In reply to: The broken link: What has ND's football tradition meant to you? posted by Board Ops
My love for Notre Dame began as a child. My father left our family in 1984 when I was five and my sister three. I didn't realize it then but I was constantly searching for that paternal figure and role model to fill the void. That person was my grandfather, a first generation Irish-American Catholic and WWII veteran. Born in 1913, he grew up in Buffalo's Old First Ward which was predominantly Irish Catholic. The reasons why an Irish-American Catholic growing up in the early 1900s loved Notre Dame are obvious and have been covered well here at NDnation. He was that prototypical subalum.
Saturday afternoons meant Nana Ro's stovetop popcorn and Notre Dame football with Grandpa "Jiggs." Notre Dame was a source of Catholic pride. I felt that pride and the binding force it had within the family and community. The pride went beyond the football field. Notre Dame did everything well and did it the right way. He had always told our family and anyone who would listen, "John's going to go to Notre Dame." The idea seemed far, far out in left field. It was a dream, not a realistic goal. We lived on my mother's single teacher salary with no child support. People from our town didn't go to places like Notre Dame. Regardless of how lofty the idea was, he never relented. "Wait, you'll see" was his attitude. His passion and belief rubbed off on me.
If I were to choose a defining moment it would be my grandfather's death on Feb 13, 1991. I was 11 and beyond heartbroken. We played the Victory March at his wake, and then we played it again, and yet again. There's not a time I hear the Victory March and don't think of him. The Rosary Beads he had secretly ordered for my grandma from the ND Bookstore arrived the day after he died. At some point during the days after his death, I bought a small notepad from the local drugstore. I tore a single sheet from the packet, dated the sheet "Feb 13, 1991," wrote a few words about his death, and finished with, "I John T. _____, swear that I will attend the University of Notre Dame."
The acceptance letter arrived six years later and I knew his Irish eyes were smiling. I had never visited campus but my mind was made up once the acceptance letter arrived. It was never a question of if, only of how. It was more than choosing a school. It was the realization of his dream and fulfillment of my promise made six years before.
No one in our town talked about one classmate that was headed to Cornell, or our valedictorian going to the honorís program at Pitt. I was going to Notre Dame and that was something special.