I should have seen it coming, but the kidding around that began with my friend’s surprising revelation over dinner last Friday evening would turn deadly serious just 24 hours later.
And bear in mind, he’s the one who started talk at my house of a curse.
Eric grew up in Baltimore with the kind of middle-class Catholic, solid student-athlete background that might easily have sent him to Notre Dame as an undergraduate in the mid-1990s but somehow didn’t. His path wouldn’t lead him to South Bend until the first weekend of November 2002, when he arrived with a football ticket in his hand, ready to witness Holy War.
Need I remind you? Notre Dame was 8-0, ranked No. 4 in the polls and expected to devour a weak Boston College. I watched the game from my apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, but Eric was on hand at Notre Dame Stadium to see the shocked Irish lose by a touchdown. So were some 80,000 other people.
Big deal, right? But jump with me five years to when I know Eric McDade a lot better. By then we’d worked together three years in a Catholic ministry and sometime after I moved my family to Notre Dame, he suggested a visit. He’d drive all the way out for the Navy game.
It sounded great. Surely Notre Dame would begin the resurrection of a dismal 2007 season against an opponent they’d simultaneously esteemed and mostly slapped around for 43 years.
Nope. Eric witnessed his second Irish loss in person, a 46-44 triple-overtime devastation, after which I swear I felt the earth tremble. Me, and a lot of other people. But why would I blame Eric? He likes Notre Dame.
A year later, unsuspecting, we invited him again.
My kids love him and he’s a brother to me. His visit always comes after the conclusion of a major fundraiser he directs every year. It’s relaxing for him, and for us. Mostly.
So in 2008 he came in time for Halloween and walked our neighborhood with us while the kids trick-or-treated in the warmth of a mid-autumn heat wave. And the next day, Eric and I and my oldest boy walked over to the stadium to watch Notre Dame blow a 17-3 halftime lead and swap an absurd number of overtime field goals until — well, until we ran out of them before they did. Pitt wins, 36-33, in overtime number four. As I recall, the air was a bit chillier.
By this time, most sports fans would have spotted the pattern and done everything in their power to prevent any possibility of its repeating itself. Not me. I hadn’t put any of this together when Eric pulled up to the curb in front of our house Friday afternoon and my kids raced to meet him. I even shook my head in disbelief when he noted how he hadn’t driven out for a visit since that grim weekend in 2008.
Four years. Wow. A lot changes in four years. Kids grow older and stop trick-or-treating. And Notre Dame football can sure turn itself around, too. Check it out! The first 8-0 start in 10 years. And a solid top-5 ranking! Don’t listen to the haters! We haven’t seen this since . . . since . . .
Eric, over egg rolls, hot tea and General Tso’s at Ho Ping House on 933, put it all together for us. The Curse of McDade! And we chuckled. We teased. Heh, heh, heh.
Flash-forward 24 hours and Eric is on my couch, fetal-positioned inside his Irish-green sleeping bag with three of my in-house bouncers holding him down for a good pummeling. My jaw still won’t close and I can’t get the image of a football dribbling from Cierre Wood’s hands, mere inches from the goal line, out of my head. Pitt’s Kevin Harper is lined up for a 33-yard kick. A chip shot. His second-shortest attempt of the day.
The curse. It lives.
I can hear peal after peal of Eric’s exasperated, nervous laughter emerging from inside the depths of his protective shell as my kids administer his beating, all that funny talk of a curse having lost its jingly appeal. He doesn’t want it to be true.
He’d been texting another Notre Dame friend back in Virginia. The friend was grumpy; he, too, believed in the curse.
I’m at Notre Dame with the Nagys.
Good, was the reply. Stay out of the stadium.
Don’t worry. We’re watching in John’s living room.
I’d be more comfortable with you in Mishawaka, came the answer.
Actually, with the listless Fighting Irish trailing 10-6 at halftime, I was thinking, forget Mishawaka. I could have Eric across state lines in 10 minutes. But ancient laws of hospitality prevailed.
So when Harper missed right, barely, and my pummeling children began relaxing their fists, I let myself think for the first time in several woeful hours that there might just be no curse after all. No Bambino. No billy goat. Not in South Bend, Indiana. The pathology shifted instead to the other foot: I should have had more faith in Nix and Te’o, Golson and Riddick, and every last one of them.
Eric retreated into his bag for the third overtime but all thoughts of bearing responsibility for yet another milestone Notre Dame loss soon evaporated. The erstwhile Curse of McDade is vanquished. Come to think of it, you might thank my kids. Eric didn’t see his first Irish win at Notre Dame. But my children, now throwing punches of pure joy, made sure he could feel it.
John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine. Contact him at “email@example.com”:mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.