Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! We are all in full game day mode in one of the biggest Irish football games in many of our lifetimes. Before you start your game day rituals, check out my conversation with reader jalfano2387, who is OFD's finalist for the Hyundai Fanthropology contest. Remember, the winner of this contest wins tickets and travel accommodations to a postseason game of the winner's choice, so we are hoping jalfano gets a January trip to Miami!
alstein: Jalfano2387, tell me the roots of you becoming a Notre Dame football fan.
Jalfano2387: There are lots of folks who knew from the second they could remember they wanted to go to ND-but that was not clearly evident to me early on. Yes, I did grow up in a Catholic family who watched the Irish, but it was more of a casual attraction at that point. I remember having a ND sweatshirt when I was seven or so, but it wasn't until 8th grade after seeing Rudy that I made a bet with my mother that if I got into Notre Dame, she would buy me the jacket that Rudy wore. It was really during my high school years (the Ty Willingham era) the passion for ND grew, and even then it wasn't until my senior year that ND truly made me feel like a member of the family and my passion turned from casual to diehard.
I had looked at schools all over the country my junior year and was planning on playing the wait and see game on where I had gotten in, however just before senior year was about to start, on a follow-up visit to a specialist, I was diagnosed with cancer.
There are moments in life that change your outlook and this was truly one of them. When I missed significant time recovering early in the year, many schools faded in the background-unable to break the normal molds of their deadlines and decisions. Although I eventually got some acceptance letters, during the whole process the school that stood out distinctly was Notre Dame.
The admissions counselor at the time not only had me write a separate essay but truly reached out to me to see how I was doing on a personal level not just a "professional" one. (I am truly blessed that everything went successfully). When it came to decide on a school, I chose Notre Dame for many reasons - my diehard love for sports, the top 20 academics, the opportunity to expand my Catholic faith - but most importantly because I had felt prior to even being there as a true member of the family.
A: That's an awesome story. Can you share what ND was like when you were there as a student? How did the "passion" grow during those four years?
J: Absolutely. When I was a student, ND had many ups and downs on the football field and off of it. We were in the Weis years and had two great BCS type years but also a 3-9 season. That was in my junior year, and we were just awful after losing the core of the Quinn era. But that also meant I had the best seats of all four years as a student. Standing right behind the recruits who sit down in front, we basically were the first row on the field at roughly the goal line. Let's just say my mother swore she saw me on tv running up and down the space between the first row and the sitting recruits yelling at the top of my lungs as there was not a lot of pushups going on. No matter what though it was great to see everyone support the team even though the results were subpar.
But even more than that, the feeling of family that drew me to the university during my senior year is something that is not only their core values on paper but ones they live by. The summer between my sophomore and junior year when my father suddenly passed away, there were many members of the Notre Dame community who were there for me - members of my dorm, faculty and staff, friends and alumni, all of them looking out for me.
In addition, this family has become even more of my own when a little over a year ago I got married in the Basilica. [As an aside - just to show how huge ND is in our lives, my groom's cake had a huge leprechaun ND topper that I have in a display case in my office, and for the going away car, my brother-in-law put a sign on the back that said Play Like a Champion Tonight]. Heck, my wife even let me spend the weekend before our 1st wedding anniversary at the Michigan game.
ND is special because it provides a place where your whole person gets to grow and develop intellectually, spiritually, socially, and athletically. My father had this phrase of what you should strive for: to be "mentally quick, physically strong, and spiritually alive" and that to be is what Notre Dame allows you to seek.
ND is ultimately the best because no matter where you are you can always feel like you're coming home.
A: I agree 100%. What are a couple of your best experiences at ND Stadium or just during your time watching ND football?
J: From the Michigan Game 2012, the 125th year of ND football, two of the greatest programs in college football history met inside ND stadium, and to be honest it was a mediocre football game to watch in person. Michigan had 6 turnovers and Denard Robinson (on his birthday no less) played about as bad as I have ever seen him. The story of this game though wasn't the score but Manti Te'o and the true support of the ND family. With the lei's flying around the stadium and the emotions Manti displayed, it truly was a testament to how I felt about Notre Dame...that no matter what, during the tough times and the great ones, ND is there for you.
Two that stand out on a more personal level, however, would be the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State and the USF opener last year. For the Fiesta Bowl, I think retroactively you always look back at the times together once someone is gone and appreciate things more. Although ND lost the game, it was an unbelievable experience, not only getting to see the Irish play on a huge stage at a fantastic venue, but also to get to spend time with my dad. Notre Dame football has always had that power to not only provide entertainment but bring people together.
For the USF opener, it was actually my bachelor party weekend, and we rented a house close to campus. It was the craziest game I have ever been a part of evacuating the stadium multiple times (running through the rain and winds) but I can't think of a better group of guys to spend a weekend with than my groomsmen. [As a side note, I created a Sportscenter style video for the weekend with a ton of ND clips and highlights. I had the background for the set be similar to the PTI set with huge heads of my groomsmen and famous sports players - it was a ton of fun to do.]
A: So what's the craziest thing your ND fandom has caused you to do?
J: I think there is a clear distinction for most folks between the word crazy in their college days and crazy in their post-graduation lives.
During my time at ND, for the pep rally in the stadium I dressed up in a toga with a few of my fellow Ramblers and helped carry a chariot to the stadium running through campus. As per our dorm's tradition, the next morning we were woken up at 5 am, had our bodies painted, ran around campus waking up all of the girls' dorms through a series of chants and cheers, and then hopped in the Clarke Memorial fountain on campus.
These days buying a brand new tv just because we were going to be on Gameday for Stanford or driving 8 + hours on a whim just to make it up to a game even though I was there the week before is more in the realm of "crazy".
You know you have an obsession when you have a small one-bedroom apartment whose office the size of a closet is jam packed with ND gear and memorabilia. It is to a whole different level, however, when folks from Steiner Sports know you and your wife by name. The walls are adorned with signatures of Holtz, Brown, Golic, Rice, Bettis, Montana, Hornung, and Bleier among others. The ND mancave sign and posters surround some custom items like a signed football from my resident Sam Young, a Notre Dame banner, and countless tickets and photos from the games. Slowly but surely, the cave is outgrowing the apartment.
One of the coolest things about home football weekends is so many celebrities and coaches are around campus. It is usually easiest to meet these folks when they are promoting a book release, and over the years I have had the chance to meet Lou Holtz, Charlie Weis, Digger Phelps, Ara Parseghian and Gerry Faust. All of the coaches were great mingling with the fans and still felt really connected and interested in student life on campus (in particular Lou), but of all these coaches I was shocked how much energy and passion for the game Ara still had. Lou may be giving the pep talks on ESPN, but I think Ara could give a heck of a halftime speech to rile up the troops.
A: Can you tell me what this season has meant to you, the slow climb to 11-0 and #1 for the first time in forever?
J: First and foremost, it shows how a group of men can come together and overcome all of the odds to be successful. It has been since the year after I was born that ND has won a title and almost as long since they have been in the discussion - this is a long time coming.
I try not to be to overly optimistic in my preseason schedule review, but I don't think anyone could have seen 11-0 coming with a young secondary and a brand new QB.
Secondly, it clearly shows that it is possible to hold yourself to high academic standards of excellence and to be in contention for the national title. Notre Dame is the first school to ever be ranked #1 in both the BCS rankings and the NCAA Graduation Success rankings in football.
Finally and most importantly, it shows how my experience at Notre Dame - the love and family in times of triumph and tragedy is not an anomaly but something that is present at Notre Dame every day. Manti Te'o is the heart and soul of this team and his perseverance through tragedy and the ND family that has supported him only confirms my love for the school. The quote he has referenced before is "Life is a storm. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes."
The ND community has truly showed what they do when the storm comes.
A: Definitely. Where will you be watching ND play for a national championship berth this weekend?
J: First and foremost, Happy Thanksgiving week to you - it will be the most important football game in the last 15+ years for the Irish, but it's the family time that is the most important this week.
I will be heading to Kansas City to spend thanksgiving with my wife's family-6 out of 7 of which have gone or are currently at Notre Dame. (The 7th is a senior in high school so we may be 7/7 soon).
When I first would watch games would them I thought I would have to be a bit more under control than I normally was, but they cheer just as loudly!
Should ultimately be a weekend of good food, great company, and I am hoping an Irish win.
A: I hope so too! Well, that should wrap it up.
J: That sounds great. I truly just want to thank you for not only taking the time to chat with me but also in picking me for this contest.
A: Thanks for participating, jalfano2387! Good luck!
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