Tis the season to be jolly, which also many times means the season for seemingly endless bickering and debating. Most recently, the debate over the need for a real Christmas tree versus the suitability of an artificial tree once again arose. Some of us feel that a nice looking artificial tree is fine, while others feel that only some sort of an atheist would erect a piece of green plastic in their living room in lieu of an aromatic natural tree….even though those real trees leave an awful mess and the water from the tree stand normally spills all over the place.
Once the debate over the tree issue is solved, then it’s fine to move on to the dinner menu, such as the great turkey versus ham quandary. I happen to enjoy both, but last Christmas Eve I threw everyone for a loop and made a huge pot of chili and served it along with some homemade tamales that I bought from a vendor selling them out of the trunk of his car. I have to say, the tamales were amazing and enjoyed by all.
This year, another reason to bicker has landed in our laps and, for good or bad, it will not only fuel the argumentative fires during Christmas, but last through New Year’s Day. We have something pending that will no doubt cause voices of college football fans everywhere to rise; Notre Dame Football and their chances of being the top team in the nation!
I don’t know that there is a football fan in America that has neutral feelings toward Notre Dame. It seems that either the Fighting Irish are loved or despised. There is no middle ground when it comes to the Notre Dame Football program. Although the Irish have disappointed me on more than one occasion, I have to say that my loyalty remains strong. My loyalty wasn’t, however, built over night. There have been a series of events that have taken place over the years that have made me a true fan. These same events have made me question the sanity of anyone who could express hatred toward ND.
Back in the late 1960s, as just a little squirt, I attended my very first Notre Dame Football game. My dad secured four tickets to a game and along with my dad, mom and brother; I was exposed to the Notre Dame experience. My recollection of the game is this; two seats were situated in one end zone and the other two on the opposite end of the stadium. I sat with my mom while my dad and brother were located about as far away as possible while remaining in the stadium. My dad had worn one of those bright fluorescent orange hunting jackets that day. I really don’t know if he wore it so that I could see him from the other side of the stadium or if it was simply the warmest jacket he owned. I don’t recall who the Irish played that day or who won the game, but I can still visualize that bright orange dot situated hundreds of yards away. It wasn’t too long after that when my dad passed away, making me long for another opportunity to once again experience a Notre Dame Football game with him.
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Notre Dame games were “blacked out” in the Chicago area on Saturday afternoons. This is so very contradictory to the over-exposed nature of the program today, but that’s the way it was. Instead, Notre Dame Football games were edited and replayed on a UHF station (those would be the “fuzzy” stations that were hard to get reception for) on Sunday mornings. The games were narrated by Lindsey Nelson and lasted for maybe an hour or so. There was something very comforting about waking up on a cold Sunday morning and tuning in for some ND football.
Years later, while working as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, I had the good fortune to meet someone quite unique and special who opened an entirely new series of doors to the Notre Dame experience for me. While attending a cocktail reception following a sales meeting, I was approached by a crusty old gentleman who was also a prominent research physician at a notable medical institution located on the east coast. “Dr. B.”, who was ruffled and slightly disheveled (and also a medical genius) sought me out and introduced himself to me. The fact that he did so was odd because I was at the time a very low level salesperson with the company. Dr. B. explained to me that he had found out that I was the sales representative who covered the South Bend area. He went on to further explain that he enjoyed coming to the university and giving lectures, particularly during the football season. One thing led to another and he explained that when his next lecture opportunity came around that he would see to it that we would attend a game together.
As promised, the following autumn Dr. B. called me and said that his lecture had been arranged on a Friday to precede an Irish football game. He instructed me to meet him on Saturday morning at a specific location proximal to the stadium; a spot near what appeared to be a service entrance. He also instructed me to bring two bottles of the cheapest wine I could find. I asked no questions and followed my instructions to the letter, meeting Dr. B. at the designated point with cheap wine in tow. We met at a big blue service door and Dr. B. gave it a few good kicks. A few moments later, the door slowly opened and we were ushered into the ND locker room and told to wait patiently in a trainer’s room. It seems that Dr. B. was once upon a time the team trainer for Notre Dame during Coach Frank Leahy’s tenure back in the late 1940s. He still had a few good connections which enabled us to bribe the attendant with some cheap swill and, as a result, obtain some sweet sideline passes! I can tell you, there is no greater rush than to follow the team out of the tunnel and smack that “Play like a Champion” sign on the way out to be greeted by 70,000 screaming fans. Forest Gump never had it so good!
Just when I thought things could never get any better, I had the opportunity to re-live the entire experience a year later. There was a slight change in plans the second time around, however. Rather than meet on Saturday morning as we did a year earlier, Dr. B. instructed me to meet him on Friday night at the Notre Dame Alumni Club (and to NOT forget the wine!). We were to meet some friends of Dr. B. for dinner on the evening prior to the game. As we waited in the lobby of the club for Dr. B’s friends to arrive, who walked in other than Notre Dame Football legend and former coach Ara Parseghian? Parseghian had led the Fighting Irish to national titles in the 60s and early 70s prior to retiring and going into TV broadcasting. My jaw literally dropped as this god-like figure entered the room. Although in reality Parseghian is approximately six feet tall, he appeared to be a giant.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Parseghian was, in fact, the “friend” of Dr. B. that we were to meet for dinner. You can imagine the “deer in the headlights” look I had on my face when the news of this finally sunk in. Dr. B., the coach, Mrs. Parseghian and I all sat down for a nice quiet dinner together. Although the content of the dinner conversation is somewhat vague to me, I do recall uttering something to the effect of a Ralph Kramden-like “hommana-hommana-hommana” every once in a while. I eventually settled down a bit and was able to contribute somewhat to the events of the evening. In the days to follow, I walked around about a foot off of the ground.
I’ll say that Coach Parseghian was one of the nicest people I have ever met. He was polite, respectful and truly genuine. He was also an imposing figure that if he told me to get down and give him fifty push-ups, I would have done so without hesitation (this was back when I could actually do fifty push-ups, by the way). It was about a year later that Coach Parseghian appeared on one of those sports-talk radio stations in Chicago. The radio host asked for callers with any questions for Parseghian. I didn’t have any particular question, yet I called the show simply to tell the coach how he had made such an impression upon me. I was about two sentences into my call when the coach immediately recognized me and interrupted. He began to recount the events of the dinner we shared a year prior. Needless to say, I walked around about a foot off the ground for several days after that phone call as well.
Although the Fighting Irish have let me down a few times over the years when it comes to losing some key games, my overall experience with the program has made me a true believer. So when I hear or see those display their hatred for the Gold and Blue, I just shake my head and remember when.