A Family History: Notre Dame vs Oklahoma

The Date: October 27th, 2012

The Teams: Oklahoma Sooners (5-1) host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-0)

It’s an interesting story that I was told from a very young age. The story is one of fate, luck, sports insanity or all of the above. How one change of a date can effect an outcome of the future. The story that keeps me wearing kelly green no matter my anger at the Catholic Church. It is not about the church or the faith. It’s about Notre Dame. It’s about being Irish. It’s about a leprechaun with fists raised and the how to fight adversity of the Irish spirit. It is also about family and genetics. (SCIENCE!)

My grandfather is Irish Catholic. He attended Joliet Catholic High School in Illinois and so naturally was also a Notre Dame fan. My Irish great-grandfather immigrated to the US in 1921 from Scotland after fighting in and surviving WWI, where he was with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. His grandparents had immigrated to Scotland during the Irish famine of the 1840/50’s. Great-grandfather came to the United States after his first wife and daughter died, and later remarried my Italian Great-Grandmother. My grandfather as a child would only be able to listen to Notre Dame on the radio, they never had a TV until much later. He read about them in the paper and magazines and loved the Fighting Irish because of the pride they made him feel.

The football story begins that third week in the 1953 college football season. The first game of the season had #1 ranked Notre Dame facing the #6 Oklahoma Sooners. The Irish would win that game. OU’s second game that year they tied, the following week they won. And they kept on winning. The Sooners would begin their second large winning streak, taking the NCAA record for the longest streak, at 47 wins. As most fans know, Notre Dame was the fortunate (or unfortunate, if you are an Irish fan living in Sooner country) team that would end Oklahoma’s miracle run in 1957.

My family story takes us to October 27th, 1956. It would be Oklahoma’s 35 game and straight win. The Sooners would trounce Notre Dame 40-0. That win would be the only win OU would have against the Irish in their history of playing, OU’s lowest win percentage against any opponent. Notre Dame leads the series 8-1. The entire year of 1956 was among the worst in Irish history actually, ending the season 2-8. The bright spot for the Irish was quarterback Paul Hornung winning the Heisman Trophy that year, the only QB to have won it with a losing team.

Where my family comes into play here, involves a wedding. My grandfather and grandmother’s wedding to be exact. The date they had set, low and behold, would end up being the same as the OU/ND game. With my grandfather, much less all his brothers, being insane Fighting Irish fans, this was going to be a conflict. Luckily, the Catholic Church doesn’t mind weddings being rescheduled for Jesus’s favorite team. My grandparents delayed the wedding for the next weekend, Nov. 3rd, his birthday. The wedding had already been in jeopardy due to difficult economic times. When Grandpa came home from the USMC, he took care of his father and his 3 younger brothers after the death of his mother in 1951. He broke up with my Grandma is the spring of 56 because of the enormous responsibility of caring for his family.  They wouldn’t be separated for long; at the end of summer he returned to her and they then married that November.

It’s a running joke that if it wasn’t for Notre Dame and Oklahoma and the changing of a wedding date, my dad could have been born a girl and none of us would be here.

Fast forward to 2005. I meet my future husband. A Sooner alum. I discovered on our first date he is a closet Notre Dame fan as well, so I didn’t have to walk out on him. Finding out his ex-wife went to school at ND disturbed me a bit, but I figure, that is just another fun thing to add to this family legacy. It was a great moment introducing him to my grandfather, who gave his blessing due to the family history of the two schools. We all agreed that whether future kids did or did not pick OU or ND to be their teams, as long as it wasn’t USC (because screw those guys).

I used to go to at least one Irish game a year, but it was always on the road. I was finally able to go to a home game in 2004. They lost to Purdue. Lucky me, the first loss at home to the Boilermakers in 30 years.

Still, it was a great treat to go with my dad and experience the mystique of entering those stands. I’ve been on campus for hockey games,etc. Even a couple pics with touchdown Jesus himself in two different decades.

The biggest moment for me as an Irish fan is due in part to the persistance (ie, being a pain in my ass) of said future husband. On a trip back to Oklahoma from Kansas City (Raiders game), we passed through Bazaar, KS, home of the Knute Rockne memorial. I wasn’t feeling all to well but agreed to try and find it, because well, I had to ya know?  Instead of going through the whole story here, I will post it in another blog post, if y’all want to hear it. But here is a pic of Mr. Easter Heathman and the Memorial stone; He witnessed and was first on the scene of the plane crash and was caretaker to the memorial until his passing on January 29, 2008. I can honestly say, I am very proud to have met this man and his family.

 Obviously this game is a pretty big deal. With my family history surrounding Oklahoma and Notre Dame and actually getting to see some Irish football again after years of waiting, I’m pretty excited. I have been waiting “patiently” for 2012 to arrive as soon as they announced they would possibly play a game years ago. Again, a big game between the two teams falls on Oct. 27th., 56 years later. Notre Dame hasn’t been to Norman since 1966. In reality, this game can end up being very important, with the Irish being 7-0 and playing good football once again after many dry years. Oklahoma has one loss already this season, but is still a major contender. The matchup is important enough for Gameday to set up in Norman for the first time since 2008. I hope Grandpa can stay up to watch some of the game this Saturday. I will be there in all my green glory amongst my Sooner friends, thinking about the past and family. GO IRISH!!!

***The Irish will have pep rally in Oklahoma City. The Notre Dame Club of OKC will be hosting the gathering on the 26th at 8pm at the Myriad Gardens. The Irish Marching band will also be having a practice down in Noble around 1:00. Both events are open and free to the public.

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