My addiction to Notre Dame football started before birth.
“He’s singing the fight song from inside my belly,” my mom would say, as my dad beamed with pride.
Seriously, I love the Fighting Irish. Didn’t have close to the grades or money to go there, but I’ve still been a lifelong fan.
I was pushed just a wee bit by my dad, who was the biggest ND fan ever before he died in 2002.
“Now son, I know you’re almost 5 years old, but you have a big decision to make,” he told me a long time ago. “You can either root for Notre Dame or live in our garage until adulthood. And don’t forget how cold it gets here in Chicago every winter.”
OK, it wasn’t like that at all. But our modest home was filled with Notre Dame footballs, posters, pennants, ash trays, cups, flags, photos, pens, coasters, towels and statues. And we wore Fighting Irish hats, jackets, T-shirts, shorts, gloves, sweaters and socks.
My high school, Mt. Carmel, was called “Little Notre Dame” and the stunningly beautiful ND campus was only an hour away. When I went to a game and saw the blue and gold team race onto the field with the famous song playing I was in heaven, with Touchdown Jesus looking down in approval.
So you can imagine my ecstasy this season as our lads are 12-0 and will play for the national championship against Alabama on Jan. 7. If you live in, or within miles of, my trailer park residence in Moab you have no doubt heard me ringing down the thunder after each of those dozen wins.
I nailed my Fighting Irish banner onto the porch after every triumph and somehow avoided a trip to the hospital each time.
The most rewarding part of this great season, though, is the connection with my dad. I put my favorite photo of him, he’s on the sidelines coaching his beloved youth football, on the table next to my chair and we have watched every game together.
My dad was the Fighting Irish guy in real life, dukes always up ready for a match against anything that was wrong with this world or a threat to his family. He was a pipecoverer for 40 years and a tough, sweet, honest and funny man.
Here’s a good one: His health was deteriorating after so many years of working with asbestos and he was on full oxygen, but stayed active until the end.
A friend of his had Notre Dame tickets and he was so excited to see his favorite team on a sun-splashed autumn afternoon in South Bend. But just minutes before the game while tailgating he was stung by a bee and almost lost consciousness.
The paramedics quickly arrived and wanted to take my 70-year-old dad to a nearby emergency room.
“Do you know how tough these tickets are to get?” he told the wide-eyed EMTs as he struggled to his feet and untangled the air hoses. “I’m not going to miss the opening kickoff if it kills me!”
“Well, it just might,” one of the responders said, shaking his head and trying to hide a smile as my dad hustled toward the turnstiles.
I’m not sure if Notre Dame won that day or not. My dad, as passionate of a fan as you could ever imagine, still would always say, win or lose, that it’s only a game.
I think about my dad every single day, but I especially miss him when the Fighting Irish football team is racing onto the emerald field and the magical fight song is blaring and the fans of all ages are cheering wildly.
“…while her loyal sons are marching onward to victory!”
On Jan. 7, 2013, 11 years and five days after his death, I’ll be with my dad watching Notre Dame play for the national championship.
I sure hope we can beat Alabama for the title, but then again it is only a game. Especially compared to the memories of my all-time hero Bob Fitzgerald, the Fighting Irish guy himself.