I went to Notre Dame for the first time in 1996, the last year of Lou Holtz’s tenure. As a wide-eyed seven year old, I was fickle. Did I like the Irish? The Buckeyes? Maybe even the Hurricanes? My first experience changed everything forever.
The relationship I had with my Uncle was unique. He was a father, uncle, best friend all rolled into one wonderful human being. My Uncle was a 1958 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame football was his passion.
I traveled to South Bend with my Uncle over 15 times. But the first time was special because it was just me and him. It was an unseasonably cold September day as the Irish took on the Purdue Boilermarkers. As he showed me around, I naturally drifted to the bookstore. There he bought me a #3 jersey and a Notre Dame football. Often times, souvenirs are children’s most important priority on any trip. For my first trip to Notre Dame, the experience, as I came to find out, was my priority.
Moments before the first kickoff, my Uncle leaned over to and told me “#15 is going to run back for a touchdown.” And as soon as the ball left the toe of the Boilermaker’s kicker, my life in College Football had changed.
I saw several games with my Uncle. Some good. Some bad. Some horrendous. Upset victories over Michigan in 2002 and 2004. The “Bush Push” in 2005. Losing to FSU 38-0. We saw the full spectrum of games. Holtz, Davie, Willingham and Weis.
My Uncle never made it to a Brian Kelly era game due to health issues. But that did not stop him from continuing passion for the sport. He would not miss a Notre Dame game for anything. You could always find him sitting on his side of the couch waiting for the NBC broadcast to come on the television that was purchased solely to the watch the Insight Bowl in 2004 in High Definition, at that time it was all the rage.
As the ball twirled through the air, it eventually became settled in the arms of #15 Allen Rossum. After he corralled the ball, Rossum made several cuts and then exploded towards the end zone. The video is below.
As he crossed the goal line , my Uncle’s word had come true. This is a moment I will never forget. It seemed so impossible that such a prediction could happen. My first time there. On the first play. On a call by my Uncle. Not impossible but rare. Similar to the relationship that I had with him for 23 years of my life. We had a relationship that you just do not find every day.
After that moment and game, I could not but love Notre Dame. But more importantly, from that moment forward, the relationship between my Uncle and I grew. Outside of football, he gave me the type of advice that I needed at ages 16, 18, 21 and 23. Recently when I asked him about something very important, he still was giving great advice.
As was stated at several memorial services, my Uncle was quite the philanthropist. He took a great interest in many people. He is the epitome of service over self. He seemed to succeed in every endeavor that he undertook. He helped out hundreds of people in life. If he had a sign to encompass all of this it would read….LIVE LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY.