Oct 3, 2012, 10:46 PM EDT
I’ve said before that Notre Dame—and by extension Notre Dame football—has always been a part of my life. My father (’81) is as Notre Dame as it gets. All I usually have to say to get people to grasp that is that our dog’s name is Ara.
Believe it or not, the reservations I had in coming to Notre Dame were for exactly this reason. Notre Dame belonged to my father, it belonged to my family—my younger brothers were die-hard Irish football fans before I was—but I wasn’t exactly sure that it belonged to me. My brother will readily tell you that he was always a bigger football fan than I was—he loved wins more and felt losses harder. When I told him two years ago that I was going to start blogging about football, he asked me if I could even name five players on the team. I could.
How, I wondered, could I compete with a family and a father that had already established themselves as “more Irish” than I was?
When I came for my yearly football game as a senior in high school, Notre Dame felt different than it had during my dozens of previous visits. Notre Dame was a box on a checklist of places to consider for college, and for the first time I started imagining what this place would look like if I enrolled. For the first time, I could see myself here apart from my father. I could envision myself eating in South Dining Hall where I had dropped a plate of jello as a little kid. I could picture myself walking down the path to the Grotto where I had lit a candle and prayed for a baby sister (I got another brother) at the age of six. I could imagine what it would feel like to be in the student section that I had always admired from across the Stadium.
I decided that going to my dad’s school didn’t mean I had to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I decided I could have an independent self at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame, it seems, had other ideas.
As a freshman, I found myself working as a student assistant in the Sports Information Office, just like my dad did when he was here. It was a job. I didn’t expect to like it. On the high school newspaper, I wrote for every section except Sports.
And then somehow, I ended up loving it.
I started writing features for the football programs. I sat down with student-athletes and got to know them in order to pen their profiles. I was struck by their passion, their strength, their love of the game. I made connections in the same world my father loved but that were ultimately my own. I immersed myself in this crazy, fanatic, wonderful obsession of Notre Dame sports. When my first football program article came out, my mom framed it alongside my dad’s from that same program. It now hangs in his office.
In all of my childhood visits, in all of the deliberations about my college choice, I don’t think I ever played out the scenario where I would fall so completely in love with Notre Dame sports. Before the Michigan game started last week, I went up to see my dad in the press box and told him I felt like I was going to throw up. He chuckled and said, “You weren’t supposed to be like me in that way.”
The bye week left campus in an agonizing two weeks, awaiting our next game. After this past weekend, we’re officially a top-10 team. It is with that status and those hopes that we revive the historic and heated rivalry with Miami. I know of all the legendary seasons and games my dad has experienced, and the 1988 Miami game is right near the top of the list. But now, I’m the one who is about the throw up right before the game. As much as my dad is still living and breathing Notre Dame, this season is mine the way 1977 was his.
Of my four years, this season is the closest parallel to my father’s Notre Dame experience (the 1977 national championship was his freshman year). This season has been the most exhilarating, the most important, the most relevant Notre Dame football has been in my career, and my dad says that I am finally getting to see what he has been on about all these years. I finally get to see why his deep and undying love of Notre Dame football has remained year after year no matter how bad things got. In terms of Notre Dame, I have never felt more closely bonded to him.
But though this year is the most similar to my dad’s time as a student, it is also the year that Notre Dame has felt the most my own. I feel like this team is mine, this season is mine, this school is mine. My love might have followed my dad’s—it may be tied to his—but it does not feel derivative. This time belongs to us as students in a way that it does not belong to anyone else.
Maybe it’s a little bit like Notre Dame football: the history of where you’ve come from inspires you, but it’s ultimately where you’re going that matters.
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