Shiny gold helmets, the Grotto, Touchdown Jesus, Lou Holtz, Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen, the Gipper, Rudy...ah, I love it all, in all of its Fighting Irish glory.
When I was a teenager, I went through various phases of posters on my wall: Duran Duran, River Phoenix, then James Dean. But only one man's framed picture graced my bedside table: Lou Holtz, coach of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. It was a black-and-white photo of Coach Holtz on the sidelines, in his classic pose, crouched down and attentively watching the action on the field.
I caught a post-game interview on television, as I wandered through the living room. The coach on the screen was a grandfatherly man with glasses and an accent that reminded me of my midwestern relatives. The team had just completed a great victory and Lou Holtz could only talk about the areas of play that needed improvement. I learned more about him. He suspended key players for what might seem to be a minor rule infraction. He left names off jerseys to highlight the team aspect of play, rather than highlighting individuals. He didn't brag, but just kept his mouth shut and DID. And he loved Notre Dame. He acted like a man living out a boyhood dream because that's exactly what he was doing. And he always seemed grateful for the opportunity.
In my spare time, I would read histories of Notre Dame football and of the university itself. It was a place with which many Catholic immigrants identified. It was America's college football team. I scoured the newspaper for any information and kept clippings of stats from each game. I wore my Notre Dame National Champions 1988 sweatshirt--the one with the team's season on the back--for over a decade until it became threadbare. I even had Notre Dame canvas slip-on shoes and I wore shamrock earrings along with my sweatshirt and shoes on game days. I also dreamed of going to the University of Notre Dame and becoming a ball girl for the football team.
Instead, I ended up attending a small college in north Louisiana, Northwestern State University. We moved the summer before my senior year of high school so my dad could take a position as dean there. I wanted to be a teacher and they had the best undergraduate program in the state, so there was no reason to pay more to go somewhere else. I had great professors and it was a quality program, but part of me wished I could have been in South Bend.
My mother admired Coach Holtz also, but she was a little leery of my love for a Catholic institution. I think she always blamed my love for Notre Dame football as a gateway to my conversion to Catholicism! It was the only chink in my anti-Catholic armor, to be sure.
I've continued my love for the Irish, even through the lean years. In my classroom, I always had a "Play Like a Champion" sign above my door, a tribute to the one that hangs in the stadium that the players all hit before heading down to the field before each game. So, Monday, I'll be sitting in one of the SEC's newest cities--in Aggieland--but I'll be cheering for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Monday morning, I'll watch RUDY to get in the spirit, which means lots of happy tears. I'll also scour the internet for any interviews with my favorite Irish coach, Lou Holtz. I may be in the land of maroon and white, but this southern girl's heart will be with those who wear the gold, even if a picture of my husband has replaced Lou on my bedside table.
God Bless Notre Dame!