A Revelation In The Presence Of Touchdown Jesus
Monday, December 10, 2012
I am a changed man. After just two days in South Bend, Indiana, I am a changed man.
Please, allow me to explain.
I am a sports fan who is 45 years of age and Irish-Catholic. I grew up in an area of northeastern Massachusetts that was predominantly Irish-Catholics, most of whom were big fans of Notre Dame football. I was not.
I can’t really give you a good explanation as to why I didn’t like the Fighting Irish football program other than to say that I felt as if everyone, everywhere was expected to be a Notre Dame fan. It was a concept I could not and would not accept.
I suppose I could explain it similarly by telling you how I have forever rejected the notion that the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team.” Says who? I’m an American and they’re certainly not my team!
But let’s get back to Notre Dame.
If anyone actually had a good reason to be a fan of the Fighting Irish growing up, I did.
My next-door neighbors – the Whites – had a very strong connection to the program.
My best friend’s father – Donny White – was a quarterback at Notre Dame. A standout signal-caller at Haverhill High School, Donnie led the Hillies to an undefeated season in 1955 and the Massachusetts state championship. Many considered him the greatest athlete in Haverhill High history.
From there, he headed off to South Bend, Indiana where he joined the Notre Dame football program. Donny didn’t start for the Irish for most of his career, but he did start 4 games in 1959 going 2-2 in those four games.
Similarly, Donnie’s kids – Gerylan, Kevin, Brian and Chris were all tremendous athletes in their own right. All excelled at multiple sports and the three boys were all very good football players.
Brian actually quarterbacked the Harvard Crimson in college before getting into coaching which has taken him all over the country. He now is an assistant coach at the University of Florida.
One of his stops was South Bend where he was a graduate assistant coach for Lou Holtz when the Irish won the 1988 National Championship.
I think very highly of the White family. Always have. So why, then, have I been rooting against Notre Dame all these years?
Again, it probably goes back to the notion that I felt like I was SUPPOSED to root for the Irish. In this particular case, I didn’t want to conform with the masses.
So, for all these years, I have made it a point to either have no interest in Notre Dame football or, even worse, root against them.
Why have I changed my mind? Simple.
Having just spent two days out in South Bend, Indiana with the Brown University men’s basketball team which played at Notre Dame, I had a revelation within the shadows of “Touchdown Jesus.”
I have traveled all across the country for both business and personal reasons, and I can honestly say that I have never met a finer group of people than those in the South Bend, Indiana area. They have given the phrase “Midwestern hospitality” new meaning.
Whether it was at my hotel, out at a restaurant or at the University of Notre Dame itself, the people could not have been nicer.
Just walking on the street you are greeted by total strangers with a friendly “hello.” At the hotel, the front desk clerk greets you with a warm smile every time you walk through the door and asks, “how are you doing today?”
At Notre Dame’s basketball arena – the Joyce Center – an usher asked me if Brown basketball coach Mike Martin would be joining me courtside for a postgame radio interview. When I told him that I wasn’t sure, he respoonded, “well, just let me know and I’d be happy to bring a chair out on the floor for him.”
As I was having a conversation with the play-by-play broadcaster for ESPN3, a female usher was patiently waiting for our conversation to end. As soon as it did, she greeted the two of us with a smile and wanted us to know where the media room was and that there were refreshments available for us there.
Since I arrived to the arena about 2 ½ hours before game time, I asked a Notre Dame photographer if he knew former Providence College SID Tim Connor who is the school’s sports information director for men’s ice hockey.
He told me that he did and offered to take be to him so that I could say “hello.”
He then walked me across campus to the new ice hockey arena where I met up with Tim to renew an old acquaintance.
As much as it pains me to say this, the hospitality I received in South Bend is in stark contrast to what is the norm here in the northeast.
As most of you know, we who live in the Boston-New York-Philadelphia corridor tend to be a bit more curt or abrupt. When we walk pass someone on the street we are usually in a rush and walk with our heads down without acknowledging those we are passing.
Not in South Bend. They make it a point to make eye contact with you. They smile at you and they say “hello.”
When Notre Dame standout linebacker Manti Te’o lost the Heisman Trophy to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, there was a collective groan from Irish fans in the Joyce Center. Where once I would have reveled in their pain, I found myself sympathizing with them.
After the game, Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey passed by the press table, looked at me and said, “safe travels home.”
Truth be told, I have always admired the job Mike Brey has done and the teams he has coached. For some reason my disdain for Notre Dame football didn’t cross over to the sport of basketball.
I also have to admit that I have always considered the Notre Dame Fight Song one of the few great fight songs in college sports along with the Michigan Fight Song, Boomer Sooner and the USC Fight Song.
If this all seems a bit sappy, I understand. But if you don’t believe me, ask Brown University sports information director Chris Humm. Ask my radio color analyst for Brown basketball games - Russ Tyler. They came away from their trip to South Bend, Indiana with the same impression.
I wasn’t sure who I was going to root for on January 7th in the BCS Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame. As you now know, I never was a fan of the Irish. And do I really want to see Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide win their third title in the last four years?
I’ve made up my mind.