By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

The Carolina Panthers might be favored to win Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, but Team Broncos is on track to take home bragging rights, at least among Episcopalians.

Team Broncos would be the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, which is running up the score on the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina (Team Panthers) in a friendly competition between Super Bowl rivals. They’re duking it out in Episcopal Showdown for Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD) to see who’s the brawniest when it comes to raising funds for the humanitarian mission arm of the Episcopal Church.

As of 3:30 p.m. Eastern Friday, Team Broncos was on track for the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Super Bowl parade. The Rocky Mountain faithful had raised more than $10,000 for ERD, while Team Panthers were seeking a second wind with $5,552 in the coffers.

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“Colorado Episcopalians are evidently as passionate about Episcopal Relief & Development as they are their beloved Broncos and have risen to the challenge,” said Mike Orr of the Diocese of Colorado via email. “We keep pushing hard towards the goal line, but Team Panthers is right on our heels.”

The teams have until kickoff time Sunday (6:30 p.m. Eastern) to beat records in the fundraising tradition, now in its third year. In 2015, the Diocese of Massachusetts set the bar by giving more than $25,000 to ERD as the New England Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. The combined giving record for two teams in a Super Bowl is $42,000, also established in 2015 with help from Diocese of Olympia fans of the Seattle Seahawks.

This year, the Rt. Rev. Robert O’Neill of Colorado got the pigskin rolling by throwing down the gauntlet in a challenge to North Carolinians. The Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple responded in a three-minute video: “We have a Super Bowl challenge where we’re going to see who can really put their team to work.”

As the big game approached, she was looking for other Southeast dioceses to help deliver a come-from-behind win for Team Panthers. The Diocese of Upper South Carolina came on board.

“We’re expecting to have a big fourth quarter because we will not be defeated,” Bishop Hodges-Copple said.

She acknowledged Team Panthers will need to rally during the weekend to close the gap. She expects ERD’s work in such areas as early childhood education and refugee assistance with partner organizations abroad will help inspire a late wave of giving by Team Panthers, even if it arrives after the proverbial two-minute warning.

As the competition heated up, ERD waded into the fray by tweeting a link to Hodges-Copple’s video: “Team Panthers and @episcopalnc have been doing a bit of trash talking https://vimeo.com/154056795. How will @colodio respond?”

No matter who wins this year’s bragging rights, ERD expects the biggest winners to be people in need who benefit from the agency’s work around the world.

“These donations help the organization respond to disasters, and fight poverty and disease worldwide,” Malaika Kamunanwire of ERD said via email. “We are grateful for the incredible generosity, participation, and support from the competing dioceses and football fans across the country.”

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Episcopal Showdown to Support Episcopal Relief and Development (and the Panthers) from The Episcopal Diocese of NC on Vimeo.

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