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Defending the goal

UPDATE (Nov. 4): Jack Del Rio was named interim head coach for the Denver Broncos Nov. 4, while head coach John Fox is out for several weeks recovering from heart surgery.

While Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, admits his faith journey has had some detours, he’s grateful to a fellow NFL coach who got him back on track.

Del Rio, 50, has fond memories of being raised Catholic in California. However when his parents divorced during his teenage years, he fell away from the Church. Throughout high school and college at the University of Southern California—where he played football and baseball—he remained Christian, but stayed away from the Church.

He spent 11 years playing linebacker in the National Football League and was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1994. After retiring from playing in 1996, he started a coaching career, first with the New Orleans Saints.

“The pivotal point for me (returning to the faith), aside from my marriage with my lovely wife Linda, was Danny Abramowicz challenging me in New Orleans when I first started coaching,” Del Rio told the Denver Catholic Register Oct. 15. “He really challenged me to get some of the facts straight.”

Abramowicz—former All-Pro NFL wide receiver and coach, and more recently producer of the EWTN series “Crossing the Goal”—arranged a meeting between Del Rio and Msgr. John Reynolds (since deceased) at St. Patrick Church in New Orleans.

“I met with Msgr. Reynolds every week,” Del Rio said. “He would take the time and answer questions I had in my mind… that I’d come up through the years.

“The world was telling me things that weren’t factual and Msgr. took me to Scripture and answered all my questions,” Del Rio said. “He was patient with me. He was really tremendous.”

In 1998, Del Rio received the sacrament of confirmation and his marriage with Linda was convalidated by Msgr. Reynolds. The couple has been married 26 years and they have four children.

“It was a blessing to have a fellow coach, a fellow Catholic man of God who was willing to stand up and say: ‘Hey, why aren’t you doing this? What happened to you?” he relayed. “He pointed me in the right direction.”

Following his tenure as head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars 2003-2011, he joined the Bronco’s staff in 2012.

Jack and Linda, parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul in Denver, are both involved with Catholic Athletes for Christ, an apostolate founded by Ray McKenna that support athletes and coaches in their faith and helps them use their unique platform to reach others with the Gospel.

“Ray approached me about wanting to be involved in Catholic Athletes for Christ about six years ago,” Del Rio said. “I’m glad to be a part of it, it’s a great project… we’re grateful to Ray for his stewardship and giving of himself.”

One way CAC serves is to help coordinate NFL team Masses.

“We have a non-denominational service, and then a Mass weekly,” Del Rio said, typically at the team hotel the night before the game. “It’s been great that Ray’s been able to provide that support. You’d think that would be automatic, but it’s not… you almost have to fight for it. But it’s something that I’m glad we have.”

Requests for priests to celebrate Mass for teams visiting Denver sometimes come in to the Denver Archdiocese’s Office of Priest Personnel. According to the office, they have received and filled two requests this season.

For more on CAC, visit www.catholicathletesforchrist.com.

Julie Filby: 303-715-3123; julie.filby@archden.org; www.twitter.com/DCRegisterJulie

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