denver Broncos and quarterback John Elway won two consecutive Super Bowl championships in 1998 and 1999, but in the preceding years they had experienced the agony of defeat in the big game four times. The third of those four consecutive losses was in Super Bowl XXII in 1998, in which Denver was thrashed by the Washington Redskins 42-10. If there was one bright spot in that game for the Broncos, however, it was the performance of rookie receiver Ricky Nattiel.
On the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage, Nattiel used his blazing speed to streak down the field where quarterback John Elway lofted a perfect pass 55 yards in the air to Nattiel, who caught it in stride over his left shoulder at the Washington 10-yard-line and took it the final few steps into the end zone. That touchdown, just 1:57 into the first quarter, then stood as the earliest scoring play in Super Bowl history.
The joy was short-lived, however, as Redskins quarterback Doug Williams led the opposition to five second-quarter touchdowns en route to a lopsided Washington victory. Nattiel was still a Bronco when the team lost the big game again two years later, but he mostly watched that one from the sidelines, having been slowed by a knee injury that soon cut short his career.
Nattiel’s record was broken by 49er receiver Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIX. In Super Bowl XLI in 2007, Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears took over the record when he returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. So Nattiel’s mark now places third in Super Bowl history. But no one can take away his moment of Super Bowl glory.
#7: Mike Ditka
Better known today as a television sports commentator and as head coach of the Chicago Bears when they won the 1986 Super Bowl, “Iron Mike” Ditka also had an enviable career as a player. An All-American defensive end, linebacker, and tight end for the University of Pittsburgh, Ditka was a first-round draft pick of the Bears ...
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