Dad provides link to a golden past

We’ve created a monster.
You never know what buried treasure you can find at your parents' house. Here's a player page in the game program from the Nov. 18, 1961 matchup between Notre Dame and Syracuse attended by Peter MacAdam in South Bend., Ind.
You never know what buried treasure you can find at your parents' house. Here's a player page in the game program from the Nov. 18, 1961 matchup between Notre Dame and Syracuse attended by Peter MacAdam in South Bend., Ind.

We’ve created a monster.

It dances erratically among us in the form of a dog’s head on a monkey’s torso with diapered human baby legs.

It also lumbers ponderously among us, Frankenstein-like, for two weeks of grunts, bellows and shrieks, wearing us down until Super Bowl Fatigue becomes a real thing, a physical presence that sucks some life out of the game. The game itself seems like an afterthought attached to a bunch of jarring colors and swirling noise.

The Super Bowl has morphed into something that is as much a cold, relentless paean to consumerism as it is about football.

I was fortunate enough last weekend to revisit why I love football, and it had nothing to do with the Super Bowl. My dad Peter turned 80 on Saturday, one day before the Super Bowl turned 50, which seemed like a good time to ask him what made him a fan of the game in general and of one team specifically. If nothing else, I needed a break.

Last week, Sports Illustrated re-posted a great story from 2015 titled “When college all-stars faced off against reigning Super Bowl champs.”

Yep, they used to do that, and it actually predates the Super Bowl. I know this because my dad went to one of those games — a real game, with, you know, tackling and stuff — between a bunch of college all-stars and the reigning NFL champion.

In 1961, he saw the Philadelphia Eagles play against the college guys at Soldier Field while he was a young accountant spending a month-long training session in Chicago for his new job with Price Waterhouse.

When we were kids, it was fun to leaf through the program from that game, trying to spot familiar names from both sides. It was among a stack of programs he accumulated, almost exclusively from games played by his beloved Notre Dame.

Everybody has an origin story explaining why they root for who they root for, and usually it’s because of geography or because that’s who your dad rooted for.

In my father’s case, he became a Notre Dame fan simply from having listened to one of their games on the radio, which was stationed next to the heating register at his house on Clematis Street, while his mother was doing some ironing or some such chore. He and his buddies played football and baseball at the end of the street on the 17th fairway of Lake Shore golf course in Rochester.

He doesn’t remember everything about that particular broadcast, but he remembers he was in grammar school and that the Fighting Irish were playing against the Great Lakes Naval Station. Yeah, they actually fielded a college football team, and the Bluejackets (not to be confused with the Navy Midshipmen) beat top-ranked Notre Dame in 1943, with recruits on their way to World War II.

Notre Dame stuck. There was, of course, a lot to like.

The same year my father went to the Eagles-college game, he saw the Irish play Syracuse in South Bend in what rates No. 1 on the all-time list of top 5 Syracuse-Notre Dame Moments.

That’s when Syracuse’s Walt Sweeney ran into the Notre Dame placekick holder as time expired on a missed 56-yard field goal attempt and a 15-14 SU victory. The resulting penalty gave ND a second chance, from 41, and “Boom, he made it,” my father said. “The reason we left right after the game was we were so happy they won on that field goal.”

He was accompanied by his college classmate and co-worker, John Girvin, who also made a road trip from Rochester to Philadelphia to see Notre Dame-Navy. “He thought we were crazy, going that far to see a football game,” my father said. “I think we went to see Sammy Davis Jr. the night before, at a nightclub.”

Speaking of Davises, my parents still have the program from that 1961 SU-ND game, and there’s the great Ernie Davis, grinning right off the page. Also, Notre Dame linebacker Nick Buoniconti (I’m a lifelong Dolphins fan, guilty as charged) and The Mad Bomber himself, Irish QB Daryle Lamonica.

My vivid memories of the Eagles-college all-stars program include Tom Brookshier, whom I recognized as that guy who was famous because he was on TV with Pat Summerall. It never occurred to me that Brookshier had actually played football (or Summerall, for that matter, until I probably learned it from my father).

Also in there, Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd, then a senior at Grambling, soon to be a member of the AFL San Diego Chargers and eventually — by far — my most hated pro wrestling heel. As was the case with Brookshier, it never occurred to me that he had been a great football player in a previous life.

Two other images in that magazine sparked further intrigue. Two NFL quarterbacks for Washington, Sonny Jurgenson and Billy Kilmer — I was not fond of either, coincidentally ­— played against each other on Aug. 5, 1961, Jurgenson for the Eagles and Kilmer for UCLA. The Eagles romped 28-14.

I rummaged around my parents’ house looking for that program, to no avail. Plenty of great Notre Dame stuff, though. It was natural to assume that my father had become a Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan because he was Irish Catholic, but no. “I’m only half-Irish, anyway,” he said.

It had to do with standing next to a radio, over by the heating register, while your mom is doing some ironing nearby.

I wish we could find that program. Hey, stuff gets lost.

But not really.

Categories: Sports

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