VATICAN CITY â€” Growing up in a Baptist home, I knew of the pope but not much else.
It was not until August 1978 that the leader of the Catholic Church drew my attention. That is when Pope Paul VI passed away. Then I learned the meaning of the dark smoke and white smoke.
Pope John Paul I was elected by the College of Cardinals that year, but what I remember most was him being â€śofficially installed as 264th supreme pontiff.â€ť
That happened on Sept. 3, 1978, which also was the opening day of the National Football League season and the debut of the Tyler Rose, Earl Campbell, with the Houston Oilers.
I was pumped about seeing Campbell â€” John Tyler High School all-stater, 1977 Heisman Trophy winner at The University of Texas and the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
After returning from a sermon at Pine Brook Baptist Church (Rev. Billy Mosley would always end the service about five minutes early on NFL Days), I was ready to see the Oilers take on the Atlanta Falcons in old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Alas, CBS or NBC, I donâ€™t remember which station was carrying the game, but both were broadcasting the ceremony installing John Paul I.
Of course, highlights were shown later of the game, but the call on the radio had Campbell scoring on a 70-yard plus pass. It was later amended to a running play and Campbell rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries in a 20-14 loss to the Falcons.
It was the start of a Pro Bowl career for Campbell and it is also made me pay attention to the Pope.
You might ask why a sports guy is writing in the Faith section.
Well, first, Faith touches most people or it could be everyone else in the news room was busy with other projects.
So, as my journalist teachers in high school and college always advised, if possible stay away from religion and politics. I try to heed that advice every day. If you are on Facebook, you know what I mean.
But I will venture into religion today, but just about the experience I had in June of attending a Papal Blessing.
I never thought I would be in Italy, much less get a chance to see a Pope. But we were blessed to be in Rome on a Sunday so it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see â€śThe Pope Showâ€ť as our guide Mike calls it. And the star was Pope Francis.
The colorfully attired Swiss Guards were about as we walked toward St. Peterâ€™s Square, but I was a bit surprised of the lax security or at least the appearance thereof. Iâ€™m sure there were â€śsecret serviceâ€ť types at all points.
People were everywhere and most notably young people. It was exciting to see teenagers being excited about seeing this â€śRock Starâ€ť Pope.
There was buzz before Pope Francis appeared from a window high above in his apartment.
Most of the blessing was in Italian, but I think I caught some Portuguese as a group of students near us were from Argentina.
At one point, the Pope was really playing to the crowd as he would call out something and a group would yell, then another, then another. It was like Chuck Morgan at Rangers game announcing groups for attending.
The blessing lasted for about 15 minutes and concluded with Apostolic Blessing.
Although the sun was blazing, I had chills. I felt so close to my family and friends at the moment who were back in the States and also to my departed mother and grandmothers.
It was a wonderful feeling.
A ticket isnâ€™t needed for a Sunday Papal Blessing, but on Wednesdays when the Pope is in town, a ticket is needed. They are free to a Papal Audience. If you need fewer than 10 tickets, you can normally pick up those without a reservation from the Swiss Guards at the â€śBronze Doorsâ€ť located near security at St. Peterâ€™s Basilica. If more tickets are needed and you want to secure them in advance, go to http://www.papalaudience.org/tickets.
Wednesdayâ€™s Papal Audience begins at either 10 a.m. or 10:30 a.m.