Philadelphia Eagles News

Didinger: Pope Blessed The 1980 Team


I'm sure people rolled their eyes when it was suggested that Pope Francis add a visit to the NovaCare Complex to his "to-do" list when he is in Philadelphia next month. Let's see, noon, bless Sam Bradford's knees, check. Yeah, like that could really happen.

Well, don't laugh. There is a history linking the Vatican and the Eagles. Quarterbacks, in particular.

In December 1980, Pope John Paul II blessed Papal medals for Ron Jaworski and Joe Pisarcik. One month later, the Eagles were in the Super Bowl.

Do I have your attention now? I thought so.

The story actually began one year earlier when Pope John Paul visited Philadelphia. Jim Murray, the Eagles' general manager, stationed his infant son, named John Paul, in a prominent place along the pope's parade route. Murray had his son dressed in a John Paul T-shirt holding a sign that read, "I, too, am called John Paul, named in your honor for His glory."

The pope somehow picked the child out of the huge crowd. He broke from his procession and walked over to bless his namesake. Ed Mahan, the Eagles' photographer, captured the moment in a remarkable photograph which received widespread exposure, including a halftime piece on ABC's Monday Night Football.

Ed Piszek, president of Mrs. Paul's Foods, was a good friend of Eagles owner Leonard Tose and Murray. He also was a long-time friend of the pontiff having met him when John Paul was still a cardinal in Poland. In December 1980, Piszek went to Rome to visit the pope and brought along a copy of Mahan's picture.

When Piszek and his wife Olga handed the pope the photograph, he smiled and said: "Yes, I remember this." The pope signed the photo and asked the Piszeks to return it to the baby's family as a memento.


"Then I told the pope who Jim Murray was, that he was general manager of a professional football team," Piszek said. "The pope is an avid sportsman so he was very interested. I told the pope that Murray's team was entering its championship round and it has two Polish quarterbacks (Jaworski and Pisarcik). He didn't know what a quarterback was but I said, 'They're the big shots. They throw the ball.'

"The pope said, 'I wouldn't want them to get hurt,' so he got two Papal medals and blessed them. He told me to give them to the two players. He said they were for their protection."

Piszek brought the medals home and presented them to Jaworski and Pisarcik at a team meeting during the bye week before the playoffs. Piszek told the squad about his audience with the pope and the Holy Father's interest in Philadelphia and the Eagles.

"We all just sat back and listened," Murray said. "The more Ed spoke, the faster my head spun. Think about it. The pope comes to town and picks John Paul out of two million people. Then Eddie (Mahan) gets the great picture. Ed Piszek is friends with Leonard and he's a personal friend of the pope. The pope just happens to be Polish and we have two Polish quarterbacks. Jimmy the Great wouldn't touch odds like that.

"Our two quarterbacks have got to feel pretty good," Murray said. "Now they've got (tackles) Stan Walters, Jerry Sisemore and the pope protecting them. That's three Pro Bowlers right there."

So might Pope Francis find time to bless an Eagles quarterback? And might it foreshadow a trip to the Super Bowl? It happened before.

I'm just saying ...

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for Comcast SportsNet. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for You can read all of his Eagles History columns here. He is also the author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia.

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