I was born a Catholic in Chicago, only a heartbeat away from South Bend, Ind., home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
My father and older brothers were diehard Gold Domer fans. Even the nuns and priests at my Catholic grade school cheered for old Notre Dame.
I bleed blue and gold whenever the Irish suit up for a football game, and the blood will really be flowing today as the Irish, No. 1 in the nation, take on the hated USC Trojans.
Now, I don't like to use the word "hate" for any university, but remember that I was raised a Notre Dame fan and was taught that USC was some sort of satanic organization to be beaten at all costs.
Over the years, the Irish have stayed true to their storied past in many encounters with the Trojans.
The best Notre Dame-SC game I saw in person was in the Los Angeles Coliseum on Nov. 26, 1988, when both Notre Dame and SC were undefeated going into "another game of the century."
At the beginning of that game, quarterback Tony Rice ran for 65 yards in front of the Notre Dame bench to score. I was almost close enough to touch him.
The Irish, coached by Lou Holtz, went on to beat the Trojans 27-10 and then made their perfect season complete by beating West Virginia 34-21 in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Irish ended up No. 1 in the nation that year, the last time that has happened until, I hope, this year.
Over the years, the Irish have played glorious football, winning their share of national championships. They also have had their way with SC, especially in a remarkable run when the Irish beat the Trojans 11 years in a row from 1983 to 1993.
But the Trojans have been a thorn in Notre Dame's side. In a book with wonderful detail on the Notre Dame- USC rivalry, author Don Lechman points out that the Trojans "have personally ruined Irish national championship hopes in 1980, 1971, 1970, 1964, 1938 and 1931."
You see why I hate SC?
In most of my years following Notre Dame, I did it from afar, like from Lincoln and Omaha, Neb., and Miami.
It wasn't until I moved to Long Beach in 1978 to be managing editor of the Independent, Press-Telegram that I actually got to supervise news coverage of this great intersectional football rivalry.
The highlight of that coverage was watching our cityside columnist Tom Hennessy, a diehard Irish fan (what else, with a name like Hennessy?), duel with our former sports columnist Loel Schrader, a Trojan loyalist.
They would write columns dumping on each other in what we called "Punt and Counterpunt," a parody of CBS' "60 Minutes" show, "Point and Counterpoint."
"These column battles, which became a tradition, were titantic and a joy to read," said former Press-Telegram city editor John Futch.
Schrader, who passed away earlier this year, wrote that he felt it was up to him "to defend the honor of my beloved Trojans against the bitter rantings of our ancient columnist, Tom Hennessy."
Hennessy held up his end by calling Schrader "obnoxious, loud-mouthed, opinionated and untruthful."
In an interview years ago, Schrader remembered going to South Bend with Hennessy to watch an Irish-Trojan game.
"The night before a game, we were seated in the Gipper Lounge (named after famous Irish player George Gipp) in the Holiday Inn and, admittedly, into multiple martinis," Schrader said. "Hennessy asked, `Where do you suppose God is tonight?' I responded: `The game tomorrow is between the Catholics and a team that used to be called the Methodists or Wesleyans because of that denomination's support of USC in the early days. So, where else could God be but right here in the Gipper Lounge. Let's look around and see if we can spot Him.'
"We saw a huge man consuming humongous amounts of chips and beer and no one seemed to be replenishing his supply. You guessed it, fishes and loaves."
Schrader said he followed the man into the men's room, came up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "Are you God?"
The man "stared down at me with an ungodly look and replied, `Are you nuts?"' Hennessy watched with a smile as his colleague had to slink away. Hennessy smiled even more broadly the next day when the Irish beat the Trojans in front of Touchdown Jesus.
Ah, to be a Notre Dame fan and its glorious history.
Remember Grantland Rice's great lead when Notre Dame beat Army, 13-7 in 1924: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They forced the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below."
They don't write like that anymore.
And who can forget the famous story Knute Rockne, legendary Irish coach, told about George Gipp to inspire his team in what appeared to be a hopeless game against Army in 1928.
While on his deathbed, Gipp told Coach Rockne: "I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys - tell them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy."
Notre Dame won the game 12-6.
Now, it's time for this year's Irish team to shake down the thunder, wake up the echoes and win one for the Gipper.
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