An important part of parenting is brainwashing our children, otherwise known as instilling in our children the appropriate level of devotion to the correct teams (Notre Dame, University of Maine, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs) as opposed to the incorrect teams (all others, especially the New York Yankees).
I started this process early on with all our kids. Our son was born, blessedly, between Notre Dame’s last regular season football game and the 1995 Orange Bowl game with Florida State. I say blessedly because the fear of any true Domer expecting a child somewhere around football season is that the child will come during a football game, presenting a difficult decision for the father: Can you drop your wife at the hospital and get back before kickoff?
No! Obviously you should be at the hospital with your wife experiencing the joy of . . . oh my God! Fumble! Did you see that? Notre Dame just got the ball. What’s the matter? Still? You’re still in labor? You can’t hold it? Okay, fine, we’ll go. Here, let me get the bag . . . oh my God! Touchdown!
When Notre Dame opened its newly renovated stadium a few years back, we met some old friends for the first game of the year. Not a half hour before game time, one of our friends went into labor. Now, if you have to ask what she was doing at the game when she could go into labor at any moment, you have not been paying attention and will need to repeat this course. We tried to convince her husband that they already had three children (he knew that) and that she didn’t need him (he knew that, too). However, their true believer status will forever bear an asterisk because they both went to the hospital rather than to the game. But he did check the score during contractions.
If you’re going to do a really professional job brainwashing your children, you need to have your spouse on board. When we got married and moved out to South Bend, my wife had watched a total of two Notre Dame football games on television, and by “watched,” I mean be in the same room while the television was on.
For the first game of the season, she wore a Notre Dame hat, shirt, shorts, socks and, I kid you not, Notre Dame sneakers. Notre Dame was playing Northwestern. Just about a minute into the game, the Northwestern running back broke off a long run. Suddenly, from my blushing bride who had never been a football fan before, erupted this primal roar: “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”
She was born again. She was a true believer.
With my wife on board, I then turned to our son. The first time he watched the Green Bay Packers play, he was so excited, he pooped his diaper. Now that’s fan support. Can you imagine if everyone at Lambeau Field pooped their pants when the Packers won? It’d be disgusting. No one would ever go back there. So we can’t get too carried away. Except for the Super Bowl. Then all bets are off.
We’ve continued this with both of our girls. One of our oldest daughter’s first sentences was: “Go Irish!” In family football games, our son is usually the quarterback because he loves to be in charge and have other people do all the running around and getting dirty. Our middle child is the middle linebacker, with her devastating quickness and closing speed, and her particular delight in tackling her brother. There’s nothing like listening to my wife explain the concept of “tackling with love.” And our youngest? God love her. She is the nose tackle because she can bull through anything. Game day is a time for us all to gather around the Rielly Bounteous Feast and cheer together.
And coming together is what it’s really all about. With all our busy lives, we often need an excuse to be in the same room together and laugh and talk with each other. Plus, like so many other families with so many other schools, Notre Dame is a part of my family. It connects my children to me and me to my parents and beyond. My mother’s mother used to hunker down next to her static-y radio for every Notre Dame game. My father went to Notre Dame, as did I. I was born just down the street from Notre Dame. So was my sister. And, 25 years later, so was my son.
When my family moved to Maine the summer after my second grade year, Notre Dame games often weren’t televised coast to coast (unlike today). We spent many Saturday afternoons driving around in our van, listening to the game on the radio, trying not to run into things. Every summer, we would drive back to visit relatives and take a quick peek at campus.
We may have taken the indoctrination a little too far, though. When our son was 5, one evening, just as he was going to bed, he asked what Heaven was like. I told him it was a place where all your family and friends were waiting for you and where everyone was always happy. Does God have the Star Wars movies, he asked. Of course, I responded. He has all the Star Wars stuff. Later that year, my wife and I were flying out to Indianapolis and planned a quick trip up to Notre Dame. We asked our son if he wanted anything from campus. Star Wars figures, he said. Big guy, I said. I don’t think Notre Dame has Star Wars figures. Yes, it does, Dad, he said. God has all the Star Wars stuff, and God lives at Notre Dame.
We made sure we brought some Star Wars figures home. Wouldn’t want to call his whole belief system into question.
Brendan Rielly graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1996.