This Monday, February 29, Philadelphia Flyers legend and five-time NHL All-Star Jim Watson will be honored with an induction into the Flyers Hall of Fame.
Watson, who played with the Flyers from 1973 – 1982, skated alongside his older brother, Joe, for several seasons. Together, they claimed back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975. Now, 20 years after Joe’s 1996 induction, Jim will join his brother in the rafters of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
It’s ironic (or, perhaps, not) that sports fans see stadiums and arenas as cathedrals and revere the jerseys, numbers, and banners hanging inside with legendary stature. Jim, who is no stranger to arenas across the country, has noted that his playing days in fact afforded him the chance to visit actual cathedrals and other local homes of worship so important to his Catholic faith. Naturally, we wanted to know more.
“My faith was consistent throughout my life, and it was consistent because it was very important to me,” Watson explained to me during a conversation this week. “When I got to the NHL, we usually stayed in downtown areas, so I could go to nearby major cathedrals on Sundays.”
We speak highly of balance at the Institute; it is, of course, one of our core pillars. Yet sports, particularly at the most competitive levels, tend to draw athletes in and fully command their time and attention. But, Jim argues, his focus on faith was a grounding mechanism, one he believes ultimately helped him succeed and maintain a healthy balance as a player and a person.
“You need a clear mind, high motivation, and a certain humility and gratefulness that my faith taught me,” Jim said.
From a consistent focus on God, down to the smallest details like the decor and atmosphere of each individual church, Jim says his visits to cathedrals and churches across the country offered opportunities to slow down, reflect, and keep a strong faith life. He wasn’t alone, either. He remembers fondly the walks he’d take through New York City, for example, with his brother Joe and teammates like Jack McIlhargey, Kevin McCarthy, and Don Saleski to attend mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Those experiences were positive ways to engage with faith communities and find peace amidst the busy NHL season, Jim recalls.
“When you’re at peace with yourself, you’re going to perform better in whatever you do,” said Jim. “It is better to have your faith always included in your activities, and I’ve found the happiest people are those who are closest to their faith. They’re the people with real inner peace and an enriched lifestyle.”
While their travel calendars don’t rival the non-stop schedules of professional athletes, I felt compelled to ask Jim for advice to Neumann student-athletes, who do often travel for competition and juggle academic, athletic, and social demands in a sometimes hectic mix. Unsurprisingly, he emphasized intentionality in quiet, reflective time and personal faith.
“We need to tell youth that it’s good to stay true to your faith,” Jim said. “Staying close to your faith gives you meaning, and we need it more than ever in society.”
Jim walks the walk, too. Right down the road from our office at Neumann University, he is the director of the Iceworks Youth Hockey Program, where he’s able to bring this same attitude and perspective to hundreds of kids. My colleague, Elaine Dougherty, has gotten to know Jim well over the years as her two sons and one daughter have all trained with him.
“About four years ago, after the last game of the season with his 18AA team, Jim gave a closing speech to players and parents,” Elaine recalled. “After a heartfelt message from Coach Watson, one player, J.D. Constantini, presented the team’s gift to Coach with these words: ‘You’ve taught us more about life than you did about hockey.’ I think that’s Jim in a nutshell; that’s what is important to him.”
Humility, gratitude, faith. As I review my notes from our conversation, those words appear again and again. And, it seems, they define Jim Watson as a player, a coach, and a person.
Watson’s Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame induction will be held before the Flyers take the ice against Calgary this coming Monday, February 29 at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. The game will air on CSN-Philly.
Jim Watson has previously visited the Institute to discuss his faith.
Watch the video clip below!