Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Pack's Secret Weapon

Candidly, it seems the case that more American Catholics spend their Sundays watching football than "hearing" Mass. Not the best of stats, of course, but that's where things are these days.

Not a few of us, though, fall into the "both/and" category... and with conference championships -- the games that'll determine who makes Super Bowl XLII in Phoenix -- at hand this weekend, they might as well cancel the "late-bird" Masses in Green Bay and New York.

The Packers and Giants face off for the NFC title at Lambeau Field, with gametime forecasts seeing temperatures around 0 degrees (-17C). And for the second playoff game in a row, a Franciscan sister-superfan will be leading the faithful from midfield.
The Cowboys' loss is Sister Sean Marie Tobin's gain.

The nun won an essay contest that put her at midfield for the coin toss before last Saturday's Packer game at Lambeau Field.

Here's what the fine print says: "The winner will be asked to repeat his or her duties for a second home playoff game, if applicable."

Well, it's applicable, baby. While the top-seeded Cowboys clean out their lockers, the Packers are hosting the New York Giants this Sunday for the NFC crown and a trip to the Super Bowl.

And Tobin is returning to the tundra to do it all over again. The Packers on Tuesday FedEx'd two more free game tickets to the Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc.

Tobin, 68, belongs to the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, and she's led them on field trips to watch the Packers practice. Former head coach Mike Sherman once visited the convent and personally bought the sisters a bigger TV after he saw the small set they used to watch the games.

Tobin's driver and companion for Sunday's game will again be Sister Anne Turba, also from Holy Family.

As Honorary G-Force Captain, Tobin was Lambeau royalty Saturday. And she wasn't shy about using her bully pulpit as she joined Brett Favre, Donald Driver, Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett on the field to face Matt Hasselbeck and the other Seattle Seahawks.

"I just said today the ball is ours. You're not going to get it, Matt," she said. "That tickled Favre, and he got this big grin."

Tobin explained in the essay that her love for Packers football was instilled in childhood by her father, Bernie Tobin. She was born in Milwaukee and went to Mount Mary College before joining the convent in 1960.

The last game she attended with her father was the Ice Bowl. I know, everyone claims they were at that game, but she's a nun so I believe her.

"This game was a challenge. I was stuffed, long habit and full garb, into a sleeping bag up to my nose, and almost bunny-hopped over the bleachers on the last play," she says in her entertaining entry that beat out some 5,000 other hopefuls. It helps that she used to teach English in school.

"If the game had lasted any longer, my fingers would have been permanently stuck to my rosary beads."

Their seats that day were at the 50 yard line, coincidentally very near where she and Turba sat last Saturday. Their seats this Sunday are indoors because of the expected cold temperatures.

Turba said Tobin got a rock star welcome from the crowd. The sisters had packed sandwiches for the game, but tailgaters freely offered whatever they were eating. Fans posed with her for photographs, cheered as she made her way to her seat, and wiped their car clear of snow after the game.

"They started chanting MVP for her. She said this is getting a little embarrassing," Turba said.
Be afraid, Giants fans... and start praying.

PHOTO: Kristyna Wentz-Graff/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel