By Matt Palmer
It hit some of you as soon as the confetti fell on the New York Giants, who were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XLVI.
“What am I going to do without football?”
Trust me, I know the feeling.
Four years ago I walked away from my job covering the National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens at the now-defunct Baltimore Examiner.
Each day between April 2006 and April 2008, I existed in a frantic state of paranoia, waking up at 3:30 a.m., worried that someone else had reported Ray Lewis was retiring or that the Ravens had made a big trade.
I spent more than 20 straight days at the Ravens’ Owings Mills headquarters as they searched for a new coach following the Dec. 31, 2007 firing of Brian Billick. I’d wait with my face pressed against the window glass of the media room waiting to see if a new hopeful would pull up in a town car. I was there the day John Harbaugh first interviewed for the job and welcomed him to Baltimore.
Sundays were a far cry from the innocent days of my youth, when the family would pile into the car, go to 9 a.m. Mass, grab some doughnuts and watch the Redskins. Life was ordered, purpose-driven and balanced.
At the Examiner, Sundays were a 10-hour affair at the stadium filled with filing four stories on deadline. The other six days of the week were spent at the team’s facility talking to players, coaches and staffers to get the latest scoops and satiate the 24-7 demand for information by fans.
It resulted in complete and utter burnout, but it was a love, a dream job.
I didn’t go to Mass once during my two years at the Examiner and never missed it as far as I could tell. Catholicism was on the backburner. Like many, I had no other gods besides the NFL.
When the football beat was gone, there was an overwhelming sense of loss. By the time the next fall came, I was working here at the Catholic Review. More than a few of my sportswriting friends thought it was a huge gamble given my career trajectory.
They knew the Review was a paycheck, though, and nothing more to me.
It almost seemed criminal that I was spending my time in church covering a bishop or an evangelization conference while the Ravens were down 10-3 in the third quarter against the Titans. How could the people in church not care about this?
Then something amazing happened: I let my guard down and began to envy the joy I saw in the eyes of the people I interviewed. Clergy, religious, teachers, parishioners, young adults, teenagers and small children all had that spark that I once possessed.
The adults hadn’t put Jesus in a toy box once childhood was over. He was still a part of their lives, inspiring them to do great things.
One of the women I interviewed was so full of faith-filled love, compassion, humor and passion that she re-awakened my own dormant beliefs. I married Cassandra Dec. 30, 2011, full of dreams of growing together in our faith and raising our children in Catholicism as well.
Some guys might say the moral of the story is pretty simple: “Now that football’s over, I should go meet some single ladies at church.”
Whatever gets you in the door, fellas. Just know that a sense of purpose, joy and direction that you’re lacking right now is in church every weekend, even during the fall.
Give Mass a chance. Just don’t be surprised if the Hail Mary isn’t what you expected. Let it, and the faith, surprise you.
Matt Palmer is the former social media coordinator for the Catholic Review.