By Matthew Davis | Catholic News Service
MINNEAPOLIS – For a block of time each Saturday evening before a home game, several New England Patriots coaches break away from the task of finalizing game plans.
They attend Mass together along with other members of the Patriots' staff. Msgr. Mike Foley, a priest from the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, comes to celebrate the Mass for any players, coaches and staff who want to attend.
"He's been a fantastic friend. I've really grown to appreciate his willingness to be there with us," said Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge regarding Msgr. Foley.
Defensive line coach Brendan Daly said it's a time in their week he looks forward to.
"It definitely is something that I like to do before we go to the (stadium) on Sundays," Daly told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "It's something that allows me to focus, take some time, be at peace and get away from the game element of it. It's also time where I kind of reflect on the other aspects of my life, if you will, in terms of family and faith and those things, which is something I think we all need to do more of."
Wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea also sees it as part of finding that balance between the demands of coaching in the NFL, living the faith and having a family.
"It's difficult, but if you do have faith and you have a great family that believes in the same things that I do and you do have strong faith, you're able to do it," O'Shea said. "It's not easy at times, but at the end of the day, I think it's important to be able to balance those."
O'Shea, Daly, Judge and company had plenty to balance with the demands of Super Bowl week, leading up to the Feb. 4 game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles beat the Patriots 41-33.
The team had a schedule full of travel, extended media sessions, team meetings and practices. Though each of the three coaches has Super Bowl experience already with the defending champion Patriots, they did not see the preparation as automatic.
"Every year, as we always say, is different just like every day is different," said O'Shea, who, with Daly and Judge, gave an interview prior to the big game. "You've got to approach that that way. The challenges, regardless of what they are, are going to be there, and it's our job as coaches to kind of provide some answers to those challenges and put our players in the best position possible."
Last year's win marked the fifth Super Bowl title for the Patriots. O'Shea, Judge and Daly have been part of the past two Patriots championship teams.
"I'm blessed to be a part of this organization and just appreciative and grateful that I've had the opportunity to work with such great people and great players," O'Shea said.
Before the coaches' time, the Patriots won their first two Super Bowls on game-winning kicks. None of the past five Patriots Super Bowl appearances has come down to a special teams play like that, but Judge wants the specials teams units ready for such high-pressure situations.
"My job is make sure the players are as prepared as they can be going into the end of the game, make sure they're alert for whatever situation that may come up and know how to handle it and to make sure we practice executing all of our techniques, so they have a chance to execute them under high pressure," Judge said.
He enjoys the role where he has contact with every player on the team as each one has a special teams role.
"It's great because you get to know every player, you get to know how to coach every different player," said Judge. "They all have their own individual personalities, and they have their different learning styles. It allows you to build relationships with the entire locker room and allows you to really have influence in the entire locker room."
Faith helps Daly recognize the difference between what he can control and what he can't whether on or off the field. That has included the Patriots facing injuries on defense this season and having other players step up.
"A couple of things that I lean on is handling the mental grind and also focusing on the things that you can control and leaving the things that are out of your control to whoever it is that can control it," Daly said. "Having the faith and the trust that those things will work themselves out however it is that they're meant to be.
Judge indicated that Saturday night Mass together can really be an off-field highlight for the members of an NFL team.
"Any time you get to go to Mass or a church service with people you respect and are close with, that's really special," Judge said.