On Sunday, many of us watched two exhilarating football championship games, both taken to overtime, each with final outcomes that could have gone the other way. There is sometimes a slim margin between victory and defeat. Kansas City Chiefs’ fans can look back on a fun season with an explosive offense, slowly-improved defense, strong special teams, and that Mahomes Magic which promises to give us more years of exciting NFL action at Arrowhead.
An increasingly prominent honor tied to this annual championship time is the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award given to one player for his outstanding community service and excellence off the field in the city he represents. Five Chiefs have received the award in its forty-eight-year history, tied with the Chicago Bears for the most by any team. The Bears’ running back for whom the award is now named was described by his former coach, Mike Ditka, as the greatest football player he had ever seen and even greater human being. He was nicknamed “Sweetness” for his athletic grace, as well as his generous charitable personality.
Perhaps distantly related to his legacy is another annual effort taking place at this time in many churches and synagogues across America: we collect cans of soup to stock soup kitchens and food pantries in our nation for the year that follows. Last year, our Saint Charles Borromeo community donated 20,000 cans of soup to social agencies in the metropolitan northland to help feed less fortunate members in our area. It is a rousing team event that unites the youngest members of our school with the oldest members of our church, working together to execute a winning game plan. Our ultimate goal is to defeat hunger and claim victory over this societal foe. Like many other faith communities that take on this challenge, we gather on the eve of the Super Bowl to celebrate being on God’s team, share a bowl of soup, and contemplate what it means to carry out His message of care for the least among us through excellence beyond the field of play and place of worship.
If your church does not currently participate in this annual Super Bowl soup collection, and you would like to, I invite you to join us. Just bring a can of soup (or a hundred) to Mass on or before February 2 when, after the 4:00 Mass, we will gather for the ritual meal. Many wear jerseys honoring their favorite player, some dress as cheerleaders or referees, students create fascinating structures from the donations of cans, and some bring along hungry neighbors. This pre-Super Bowl party promotes a good cause and ties us to the NFL’s focus on building stronger communities through service and increased good will.
As we know, many fellow citizens exist on the margins or sidelines of society. It is our privilege to engage them in the game and help them to overcome powerful opponents. As we saw on Championship Sunday, sometimes the difference between victory and defeat comes down to the flip of a coin or unfortunate call (or no-call) that goes against us. Let’s look to heroes like Walter Payton for inspiration to reach out beyond the game and lend a helping hand to those who have suffered defeat because something, which could have gone either way, brought them bad luck in life.