I received a call last week from Matt Klein of the Green Bay Packers reminding me that the Draft is quickly approaching. Coach McCarthy is putting together all of the elements for the annual, "Rookie Orientation." And as you can imagine with Coach McCarthy, Sunday Mass will certainly be one of the offerings that are a part of the welcome-wagon-atmosphere that will take place at 1265.

When the new guys approach the field for that first pre-season game, they -- together with the veterans -- seem larger than life. And yet, at that first Mass, they will no doubt seem pretty down to earth, pretty overwhelmed, pretty "green," and I'm not talking about the color of the uniform! Isn't that true of all "first days" though? Recall your first day of kindergarten or first grade. I still remember being on playground duty at Lourdes on that first day of school year after year. It was my job to offer a little pastoral care for whoever would end up crying first: boy or girl, mom or dad! A similar sense of anxiety would take place on the first day of high school or even at freshman orientation at college.

At the Packer's Rookie Orientation, I will meet men who will no doubt tower over me in size. And yet the newness of it all will make them appear to be quite 'boyish' in so many ways. I often wonder what's on the rookies' minds as they take it all in. And yet, for just a moment in time, the anxiety subsides at the Mass specifically, when they see their position coaches or even the Head Coach or General Manager as an equal -- or as a "brother" for that half hour of time!

Beyond the first day, I wonder what's on the players minds as the season progresses. In team sports, tempers fly, emotions over boil, competition is at full-strength. But once again, at Mass, time stands still: we see each other eye-to-eye, all are equal. The coaches and administrators, medical staff, trainers, videographers... ... ... worshiping all together as one is not unlike our experience at Old Saint Joe's where the same environment is created between students, professors, administrators and support staff. I am grateful that our Packer coaches are incredible at making the Masses a truly welcoming atmosphere where all are welcome and where business stops long enough to consider our brotherhood that exists among us regardless of our contribution or position -- with Jesus Christ at our center.

Right about now, you might be wondering why Ahman's picture is introducing this post? Well let me first say that I thank God that I am not the Packer General Manager. It's a job that gets little affirmation even if the best of choices are made. I have no doubt that Ted will do as well this year as he did last year -- even if people are reluctant to affirm his decisions. Beyond tapping rookies, I hope that Ahman will once again don the Green and Gold this year. His contributions to the organization are quite impressive -- over the long haul, and most recently.

When Ahman arrived on the scene this past year, I knew that he would make great contributions as far as wisdom and maturity were concerned. I just did not know that he would continue to break all sorts of records on the field. When Ahman and I met in Cleveland after a few years of separation, I was shocked by his size -- he looked as though he was in prime condition, yet a shadow of his previous size. Nevertheless, look how he performed!

Yet one of the things I have found most inspiring about Ahman is what I've been reading about him in the off-season. and WFRV CBS5 produced stories on what Ahman is up to these days -- in the classroom. I've also heard from parishioners who attend DePere High School to learn that Ahman is back in the classroom, both as a student and as a teacher, as he works toward his teacher certification through UW-Green Bay. Given Ahman is a pretty bright guy, he will be a great teacher, no doubt. But the fact that he has a great love for those who have fallen through the cracks and that he wants to focus his teaching efforts at reaching out to Green Bay and DePere's "at-risk" population, well that makes him an even greater hero in my eyes.

Ahman is preparing for life after the NFL. For the sake of our team, I hope that Ahman will return to the field again this year. But I have great admiration for Ahman knowing that he is prepared to respond to a higher calling these days -- to give back to our area's youth, the most vulnerable among them. That's a person I want to rally on to victory!

Perhaps at this point you're now wondering why Jeff Suppan's image is also introducing this posting? Well much like I've mentioned about Ahman, Jeff is also one of those great sports figures who does his best to give back to his community. Jeff is one who is consistently generous to Catholic causes in particular.

In fact, a few years back Jeff appeared in a television commercial that opposed stem-cell research. Together with Patricia Heaton, Jim Caviezel, Mike Sweeney and Kurt Warner, Jeff spoke out about his religious convictions,and he did so with great articulation. Little did he realize that the commercial would run in-tandem with his pitching in the 2006 World Series. When asked why he would do something so bold, he honestly answers, "the Church called!"

I am a bit of a sports fan anomaly, admittedly. Most sports fans will choose to root for the athletes who totally score on the field, and they care little about one's personal life. Take the Tiger Wood's issue: some are outraged by his behaviors off the golf course, but many focus only on the game -- especially amidst Tiger's recent successes at the Masters. I'm a bit different. I am grateful for the athletic contributions that Ahman and Jeff make to our local teams and I do pray for their good. But I'm most inspired when these guys offer something beyond their sport or expertise. In the case of these two guys, I am most inspired by their choice of giving life to those most marginalized in society: the un-born and children in great need.


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