Archbishop Alexander Sample is a supporter of the Detroit Tigers in baseball and the Green Bay Packers in football. He has the hats to prove his allegiances. Sports, the archbishop says, help people refresh themselves from the burdens of daily life. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Archbishop Alexander Sample is a supporter of the Detroit Tigers in baseball and the Green Bay Packers in football. He has the hats to prove his allegiances. Sports, the archbishop says, help people refresh themselves from the burdens of daily life. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

Archbishops rarely get a Sunday off. But if he finds a chance, Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample will tune in to watch his beloved Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.

“I’m a die-hard fan,” he says. “You don’t lose it.”

The devotion to the green and gold goes back to his youth on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, just a few ticks from the Wisconsin border. The peninsula — where he moved as a teen and where he served as bishop 2006 – 2013 —  is in the same state as the Detroit Lions, but it’s Packer territory.

When it comes to the NFL, the future archbishop grew up in a split household. His father, from Minnesota, rooted for the Vikings. His mother was a Wisconsin native with zealous feelings for the Packers. Young Alex favored the Vikings for a time, but once the family moved from Nevada to the far north of Michigan, his loyalty to the Packers was set. The switch did not cause much domestic strife, despite the decades-old rivalry between the Vikings and the Packers.

While serving in Marquette, he would record Packer broadcasts during Mass to watch later, imploring parishioners not to tell him the score.

One fellow fan gave him the ultimate in Packers swag — a hat in the shape of a wedge of Wisconsin cheese. More often he wears his official Packers cap, green with the iconic gold G.

Part of the joy was watching Packers games with his mother Joyce, who died in 2017. 

“She loved them,” he says. “She could get pretty worked up and holler at the screen.”

He likes the culture of the Packers, a team owned by shareholder fans. And like many Packer aficionados, he marveled at the skills and grit of quarterback Brett Favre, who led Green Bay 1992 – 2007. It was a sad day when Favre was traded, but current Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made the archbishop and other rooters forget their woes. Not only is Rodgers a good field general, he’s a decent man, the archbishop says.

After six years in the Pacific Northwest, the archbishop is not tempted to switch to the Seattle Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers, “with all due respect.”

Same goes for supporting the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants or Oakland A’s, the preferred teams of Portland baseball fans. After a long day at work in spring or summer, he sometimes can find a Tigers broadcast. If the score is close, he may stay up late watching and is groggy but happy the next day.

Midwestern bishops would hold summer meetings that would include periodic trips to Tiger Stadium in Detroit. He learned then that one thing he likes about watching baseball is that it offers space for conversation with friends.

Beside major league baseball and the NFL, the archbishop enjoys college football. Like many Catholics, especially in the Midwest, he follows Notre Dame. He also watches Michigan and Michigan State, careful to show balance between the two because some relatives are Wolverines and others are Spartans.  

“I like the strategy part of games,” he says, interested, for example, in why a coach would go for a field goal instead of a first down, or have a batter bunt. 

“I guess there is a little bit of a competitive spirit in me,” he says.

He’ll watch as he can, but does not spend money on television sports cable packages. And the archbishop knows it’s important not just to watch. He likes cross-country skiing, but has not had time since coming to Oregon in 2013. As bishop in Marquette, he could leave the office at 5 p.m. and be on the trail by 5:30. He’s also a longtime kayaker and cyclist.

The archbishop describes his youth sports career in humble terms.

He was a Little League baseball outfielder for years, wearing an audacious orange uniform because the team was sponsored by Sunkist.

He was a backup tackle on the Bishop Gorman High School football team in Las Vegas.

He also played a year of soccer, giving it a try because it was an exotic European sport. “I was lousy,” he says. 

He did get good at tennis and later added handball and racquetball. 

As a boy in Nevada, he had happy outings with his father going to watch the mighty University of Nevada at Las Vegas basketball team. He and his father also went fishing and hunting.

Aware of the importance of sport for young people, the archbishop has been a big supporter of the local Catholic Youth Organization.

“Archbishop Sample is a great example of how the CYO philosophy benefits all youth,” says Sister Krista von Borstel, executive director of CYO/Camp Howard. “There is a place for you no matter how talented and a requirement that everyone play a designated playing time. Team sports undoubtedly helped Archbishop Sample learn some life skills that have made him successful as a leader.”