Sunday, January 14, 2007

Contest Winners | by Jay

A few months ago we announced a Posting Contest, with the two winners receiving a copy of the new Fighting Irish DVD Box Set. We apologize for the delay; we had hoped to get this finalized by Christmas, but holidays and the New Orleans hangover conspired against us.

Nevertheless, we're pleased to announce our two winners: Steve Kelley, for "A Lifetime of Reasons", and Michael Bangert, for "Hardware Hopefuls". Below you'll find Steve's winning entry, and we'll run Michael's soon as well.

We'd like to thank all of our entrants for their fine submissions, including Sean Harmon, Gene Zychowicz, Greg Rowe, Jon Murphy, Brandon Crouch, Ted Heffernan, Ryan Moran, Patrick Stoecker, Matt Menegay, John Lewinsky, William Edwards, Bobby Metzinger, Dave Fotopolous, Joseph Stachler, Pete Falzarano, Chris Fillio, Tammy Summers, Nate Ledbetter, Paul Cleveland, Bill Tunnell, Justin Kay, and Chris Lawler. Unfortunately we only had 2 box sets to give away, and it was a tough decision to narrow it down so much.

Here's Steve's winning post. Enjoy.

A Lifetime of Reasons

By Stephen Kelley ‘86

It was cold. Really, really cold. I looked over at my dad. He loved Notre Dame and this was the 1977 Cotton Bowl against Texas and the fabled Earl Campbell, but my dad had to be cold, too. Texas had just scored, and I was expecting to see a mix of discomfort and disappointment, but instead he looked at me with an oddly content smile. I looked back at him, puzzled. I determined that given the frigid temperature and the turn of events on the field, the smile had to be an act. This was my first Notre Dame football game. I was twelve.

It is twenty-nine years later and my wife is both angry and genuinely puzzled. “Why do you care so much?” she asks as I stomp around in my living room like a little kid, yelling at the television set in response to a Notre Dame turnover. All this is much to the delight of my nine-year old, who is amused by the sudden juxtaposition of maturity levels. My wife is not similarly amused.

“Really, why do you care so much?” She repeated the question with an audible expression of exasperation. It was not the first time she asked me that question. Indeed, I think the questions probably started with that game in Ann Arbor fifteen years earlier. . .

It was my first trip to the Big House, a deserving name if there ever was one. Thanks to Lydia, I was seated in the Michigan alumni section at the fifty-yard line along with Lydia’s parents, who also just happened to be rabid Michigan fans. Indeed, the Michigan connection runs deep for Lydia’s family and even includes a relative with a building on campus named for him. Clearly, I had slipped behind enemy lines.

Lydia and I were law school classmates. I had been trying to figure out how to up the ante on our relationship from the very first day we met during our first year. Three years later, having graduated and working in Chicago, I had made embarrassingly little progress. That is, until the unlikely invitation to the Notre Dame game in Ann Arbor with her parents, whom I had met only briefly at a law school reception they hosted. Even I recognized that this was my big chance.

The afternoon was rainy and cold, but neither the elements, nor Michigan, could stop Raghib Ismail, nicknamed, appropriately, “the Rocket”, from returning two kickoffs for touchdowns as the Irish prevailed. After he broke free on the first return, I instinctively bolted to my feet and cheered wildly as he streaked untouched down the sideline. It was far too late when I realized that I was the only person standing for what seemed like miles in a vast expanse of maize and blue. I could feel the stares from hundreds of pairs of eyes belonging to angry Michigan alumni burning holes right through me. I am certain they were wondering why anyone in their right mind would give this Notre Dame fool tickets in the inner sanctum of the alumni section. My guess is that Lydia, and her parents, were thinking the very same thing – particularly when I staged a repeat performance during Rocket’s second kick-off return.

I often wonder what Lydia would have that thought if someone told her that day that she was going to spend the rest of her life with that idiot with the moth-eaten “lucky” Notre Dame shirt, who was jumping up and down like a little kid, arms wildly flailing about, completely oblivious to the sea of stoned-faced Michigan alumni surrounding him in every direction. Did she have any idea that a decade later she would be nursing our youngest son in that same stadium while watching yet another Notre Dame game?

Lydia would eventually solve part of what she calls her “Notre Dame problem”-- which I think refers to what she considers my unhealthy addiction to Notre Dame football and not to me, generally -- by quietly ceding her place at my side for Notre Dame games to others more tolerant of my behavior. As a result, when Pat Terrell knocked down the pass from Steve Walsh to secure Notre Dame’s victory over Miami and Coach Jimmy Johnson in 1988, my best friend from high-school, Tommy Elpers, was the one standing at ground zero.

Tommy weighed in at least 220 pounds, but as the failed two-point conversion bounced harmlessly on the turf, I wrapped my arms just below the paunch that stuck out over his belt and lifted as hard as I could. Never mind that he moved only about an inch, he moved and, more importantly, the two-point conversation had failed. Notre Dame Stadium and its 59,000 occupants convulsed into a shared delirium of joy in the fading sunlight of that unusually warm October day. I would fondly recount that glorious moment, and my attempts to lift Tom, just a few years later at his funeral after his untimely death.

A national championship only served to supercharge the addiction and I repeated my demonstration of the adrenaline-fueled clean and jerk, this time with my brother, after Charlie Ward’s fourth down pass was batted down in yet another “Game of the Century” in 1993. My brother was again at my side one week later as I watched in horror as our undefeated season ended on the toe of some Boston College kicker whose name I have permanently erased from my memory. I can still see the ball tumbling end over end, seemingly in slow-motion, right at me and my end-zone seats. I could not read newspapers or watch television for a week.

Why do I care? I stared back blankly at my wife and cocked my head much like our Labrador puppy does when my wife speaks to her. I close my eyes and the movie in my mind begins. A montage of Notre Dame football images appear. Scattered in my brain like an unorganized picture album, I see Reggie Brooks somehow snaring the pass from Rick Mirer in the snow. I see Ivory Covington defying physics by stopping an Army tight end twice his size in his tracks at the goal line.

The images speed up. I see myself in Notre Dame Stadium in bright September sunshine and under blue gray October skies. It is warm, it is cold. I am in various stadiums around the country: Ann Arbor, East Lansing, West Lafayette, Miami, and Phoenix. I am in my parents’ living room on Thanksgiving, a crowded bar on New Year’s Day, an empty apartment in September. I am accompanied by friends, my parents, my kids and by no one at all. It is a dizzying ride. Winning games, losing games, night games, day games, blue jerseys, white jerseys, gold helmets . . . and then it stops. A new scene flickers on the screen.

It is cold. Really, really cold. I cannot tell what team Notre Dame is playing. I look over at my son sitting next to me in his lucky Notre Dame shirt. People have always said he looks just like me when I was his age. Sitting in that stadium, he is a dead ringer. A warm feeling wells up within me. Apparently something bad has happened on the field for the Irish. He looks over at me expecting to see and hear anguish, but instead I am smiling contently. He looks puzzled. I know that he thinks the smile is an act. This is his first Notre Dame football game. He is twelve.

I open my eyes and the movie abruptly ends. My wife is still staring at me, her question still pending, but now I think I know the answer.