Holy Alliance in Silver and Black
Tampa Bay players know they won’t be facing the Sisters of the Poor in the Super Bowl.
But a majority of the Sisters of the Poor won’t be cheering for the Buccaneers, either.
“I’m part of the Raider Nation,” said Sister Kathleen Gannon, a nun in Berkeley whose nephew, Rich Gannon, is Oakland’s starting quarterback.
“When Rich first came out here to the Raiders, I said, ‘Rich, they have a very bad reputation,” she said. “But he said, ‘Aunt Kath, I know that’s their reputation, but if you talk to the guys they have a very deep spirituality.’ ”
That was good enough for the silver-haired Sister Gannon, now a devoted Raider fan. When she’s not doing her work for the Catholic church, she goes to every home game she can and plans to attend Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Raiders and Buccaneers at Qualcomm Stadium.
“I do a lot of retreats,” she said, “so I’m talking a lot about God and love. My claim to fame is Rich Gannon. When I tell some people that they say, ‘The Raiders?’ I get funny reactions from people. From some people, it’s consternation.”
Rich refers to his aunt, his father’s sister, as his “surrogate mother” on the West Coast. The family is from Philadelphia.
“My Aunt Kath is unbelievable,” said Gannon, the NFL’s most valuable player. “She’s like a surrogate mom to me out here. She’s been coming to a lot of the games. She’s a nun, and she’s got her Raiders shirt on and she’s cheering.
“Some of the wives sort of get nervous and upset if she’s not at the games. She’s sort of a good-luck charm for us.”
One of Sister Kathleen’s longtime friends is Sister Madonna Hoying, who runs the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Cincinnati and whose cousin is Bobby Hoying, Gannon’s former backup with the Raiders.
Although Hoying is out of the NFL this season because of elbow surgery, his cousin has kept her allegiance to the Raiders. She is playing host to a Super Bowl party Sunday for about 25 fellow nuns, some of whom -- gasp! -- will be rooting for Tampa Bay.
“I wouldn’t say it will be extremely rowdy,” Sister Hoying said. “But it gets to be fun. We’re going to do some cheering and some praying. We’ll be praying throughout. We do some formal praying too. Sometimes before, sometimes after.”
As for gambling habits?
“If anybody places bets they do it out of ignorance,” she said. “And if they win they get very excited.”
Sister Hoying is inviting about 25 of her fellow sisters to the party, which will take place at the three-bedroom home she shares with another nun in northwest Cincinnati. They have a smallish TV and no cable, but they get pretty good reception. The place will be decorated with silver and black balloons, skull-and-crossbones cutouts, and black candles -- Sister Hoying swapped out the red Christmas ones -- with silver angel holders.
“We’ll have some snack-a-roos, some chips and sodas,” she said. “If anyone wants a beer they can have that. The food isn’t going to be the main thing. The fun is going to be main thing. Probably not all of them will last until the end of the game. But I will.”
Religion has been a big part of Gannon’s life. His football roots extend back to St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia.
“Nuns and priests can be as rabid fans as anybody, believe me,” said James Murray, the school’s athletic director. “Just because they have the clerical garb on doesn’t remove them from the rabid fan category.
“Our principal before this one was a priest, and he was very excitable. We had to monitor his comments at games. He’d march up and down the sideline, and if he thought a call was a bad call he wouldn’t hesitate to say so.”
When her nephew played for the Raiders, Sister Hoying would make a trip to the Bay Area at least once a season to watch him play. There, she would get together with Sister Gannon, whom she first met at Rye Beach, N.H., when they worked together on a retreat.
“We liked to have fun,” Sister Hoying said. “Once a month, the two of us would go off to a restaurant together and talk for five hours. We’d get potato skins, maybe have a glass of wine, and just talk
Like thousands of Raider fans, the nuns wore jerseys when they sat in the stands for games. Well, not jerseys exactly, but generic black T-shirts they bought with the names GANNON and HOYING cut out of silver contact paper and taped across their shoulders.
“I’m sure Rich was embarrassed when he saw that,” said Sister Gannon, who since has upgraded to a more official version.
“I whoop and holler [at games]. I never pray for them to win -- I’m hopeful that they win -- but I do pray that no one is hurt.”
The Gannons have Sister Kathleen, who works at St. Albert’s in the Bay Area, over for dinner on a regular basis. At the games, she sits with Rich’s wife, Shelley, and the couple’s two young daughters. Sometimes, in order to get to the railing surrounding the field, they even venture into the “Black Hole,” a roiling crush of humanity where rowdy, beer-swilling Raider fans are squashed shoulder to spiked shoulder.
“We went in there once to lift the girls over the gate to Rich,” Sister Gannon said. “I have the same eyes as Rich and I think the people noticed that. The guys in the front with the big masks said, ‘Family first! Family first!’ and held everyone back.
“It parted like the waters.”