Indeed, it was my desire to chronicle the weekly relationship between my dad's cancer and the Fighting Irish football season. But as often happens, life interrupts,(especially when my other jobs pay and this blog doesn't) but in her mercy Our Lady "bought" some time for me to describe the latest Irish comeback to be added to Notre Dame lore. And while I don't know if it is the last Irish miracle finish my dad will experience, I was sure happy to be by his side just in case it was.
Surely, the opening blowout against Rice was nice, but quite expected. Similarly, me and dad thought the blowout win against Michigan seemed to be a statement game, but since then the Wolverines have imploded so badly I'm not sure if they could now beat a bowl of Rice Krispies, let alone the Rice Owls. Under-whelming night victories against Purdue and Syracuse not only saw the Domers dropping too many balls, but had my dad dropping off by halftime. Still, the number one ranked defense of Stanford would be Notre Dame's first test, and dad was both literally and spiritually up for this test.
Unlike the last two games where he never left the horizontal position in his bed, dad shook off the perpetual pain his cancer caused his body and was upright and alert in his chair for this challenge right from the start. Sadly, on this cold and rain-filled day, the Irish blinked first, as the Cardinal recovered an Everett Golson fumble on the Irish 13 and scored on a QB sneak two plays later. But dad's guy Golson then made up for his miscue, and after his nifty 33 yard scramble and 15 yard touchdown pass, and the Irish went into halftime of this defensively dominated game tied 7-7.
Many prayers and petitions (not to mention a few curses) crossed our lips as the Irish holder Hunter Smith dropped two placements for Irish kicker Kyle Brindza, costing the Irish two field goals and a chance for the lead. Finally, Irish coach Brian Kelly came up with the revolutionary idea of putting gloves on his holder to counteract the cold and rain...and on his next hold Hunter held as Brindza hit his next kick true and through the uprights for a 10-7 forth quarter Irish lead. But as often seems to happen in these epic back and forth games, Stanford scored again on its next possession on another run up the middle to make the score 14-10 Cardinal with only three minutes left in the game.
But rather than appearing downcast or disappointed, dad looked strangely focused on the task at hand, enough to make one wonder if his calm did not rub off on the uNDaunted Golson. For against the nation's number one defense, the born-again from suspension QB lead a Montana-esque final drive, converting on countless third downs, until that final frantic then fantastic forth and eleven TD pass to tight end Ben Koyack to give our Irish a 17-14 lead with a minute left. The Irish defense then sealed the deal, and as the team sang the Alma Mater to the fans and the Lady on the Dome, a little over a hundred miles away my dad and I (if not millions of other fans) were singing right along with them.
"And how was mom?" my brother Mike (who flew in from Boston attend the game and later see dad) inquired, recalling our invalid mother's penchant for interrupting the game.
"It was the usual; asking for her hat, a blanket, water, cough drops and whatever else every two minutes." I told him. "But when she asked me to leave the room just before Golson's throw to Koyak so that the nurse could change her in privacy, dad told her that normally I would--but today she would have to have the curtain drawn instead."
And so, the Irish are 5-0, and my dad looked as alive as he has for months. "Of course, if the Irish were 2-3, he'd probably be still asking to go see Jesus," I told my brothers with a smile. "But instead, he's really looking forward to the next game." Meanwhile, although I knew that Christ's suffering and death had saved the world, I now wondered if my dying dad's suffering could save a team--let alone a university. But with obstacles as diverse as Katie Washington (Fr. Jenkins' scandalous pro-choice nominee to the Board of Trustees) to the #1 ranked Florida Seminoles looming on the Irish horizon, I knew we, (with Our Lady by our side) would know soon enough.