Grapevine, Texas, Mar 30, 2013 / 11:01 am (CNA).- Faith has always played a significant role in many NFL players lives. In this era, New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow is famous for displaying his faith on the field by kneeling and praying.
But did you know that many NFL players spend a significant amount of time praying and worshiping God?
Maury Buford, owner of Buford Roofing in North Texas, is one example.
Buford was a punter in the National Football League for the San Diego Chargers, the Chicago Bears, and the New York Giants and was a member of the famous 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears squad.
Buford said his Catholic faith played a significant role in his football career.
He grew up in a small town east of Dallas called Mount Pleasant, Texas, and was the fifth of seven children. The population of Mount Pleasant at that time was 9,000 people.
He attended Saint Michael’s Catholic Church there.
“I used to walk to church, which was right in our backyard, and was an altar boy from seven years old to my middle teens,” Buford said.
His father was a convert to the Catholic faith and his mother was a cradle Catholic.
Back then, there were few Catholics in Mount Pleasant.
“I had an incredible experience growing up and was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan,” he said. “My routine was to go to Mass on Sundays and we would come home to watch the noon ballgame or later game. We scheduled Mass times around football games.”
Buford said one of his older siblings inspired him to start playing football.
“I had an older brother named Lee who was a field goal kicker of the local high school team and I would shag the football for him,” Buford said. “He wanted me to catch the football for him but I was too young to throw it to home and didn’t want to place it back on the tee so I would punt it back to him. This was something I always enjoyed.
“In high school I played quarterback and also did some special teams, just as a punter,” he said. “Back then it was whoever wanted to do it. Lee got me inspired. In my brother’s senior year in high school, he was in a state championship football game. Football became a passion to me and those guys were my heroes.”
Buford said football in Texas in a small town was the life for many people.
“When we would travel, football was a way of life,” Buford said. “In my junior year at Mount Pleasant, college scouts would come scout players and they happened to watch me, and Texas Tech became very interested in me.”
Texas Tech eventually offered Buford a scholarship to play for them.
“Texas Tech is a great location even though a lot of people would not agree with me,” he said. “I was a member of the parish there on campus so my faith life was very important in college as well.”
Buford started all four years as a punter in college and led the nation as a punter his freshman season.
“I was selected All-Southwest Conference team three of my years there,” he said. “My proudest achievements were to be chosen on the Academic All-American team also. That was my job to do well in school since Tech was paying for me to go to school and the least I could do was go to class, show up and give my best effort. That’s what I tell my children, that their job is to make good grades. College life is all about time management. I wanted to give my best job in the classroom.”
Buford said prayer was a major part of his spiritual life.
“I would always pray before a ballgame and during the week,” he said. “I would never pray to win or be the best player out on field. I think God has more important things to deal with than a sporting game or to see who wins or loses a ballgame. I would pray to keep my teammates safe and to pray for them to be free of any injuries. I would also pray that I go out there and give my best efforts and thank God for giving me talents and the drive to play and win. I thank God for giving me the passion to play as well.”
Buford said many athletes take their gifts for granted.
“A lot of athletes have talent but they don’t use it,” he said. “You have to have drive also and I thank God because he gave me both of those. A lot of athletes take their talents for granted. They just think they have to show up, but it takes more than that. As a team we would gather around and say the Lord’s prayer before kickoff.”
Buford graduated from Texas Tech in 1982 and was drafted in the eighth round by the San Diego Chargers. He played three years with them and then was traded to Chicago.
“The first thing I thought after being traded to the Chicago Bears was how am I going to stay warm,” Buford said. “At that time, I thought it was worst thing that happened to me, being traded, but it turns out it was the greatest thing that happened to me. In my first season we won the Super Bowl. It just goes to show you that God has his ways that are better than our ways. We have to trust Him. Professionally, it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
“It was a blessing to be on that 1985 Chicago Bears team that won the Super Bowl,” he said.
In 1987 he was cut in training camp and played for the New York Giants for awhile before returning to the Bears again.
“From a money standpoint, we made good money but not like now,” he said. “People always ask me today if I am envious of the money players make today. I am not at all envious because all football players are just one injury away from losing their careers.”
Buford said prayer played an important role for many NFL players.
“During home games, we had a team priest whose name was Father Nick,” he said. “Father Nick would come down and say Mass for the team. Coach Mike Ditka was a Catholic and would go to daily Mass. The Catholics were well represented on the Bears squad. Even our owners at the time were Catholics. When our team would play on the road, we had a designated player find a church and a priest to say Mass for the team.”
Buford said every time he would play, he would pray.
“Every time I would run out on the field, I would say Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us,” he said. “I never miss a game. I respect players like Tim Tebow and see nothing wrong with his display of prayer on the field. You see kids now who dance in the end zones and say ‘look at me look at me.’ So there is nothing wrong with what Tim Tebow does. This is not our world, we are not meant to stay here, and our home is in heaven.”
Posted with permission from the Catholic Sports Association, an organization dedicated to highlighting Catholic sports professionals and enriching junior high and high school student-athletes with Catholic sports articles, conferences, a Web series, and other programs.