Where to begin...
by RJD (2005-11-09 01:07:26)
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  In reply to: The broken link: What has ND's football tradition meant to you?  posted by Board Ops



Where to begin...

My father, a WWII vet from Rockhurst High in Kansas City, was shooting for his PH.D at Notre Dame in Physics when son #2 was born. Father Hesburgh was scheduled for the baptism but he was called away and missed my spring time introduction into the Church. A month later, he was officially named President of Notre Dame. I don't hold a grudge but I sure missed his blessing.

A year later, Frank Leahy's Irish went undefeated and Johnny Lattner won the 1953 Heisman Trophy.

We moved to Long Island shortly after that when my Dad took a job with a defense contractor instead of finishing his studies. But every summer we would hop out of the family station wagon for a quick stop at Notre Dame on the way to Missouri to visit the grandparents. That first time that we saw the Golden Dome peaking over the tree line has stayed with me till this day.

On one such trip, we learned that my Dad's aunt had died. She had been a Sister at St. Mary's, and quite a character or so I've been told.

Growing up, Notre Dame football was always in the air. My brother and I were photographed around the Christmas tree in spanking new ND football uniforms at 5 and 8, respectively. We played a game in the living room where we would throw a football shaped, car wash sponge onto the couch. If it stuck on the top of the couch, it meant Monty Stickles had caught a touchdown pass. I was always Scarpitto while my older brother favored Nick Pietrosante. What glorious names. Notre Dame wasn't winning very much in those years but they never lost in our living room.

Sundays in the fall were reserved for serving mass and eating fresh rolls from the bakery afterwards in front of the black and white TV watching Lindsay Nelson do the replays wearing his usual test pattern jacket.

On more than a few camping trips, our little transistor radio picked up a Notre Dame broadcast while we were supposed to be playing capture the flag and we all stopped to listen, hoping the Irish would score before we lost the signal.

By 1964, I had been reading the sports section and wondering why the Yankees were always winning with Mickey but Notre Dame was in a major funk. Then something magical happened. Notre Dame broke with tradition and named a non-Catholic outsider as head coach. My old man was thrilled but I struggled to pronounce the new coach's name. I was 12 and not sure if I should trust my Dad on this momentous decision by the Irish. After all, my father had never become a Yankee fan so I questioned his sports acumen. I also wasn't happy when he moved me off shortstop to squat behind the plate. "Quickest way to the bigs, " he said. "Besides, you don't have the arm for short." What the hell did he know.

But there we were, late into the fall in the garage listening to the final game of a glorious undefeated season of Huarte to Snow, new Nick heroes Eddy and Rassas, and a mountain of a man named Hardy. At half time up 17-0, my Dad let me have a sip of his bitter Ballantine or maybe I sneaked a taste. A national championship was about to be won in one of the most remarkable one year turnarounds in college football history. My Dad had been right about Ara just as he had been right about the Cardinals that year.

The next 2 hours were devastating as the Trojans came back to win the football game and break my heart and many hearts around the country. This hurt more than Mazeroski's ninth inning blast. But my Dad seemed to take it all in stride. "Son, this is only the beginning. Notre Dame is back where it belongs. Remember this game because the next time, will be our time and if you want to be a part of this someday, you better hit the books as hard as you like to hit the playground because Notre Dame is only for hard workers that strive to be the best."

'"And stay away from my beer. There will be plenty when you get to Notre Dame."

Three years later, the acceptance letter came to my older brother who passed on the Irish for Boston College. I could not believe it. Maybe he wasn't as smart as I thought. But three years after that, my own letter came and my Dad could not have been happier. Ear to ear.

During my first week on campus, I walked over to the cemetery across the road to look for my great aunt's grave and maybe bump into a few coeds. I spotted three older nuns well inside the cemetery entrance and took a shot.

"Where would I find directions to my great aunt's grave, Sister Elizabeth D," I asked. " Oh, Sister Elizabeth Catherine is resting just 3 rows ahead. You must be Emil's son..."

I was home again.

My four years, 1970-1974, were an unbelievable time to be at Our Lady's University. The basketball team book-ended UCLA, Clements lead the Irish to the National Championship down in New Orleans, and females became Notre Dame students. Oh, and a cat was elected President of the Student Body. But that's 1001 more nights of stories.

Still, I can't resist the one about Art Best setting up Southern Comfort shooters on my 21st birthday and later diving into one of the lakes looking for his championship ring.

...Rick



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