When the National Football League creates its schedule each season, it factors in baseball games, pop concerts, and even infrastructure challenges, like a busted bridge in Pittsburgh. The 2015 season included another challenge: making sure the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t upstaged by Pope Francis.
Philadelphia is preparing for a September visit by the pope that is expected to attract more than 2 million visitors for a public Mass held on the Benjamin Franklin parkway. It’s part of the World Meeting of Families, and the final stop of a three-city US tour that will take Francis to the White House, Congress, and the United Nations.
An Eagles home game on Sunday, Sept. 27 — the day the pope is scheduled to say an outdoor Mass for millions of the faithful — could be a nightmare for the city, already scrambling to meet housing and transportation challenges. So last July, the city’s archbishop, Charles J. Chaput, mailed a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asking that the Eagles be far away from Philadelphia for Week 3 of the NFL season.
According to a Sports Illustrated article by Peter King, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz wrote to Chaput in October to let him know his wish was granted: The Eagles will play up the coast, in New Jersey, that day.
“Yes, the pope did influence the NFL schedule. My name may be Katz, but I wasn’t taking any chances,” Katz told King.
Some Eagles fans, disappointed that their team will play three of their first four games on the road, can direct their anger, in part, to Rome.
An NFL official told King, “If the pope were not there this year, given the Phillies’ blocks in Weeks 1 and 4 because of their home games, the Eagles most likely would have been home in Weeks 2 and 3.”
But there’s a silver lining.
Those away games mean a three-game stretch of home field advantage in December.
And with Pope Francis affecting their schedule, along with the news that Evangelical superstar Tim Tebow may join the Eagles this year, some fans hope God might push the Eagles into the playoffs this season.
“I’ll tell you what, between the 13th apostle — Tim Tebow — and now the Pope, I’m feeling a little divine intervention on our side this year,” Keith Burkhardt wrote at Bleed Philly.