Football has always been an important part of Rich Gannon’s life, from St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia to the University of Delaware to 17 seasons in the National Football League.
In fact, when he graduated from Delaware, Gannon held 21 Blue Hens records.
Between 1987 and 2004, he quarterbacked four different teams in the NFL, including an amazing four-year run as the starter for the Oakland Raiders. From 1999-2002, Gannon started all 64 of the team’s games, appearing in the Pro Bowl each season and being named the consensus league most valuable player in 2002. That season ended with a Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the years since, Gannon has become a television analyst for CBS, and he hosts a talk show on the NFL four days a week for Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.
But football is, and always has been, just a part of his life. He’s a husband and father, raising two teenage daughters in Excelsior, Minn., with his wife, Shelly. The Catholic faith he grew up with in Northeast Philadelphia remains important to him.
Gannon, 45, was in Wilmington on Oct. 27 to speak about his faith at the Delaware Leadership Prayer Breakfast at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. The breakfast is an annual event at which business leaders gather “to seek the Lord’s guidance and strength in the conduct of our business, professional and community life together,” according to its website.
Gannon says when he makes public appearances, he tries to tailor his speech to the audience. An event like this will have people from various faiths and walks of life.
“I try to be candid about my experience and my faith. I try and challenge them. I try to encourage them to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Gannon said recently from his office in Minnesota.
The seeds of Gannon’s faith were planted as a child in Philadelphia. He attended St. Cecilia’s School and St. Joseph’s Prep. He said his time at the Prep gave him “a chance to really grow up in my faith.”
While at Delaware, he and a group of teammates would meet for Mass every Sunday morning at St. John the Apostle Church on Main Street in Newark, followed by breakfast at the Post House.
He’s had little opportunity to get back to Newark to see the Blue Hens since his graduation, but he enjoys being able to see some games on television.
“It’s so hard for me because I’m doing a game every weekend (for CBS). I can’t sneak away,” he said.
He does have a home in Ocean City, N.J., and his family spends a significant amount of time there during the summer. They also were there this past Easter.
During the football season, he’s very busy. Analyzing games on TV requires a lot of preparation. “It’s just like I’m a player,” he said.
During the week before the game, Gannon watches film of both teams. He flies into a city on a Friday and meets with the teams and their coaches. On Sunday morning, before reporting to the stadium, Gannon attends a local Catholic church for Mass, often with other Catholic crew members.
“We know where the Catholic churches are in each city,” he said.
During his time with the Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs, the teams provided the players with a priest. Masses often were held in the hotel on Saturday night.
When he’s not busy with football, Gannon spends time with his daughters, Alexis and Danielle, who attend Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria, Minn. Gannon and his wife have been raising money for the school, which opened in 2000, since before his girls were students there. Raising money is a bit different for a new school than the one he attended.
“I tell people my Catholic school in Philadelphia opened in 1851. Meanwhile, the kids that we go to [to donate to the new school] are still trying to pay off student loans and buy books,” he said.
He said he’s had opportunities to get into coaching or front-office work in the NFL, “but for many reasons I said no. The primary one is my family.”
His schedule allows him to attend his daughters’ sports events and help them with his homework, although he conceded that when it comes to computers, his daughters help him.
The Gannons are members of St. Hubert’s Parish in Chanhassen, Minn., which Gannon said is a large parish with a rich history. He said he likes its youthfulness.
“Everybody volunteers, everybody’s a part of some committee. It’s a great parish to be a part of. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.
This article first appeared in The Dialog, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.