BOSTON – It's tied by its name and air date to Super Bowl Sunday, but the Catholic "Faith Bowl" being broadcast nationwide has no link to football, unless you count talk about the saints.
The third annual Faith Bowl will run just before and after the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints meet to settle Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday. There's no hype or Hail Mary passes, just former major league All-Star Mike Piazza and current pro Mike Sweeney talking about faith and family in a roundtable discussion hosted by former Minnesota Twins reliever Bobby Keppel.
Hollywood-based Family Theater Productions created the show, and its aim is simple, said the Rev. Willy Raymond, the Catholic company's national director: to use high-profile Catholics to reach men and young people with a faith message at a time when they gather in hordes around the tube.
"It's no secret if you go into any church on Sunday morning, there are a lot of men who are missing. ... and especially older people, rather than younger people," Raymond said. "The audience that's missing is the audience we are going after with this."
The Faith Bowl was born after Family Theater began gathering Catholic athletes and actors for an annual retreat at the Franciscan order's Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, Calif. It struck them that a show highlighting the athletes' faith on Super Bowl Sunday would be great outreach, Raymond said.
Faith Bowl III was taped in November at the end of this year's retreat.
Professional athletes live in a hyper-reality of big temptations, but Piazza said the basic struggles are the same as any Faith Bowl viewer. Catholicism can offer perspective and a peace that's tough to find, he said.
Piazza, who is married with two young daughters, said that at the start of his career, he had a "'I-wanted-to-be-a-rock-star' type of mentality, and I realized once I got there that it was very empty at times. ... I just have never been as happy as I have being a good husband and father."
Raymond said no one is pretending the Faith Bowlers have all the answers just because they have celebrity.
"These guys are not theologians," he said. "They're in the struggle. They're doing the best they can, and they're good examples of guys that have made it in one world and still are serious about trying to be disciples of Christ and good people, good men."
Among the outlets carrying the Faith Bowl are Boston-based CatholicTV, which says it's piped into 5 million to 6 million homes via various cable providers. Another national Catholic broadcaster, Eternal Word Television Network, is also carrying the program.
No one is measuring the show's ratings, so it will be impossible to know whether it's a hit or fails to outdraw an average half-hour of local cable access TV. Piazza said his hopes for the Faith Bowl are modest.
"To me, if there's just one person out there who sees this, and says, 'Hey, I saw Mike, and I thought about it, and went back (to church),' that's pretty much all I need," he said.