Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Stick together as a family, even through tough times

In 1965, 20th Century Fox released the film John Goldfarb, Please Come Home. A comic spoof on the Cold War, the film depicts the mad-capped events after a spy plane flown by John Goldfarb, a former Notre Dame football player, crashes in the fictitious Arab country of Fawzia.

The King (Peter Ustinov) keeps Goldfarb (Richard Crenna) prisoner, forcing him to teach a group of Fawzians how to play American football. Jenny Ericson (Shirley McLain) is a reporter who goes undercover as a member of the king’s harem.

Ambitious to make Fawzia known around the world, the king blackmails the U.S. State Department into arranging a game between his team and the icon of American college football – the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Jenny and the harem become the Fawz U. cheerleaders for the big game.

In the closing zany minutes, Shirley McLain’s character enters the game as quarterback and scores a touchdown to defeat Notre Dame (while simultaneously striking oil to scatter all the players, belly dancers, camels and goats). The university unsuccessfully tried to stop the release of the film, especially because the way-out plot depicted the Notre Dame players “as undisciplined gluttons and drunks.”

Some people say that the film is one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of Notre Dame football – at least until this season.

2007 was a tough year for Notre Dame football fans. The young Irish team struggled most of the year, losing many games by lopsided scores.

For me, the low point of the season was the loss to Navy, snapping a 43-game winning streak by the Irish over the Midshipmen.

Afterwards, the TV announcer asked Coach Charlie Weis what the end of the winning streak meant to him. Coach Weis responded by saying “I don’t care about the streak. I care about these young men.”

“Don’t care about the streak?” I yelled at TV? For us alums, “that’s our history too!”

The words hung in the air as I gave more thought to Weis’s care about the players. Earlier that week, the older brother of one of the freshman players had been shot dead in Chicago. Coach Weis spent hours consoling the family. On Friday, the day before the Navy game, more than 50 players and coaches traveled to Chicago for the funeral. They went to pay their respects and support their teammate, a member of their Notre Dame family. Years later they may not remember the tough games, but they’ll remember the valuable life lessons taught by Coach Weis.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote “we, though many, are one body in Christ.” We should not “grow slack in zeal,” but “be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:5, 11-12)

I learned the lessons of family and Notre Dame at a very early age. Dad and I would drive from Illinois to campus to watch the games during the “Era of Ara,” the great years under coach Ara Parseghian. While Dad never attended Notre Dame, he was a devoted fan of the football team.

Later, a month before I entered the university as a freshman, we visited my grandparents in Indianapolis. Grandma was baking Snickerdoodle cookies in the kitchen and Granddad was sitting in his favorite chair, writing in a black scrapbook.

He then called me over and gave me the scrapbook. It was filled with newspaper clippings about the life of Knute Rockne, his amazing career coaching at Notre Dame, and his death from a 1931 plane crash.

Inside, Granddad had written “To Christopher Fenoglio (on the occasion of his acceptance by Notre Dame); the first born grandchild of our first born, this scrapbook is presented in the hope that his sojourn under the Golden Dome will increase and nourish his faith in Christ and His Mother Mary. – His proud Grandfather, A.D. 1976”

While Granddad never attended Notre Dame, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mother created a strong tie with the university.

The scrapbook included a ticket stub to the 1935 football game between Northwestern and Notre Dame. I figured that Granddad was a fan and had gone to the game in his youth. I stuck the ticket stub in the scrapbook and forgot about it. Eight years later in 1983, Granddad passed away.

Just this past September, twenty-four years after her husband preceded her in death, Grandma passed away at the spry old age of 92. They are now reunited in heaven after so many years.

A couple weeks ago, I received a letter from my aunt after the family sorted the collections of my sweet, pack rat grandmother. Inside was a ticket stub to the same football game. On her ticket she wrote “I had a good time – but did it rain.”

A call to Mom brought to light more details about these two tickets, now reunited after so many years.

Since my grandparents married in June 1936, they must have traveled together to the game during their courtship. They probably stayed with Granddad’s sister, who married a Notre Dame graduate in the Log Chapel. I had no idea there was another family connection to Notre Dame.

The Irish lost that game in 1935, but our family has thrived. Now there’s an even stronger family connection to Notre Dame. I graduated in 1980, my sister Cathy and husband Joe graduated in 1981, brother Andy graduated in 1988, nephew Rory is a current freshman and aunt Peg is working on her Master’s from the university.

The future looks bright for our team, as they won their last two games of the year. We just need to continue to support the coach and the team. The rain will stop one day; the sun will glisten again on the Golden Dome.

Stay strong and keep the family united. We are ND.

Originally published in the November 30, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio

In 2021 I revised the description of our family’s connection to Notre Dame: I graduated in 1980, my sister Catherine and husband Joe graduated in 1981, brother Andy graduated in 1988, aunt Peg received her Master’s from the University, nephew Rory graduated in 2011, niece Rosemary graduated in 2013, and nephew Kieran graduated from the University in 2018. Go Irish!

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