Forty four years past, a second-generation Italian father of seven, steered his family’s borrowed Winnebago on a pilgrimage long overdue. Sunday morning Notre Dame football highlights with Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung were special, but attending a live game had been promised. After knocking down two basketball poles while backing out of the driveway in New Jersey, the family arrived safely in South Bend, Indiana on Thursday, November 21, 1973. A day of tours, book store visits, campus walks, a pep rally and introductions to Athletics Director Moose Krause, Football Coach Ara Parseghian and Basketball Coach Digger Phelps was unforgettable. My father revisited his football glory days, striking a Heisman pose as the Notre Dame band marched across campus. Saturday’s football game featured a 48-15 grounding of Air Force. The trip’s only disappointment was learning that Rock Knutne was not attending. Knute Rockne had past away 42 years earlier.
My father begged each of us into our high school years, “One of you has to get into Notre Dame.” Fairfield, Delaware, Georgia, Drexel, Rowan and Towson State, but nothing close to South Bend. Hearing this story repeatedly, my eight-year old son piped up one day, “I’ll go to Notre Dame Dad.” This past Friday night, he graduated with 12 lacrosse teammates, concluding four years of a Notre Dame experience never to be forgotten. This, my final blog, is intended to say thank you to many, but particularly my dad and my son.
Tim Brenneman created this blog in July of 2011 to provide the lacrosse families a means of communication and community. Reading Tim’s blogs, you quickly see how timeless and precious the Notre Dame experience is. I was honored he selected me to carry it forward. Three years later, I’ve had the good fortune to meet Irish nation while watching my son experience Notre Dame and play lacrosse. Each year, the nation’s most difficult schedule required national travel – to home games and away, in some of the game’s most storied venues. Above the wins and losses, miles flown and driven, are people that made it a journey to remember. I’ve tried to capture it all in this blog, which has now responded to 107,162 hits. During lax season, there’s more than 700 knocks on the door a week. Notre Dame’s Parent Nation is as vibrant as ever, thank you for reading. Thanks Tim. I suspect Liza and John Near had something to do with this as well.
Last Saturday’s loss to Denver in the NCAA quarterfinals was surreal. Overcast on Long Island, it wasn’t warm or cold. The announced crowd at James Shuart Stadium at Hofstra was 10,117, but the arena felt sparse. Denver played well, but 18 turnovers suggest far from perfect. When we trailed 2-1 at the end of one quarter, we were close, yet there was concern. Looking around, parent nation was scattered and out of sync. Efforts to cheer and spark were benign. Our time was expiring. A precious gift was being transferred. The 16-4 loss would have permanence. Seniors were thanked and then stepped aside. The post game bonding was cut short. A tailgate celebration cancelled. Goodbyes were rushed and incomplete. Preseason in Sarasota was 13 weeks ago, yet in a snap it was over. A senior season and four years at Notre Dame had come to an end. Where did the time pass and what would I remember?
The wine cellar at LaSalle Grille would be empty before I recounted all of the tales and characters of our four years. A few I’ll never forget…..
Prior to the 2014 ACC Semifinals in Philadelphia, a soft-spoken parent, who’s sons had already graduated, introduced himself, advising me to make every game. “Support your son regardless of contribution. If they’re on the team, they contribute.” Bob Kemp fathered three All-American lacrosse goalies, two at Notre Dame. He suffered a heart attack two weeks later and passed. His presence is missed, but his spirit lives. Today, The Annual Bob Kemp Classic celebrates Bob’s legacy while honoring those with a notable commitment to faith, family and athletics. In four years, I missed four games. Earning a spot on the Notre Dame roster is a privilege without guarantees. Embrace the opportunity.
Six days after getting thrashed by #5 Maryland at Arlotta Stadium, #9 ND returned the favor in our first ACC Tournament. Trailing all game, Conor Doyle tied it with two minutes remaining. Then freshman Garrett Epple stripped an All-American, which Jack Near collected and raced the length of the field, dishing to Matt Kavanagh in stride. Kav can finish and did with seven seconds remaining on a rainy night in Philly. Conor Kelly had 12 saves. We advanced to Sunday’s title game where we defeated Syracuse in a thriller. In a flash, we went from ACC and NCAA Tournament elimination to ACC Tournament Champion, NCAA Tournament Automatic Qualifier and ultimately, national runner-up. Relive the ACC Title here….ND versus Syracuse 2014 ACC Title
Losing by five goals with eight minutes remaining in the 2014 NCAA Quarterfinals, the Irish staged a comeback for the ages. Playing at Hofstra University, Albany was the favorite of a sellout crowd of 13,519. A 4-0 Irish lead was washed away by Sports Center Top 10 plays produced by a talented Thompson trio. ND alum Eamon McAnaney called the game for ESPN, proclaiming “Albany packing for Baltimore” and The Final Four. But an Irish 10-man ride forced seven turnovers in nine minutes. Everyone contributed to push the game into overtime. Conor Kelly saved one off his head before Matt Kavanagh, playing in his hometown, ended it in overtime. I’ve watched the highlights 30 times. You can watch it here…..ND versus Albany, 2014
Drama was the norm at Arlotta Stadium, including two epic games played sophomore year. On the heels of shutting out Ohio State, the #2 Irish hosted #1 ranked Syracuse on a sunny, but brisk Saturday game broadcast on ESPNU. Leading by six, Notre Dame saw the Orange fight back, taking their first lead with 1:02 remaining. PJ Finley tied it in the final minute and Jack Near won it in double overtime, stripping Cuse of their top ranking. Nine different players scored with goalie Shane Doss registering 12 saves. We lit Grace Hall. Three weeks later, an overflow crowd saw the top ranked Irish score three goals in the final 1:15, to defeat #2 North Carolina. The game included 10 ties and six lead changes. Matt Kavanagh’s winner came with 0:07 remaining. Highlights of both games can be seen here. Notre Dame versus Syracuse Highlights Notre Dame versus Carolina highlights
The Network – One of a kind, Notre Dame is a global institution who’s alumni care deeply and contribute immensely. The team’s annual networking trip to New York for the juniors is an example. Fifteen companies are visited in two days. Seeds are planted, internships are incubated. Full-time jobs are secured in the fall. Nothing handed, but plenty of support offered. Who else has 50+ players show up for an alumni game in the rain on a Sunday in the Bronx? Or enjoys dinner at the homes of Dick Vitale and Dan Connors or engage alumni speakers such as Tom Mendoza, Jimmy Dunn, Bill Hanzlik or Jimmy Keenan! Thanks for the continued support of the team, on the field and off.
My glass is near empty, so I’ll condense a few years……The tailgates in Baltimore prior to the national semifinal game versus Maryland and the Championship versus Duke were spectacular, thanks Jane and Geoff Marlatt. Rival events included two tailgates at Army, thanks to Kevin and Grace Doyle and Terry Doss this past year….. Paul and Liz Finley were sensational this year, coordinating tailgates from Dallas to Denver, South Bend to Durham, thank you… Defeating Syracuse in The Carrier Dome 17-7 while they celebrated the program’s 100 years was special….Defeating Duke twice in Durham and Virginia twice in Charlottesville was neat…. This year, we defeated both NCAA Championship combatants, Ohio State and Maryland, at Arlotta. We never trailed in either game….. Seeing Grace Hall illuminated with the #1 each time the team ascended to the top ranking was very cool….Playing in Dallas at the Ford Center at The Star, The Dallas Cowboy’s training facility and twice in Southern California was like royalty……Mass at the Basilica….The Holy Half that was snowed out as we walked to the starting line, The Ivy Court, The Linebacker, Corndance, Runs across campus with Rob Kelly and Lubo….Vasko’s grappa, Jack’s Guinness. Paul’s speaker and John Borbi’s texts…..and then there’s Lucy’s proud smile at each game. Each provokes a story, that gets grander with each rendition. Thank you all!
Special thanks to Rob Kelly, John Marchese, Kathy Koshansky, Terry Doss and Bobbie Arlotta who captured our photographs. They traveled, shot, edited and posted weekly. Robby Hamman and John Heisler from ND’s athletic office enabled their field access. Grazie. My dad introduced me to ND at an early age. My son has ensured I’ll be Irish forever. For the two of them and my wife Julie, who supported me while leading Parent Nation, thank you. I’ve enjoyed the ride and wish your next blogger, the wind at his back and the sun shine warm upon his face. Until we meet again, may God hold all of you in the palm of his hand. Go Irish.