U.S. football Hall of Famers meet pope, give him number 1 jersey

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The “Hail Mary Pass” did not come up in the conversation, but Pope Francis clearly had a good catch on Wednesday when he received a helmet and jersey from members of the American Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“As many of you know, I am an avid follower of ‘football’, but where I come from, the game is played very differently!” Francis joked with the players and directors at a private audience.

The pope is an honorary member of the San Lorenzo soccer club, nicknamed the Saints of Boedo for the Buenos Aires barrio where they were founded by a group of young men that included a priest in 1908.

Those who met the pope included Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who is due to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August, and six previous Hall of Fame inductees including Ronnie Lott, Franco Harris and Curtis Martin.

Francis told them that sports figures should strive to be models for young people so that they use their God-given talents to better society.

The group gave the pope a signed helmet and a white jersey bearing the number 1 and the name “Papa Francesco”.

In American football, a “Hail Mary Pass” is a long forward pass, made with only a small chance of success.

The term became famous in 1975 in a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings. Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, a Roman Catholic, made an extraordinary game-winning pass and later explained: “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”

Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Larry King