Local priests got to see the big game and Eagles’ victory in person.
It was around 5 p.m. on the day of the NFL conference championships, and football fans across the country were on the edge of their seats. The Jacksonville Jaguars held a slight lead over the New England Patriots, while Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings fans anxiously awaited the beginning of their NFC championship duel. The Rev. Kevin Mulligan, pastor at St. Genevieve in Flourtown, was getting nervous that the Jaguars would pull off the upset over the Pats as he was getting ready to celebrate Sunday evening Mass. Not because Mulligan was a Patriots fan, but because he knew his only chance of going to the big game to see the Eagles would have to be if the matchup was between the Patriots and the Eagles.
Mulligan, a former Philadelphia Daily News sports writer, has been to numerous Super Bowls, but never as a spectator. While studying in Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, Mulligan became friends with some dedicated Patriots fans. Months ago, he was promised if the Eagles were to make the Super Bowl against the Patriots, he would be given two tickets. After his Sunday evening Mass concluded, the Patriots were approaching a victory and that’s when the possibility started to set in.
The Rev. John Babowitch, pastor of Our Lady of Calvary, felt confident going into that Sunday night matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Despite the Eagles losing their starting quarterback in Carson Wentz and being underdogs again that upcoming game, he saw a team that was destined for greatness. What Babowitch perhaps didn’t foresee would be where he would be watching the big game.
Mulligan, as promised, received a phone call ensuring he would be given two tickets to Super Bowl LII in Minnesota. He now had to make the decision of whom to bring along, but this was a no-brainer in his mind.
“I thought of Father John (Babowitch) right away because I don’t know a bigger Eagles fan, and I had told him a long time ago, mostly in hope, if the Eagles made it, we are going,” said Mulligan. “My brother and other friends may never talk to me again (just kidding), but the Eagles needed a super fan like Father John there, realizing this once-in-a-lifetime experience. For him, it was Christmas morning.”
Babowitch, of course, accepted this offer to go to Super Bowl LII with his friend, Mulligan, and the two flew to Chicago the day before. They rented a car and departed for an approximate seven-and-a-half-hour trip from Chicago to Minneapolis. They had to drive through snowy Wisconsin, which Babowitch described as an “adventure in itself.”
The two arrived at St. Paul’s Seminary, where they would stay the night, at 8:30 p.m. to drop off their belongings and went to grab some food. The next morning, they would be awake bright and early to celebrate Mass at the seminary at 8 a.m. Babowitch added that he was “sure there was a little prayer for the Eagles in there (during Mass).”
They spent their time before the game going to the Mall of America and checking out the city a bit, before heading to the stadium. Babowitch couldn’t help but notice the number of Eagles fans in attendance at the neutral site. This was also a surreal experience for Mulligan, describing his experience as a fan going to the Super Bowl to be much more enjoyable than covering it as a writer.
“Covering a Super Bowl is one of the least enjoyable events to cover, because there is little access to players, etc. and you are part of a media herd under difficult working conditions,” said Mulligan. “Ironically, my first Super Bowl as a writer was the 1992 Super Bowl, the last time it was in Minneapolis at the old Metrodome.”
Both were stoked and predicting Eagles victories going into the game, and the Eagles did not disappoint them.
As the clock struck zero and the Eagles rushed the field in celebration, Babowitch, like many Philadelphians, thought of loved ones who helped make the Eagles a big part of his life.
“When they won the game, it was exciting and I remembered my father who has passed away,” said Babowitch. “Who taught me about the Eagles and gave me a love for the Eagles.”
This monumental moment for Eagles fans young and old will forever be ingrained into their memories, but what immediately was noticeable during the post-game acceptance speeches was the players’ mention of faith.
Several Eagles players and coaches credited their faith for the victory and this was not lost between the two priests.
“It was very gratifying, as it has been all year with this Eagles team, to know that many of them are men of faith, and have a relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Mulligan.
Sister Mildred, principal at Our Lady of Calvary, is a devout sports fan, but thought Babowitch was so deserving of being there for that historic Philadelphia sports moment.
“(It) would be something for him to talk about for ages,” said Sister Mildred. “Also, he is such an involved pastor, totally dedicated to the parish and school community, that he deserves that opportunity.”
Babowitch and Mulligan would depart back to Chicago the morning after the game to catch a flight back to Philadelphia having experienced the biggest victory in Eagles franchise history.
“One thing from watching the parade… it certainly brings people together,” said Babowitch. “If the Eagles or Phillies win, I’m surprised how many people hug one another from different nationalities and all that. It transcends all races and all creeds and all that. I think it’s a wonderful thing.” ••