My son “Don Juan”, editor of an ND blog, has prevailed upon me to pen a post about any experiences I wanted to share as an ND alum (‘72- Bach. Of Architecture). I’m a bit at sea here, coming as I do from a low-tech era trying to make sense of a high tech one. A big change from my days as a student is today’s incredible amount of Irish fact, rumor, and speculation generated non-stop year-round. I won’t pretend to be as well-informed as you readers but rather, will share a few personal memories as a die-hard fan.
I got hooked on ND as a boy in the late 50s and attending the occasional game in the Kuharich years. I recall the stadium less than packed and a sense of the team being overmatched at “big” games. The Devore interim caretaker year preceded Parseghian and the contrast between the two coaching regimes was as night and day. I remember delivering the LaPorte Herald Argus on a late fall Saturday afternoon in 1964, listening to my transistor radio to the USC game when they spoiled the perfect season and cost the Irish their national championship. I guess that was my first experience with the agonizing pain of dealing with an unexpected loss. Nevertheless, there was a total transformation in the stadium with Ara coaching the team..After the 1966 championship season, the ND football All-Americans played my high school teachers in a charity basketball game. The Irish players clowned around (Alan Page bounced his free throws at the basket) but the gym was packed with fans who were amazed at the size of the Irish players and their strength.
My freshman year in 1967 saw real excitement at the campus for football. I lived in Cavanaugh and didn’t get much sleep during Homecoming week (MSU) as each dorm tried to outdo the others for a display. Cavanaugh erected a two story slain Spartan in its courtyard and sawing and hammering under the lights went well into each night. The atmosphere in the stadium during games was electric. If it rained during a game, the “Ara stop the rain” chant would start in our student section. One notable freshman memory was the North Dining Hall food poisoning the night before finals (lines at the restrooms thruout the night) and the food riot that followed the next day. Who knew their version of Swiss Steak would stick to the dining hall ceiling when thrown? With the football players living in the dorms with us, they suffered alike with us. I played a lot of pickup basketball games at the Rock against the football players in the off-seasons. I remember Walt Patulski setting crushing picks and Joe Theismann getting in his teammates’ faces if they didn’t go full out in these games.
One thing I can say about ND football from the perspective of time, is the ebb and flow of the Irish fortunes has been a direct reflection of the head coach. The troughs of Kuharich, Faust, and Willingham have been interspaced between the crests of Ara, Devine, Lou, and Charlie (?).There are many who say ND will never return to its former glory given the recruiting and scholarship inequities in contemporary college football but I believe a greatly coached team can offset these disparities.. I remember Ara running a misdirection offense with a group of no-name running backs while competing against OJ and other marquee SC players and closely competing against the superior talent. History says an outstanding coach will be able to put an Irish team on the field that will return the Irish to glory. I felt the electricity in the stadium for the ‘05 SC game, same as the ‘93 FSU game, ‘88 Miami game, the ‘73 SC green jersey game, and the ‘67 MSU game and I’m confident, Charlie Weis and the Irish are on the path to greatness.