Opinion: Colts chaplain doesn’t preach football

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Commentary by Ward Degler

When the chaplain of the Indianapolis Colts got up to deliver the keynote address at the annual Catholic Radio fundraising dinner last week, everybody just naturally expected him to talk about football in general, the Colts in particular and Andrew Luck specifically.

Didn’t happen.

The Rev. Douglas Hunter cleared his throat, smiled and said, “I’m not going to talk about football.” What he did talk about was faith. His, the players’, the coaches’ and the managers’.

Hunter was ordained only three years ago. Prior to that, he was a deputy sheriff and a member of the Indianapolis Police Dept. He laughed and said it was good training for religious life. He is pastor of St. Roch in Indianapolis.

One day, a friend told him the Colts were looking for a new chaplain. Next thing he knew, he was sitting across from Colts General Manager Chris Ballard.

“I was trying to remember as many NFL stats as possible,” he said. “Especially Colts stats.”

Surprisingly, Ballard didn’t want to talk about football.

“We talked about faith,” Hunter said. “He told me all I had to do was be present to the players, listen to them and love them. He said it would take a year for them to get comfortable with me.”

There was another surprise.

“I found myself spending as much time with the coaching staff and managers as the players,” he said. “They didn’t talk about football, either.”

Wherever they are on Saturday before a game, Hunter said, he offers Mass at the hotel.

“The thing I had to learn is that the NFL is very structured – in everything. They told me I had 25 minutes – in and out,” he said, adding that he quickly learned to choose his words carefully.

Being present to the players is paying off.

“The guys will spot me on the street or in the hotel lobby,” Hunter said. “They’ll ask me if I’ve got a minute, then we’ll sit down and they talk and I listen.”

Hunter said he’s learned a lot as Colts chaplain.

“I’ve learned the importance of sharing my faith openly and publically, and from the coaching staff I’ve learned that I should always strive to do just 1 percent better each day,” he said.

The Colts have given him one bit of football instruction.

“They are teaching me how to throw a football,” he said. “They told me I throw like a girl.”

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