Fighting Irish Legends
by Bob Plain ’69
Greensboro, North Carolina
Written in January 1994 for my father, George Plain ’39
The game and the athlete have played a prominent role in my life. I have logged untold hours and miles in support of Little League, CYO, recreation, Y, junior high, high school, collegiate and professional sports events. I have been a fan, player, parent, coach, official, sibling rival and sometimes all these. The dilemma of going from player to fan, fan to parent or parent to coach has been juggled by and even fumbled by me. What the heck, you get paid big money to bat .333.
I am a loyal son connected to other sons and daughters, cousins marching to various victories. A common bond among us has been the trials of the Fighting Irish, but truth be told we are a collection of Avengers, Rams, Friars, Rockets, Aggies, Green Waves and Tar Heels, with connections to some Mighty Ducks and other animals. What a revelation it is to know that we send our volleys on high to any number of gods.
While the first tune I can recall starts with “Cheer, Cheer,” a Yankee is the first public face in my mind. Later, I was amused by the line “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,” figuring he had turned into Mickey Mantle. From an early age the enemy was in Brooklyn, and I heaved a sigh of relief when they retreated to Los Angeles. My youthful images were also part Jack Nicklaus when he was still a bear, Bill Bradley as a tiger, Frank Gifford without Kathi Lee or Regis, a brother. Radio shaped my vision a bit before television came along to blur it. I was helped by voices of Mel Allen and Red Barber, and I still recall the “it’s way back, it’s going. . .” Coaches I first knew were Stengle, Lombardi, Auerbach and, of course, Rockne, from the movie, and Terry Brennan from the field with Layden, Leahy, Devore and Kucharick in the mix. Reading was a pleasure as long as it was Chip Hilton, Sports Illustrated or the box scores of the Star Ledger.
By the time I was a teen I had seen Mickey at the Stadium, Campy at Ebbetts, Willie at the Polo Grounds, Cousy at the Garden, the Golden Boy against the Cadets, Army-Navy in Philly and Kareem, nee Lew, in the city. This trend continued, and I now can add a Derby, the Indy 500, the 10-10 game and OJ’s last Trojan appearance. These compare only fair now to the highlights of my own children in Chris’ match in the states, Bob’s last-quarter heroics vs. Hendricken, Matt’s Turkey Day pass and Joshua’s gamer at Guilford. There is no question in my mind, New Year’s Day is the best holiday, March Madness is my favorite season, The Masters is the start of spring, the Series closes summer and every October a cold gray sky ushers in a new set of Irish horsemen.
My father, brother and I, classes of 1939, ’77 and ’67 respectively, all share the Rock, Fieldhouse and Stadium. But we all were in South Bend when the playing fields were different. Dad came through the tunnel and played on the sacred turf, caught passes and did things others have dreamed of. The world was large then, campus was small, Ted was a student and football was a game. Dad was a player, still is. In my time, I made the transition to spectator, all my classmates “could have been a contender.” It was the 1960s, we were dreamers. It started to become obvious that non-coed meant no females. Ted was the Head and an Armenian leader was returning glory to Rockne’s house. The Michigan State game ushered in the dawn of “Big Money College Football.” It was also the age of protest and forces clashed many times in my tenure. I was a quiet rebel, still am.
By my brother Steve’s mid-1970s time at Notre Dame, there were towers and convocation centers. The Irish played in Bowl games and the only important drafts left were to the NFL and NBA. Ted was a legendary leader of campus and advisor to presidents. The endowment could have paid off the national debt. President Carter spoke at graduation. Steve was involved in the student body; he always will be.
Notre Dame’s image, some of it true, means different things to each of us, yet we share her history and legend.
The point is that I worry. I worry that when our family conversations start off with a review of the last game we will never get to feelings or politics. I want the next generation to know that there is a real tragedy of Irish fighting in Belfast. I do not want to forget that great plays have been sent in by Ibsen and Williams, too. We must understand that racial and gender equality have little to do with athletics. A college education is a treasure and a pleasure that spans not 24 home games but 100-plus credit hours of mind exploration. I hope that our children will know how important JFK, MLK and RFK were to us when they were people, not stadiums. I want us to remember to shake down some thunder in the face of violence when the opponent is ignorance.
Ok, let me see. If FSU squeaks by and Florida whomps the Mountaineers . . .
The name game
by Michael Barron ’87
Oak Park, Illinois
In my junior year, I lived in Stanford Hall. We had a very spartan study hall where most minds were engaged on any one of a number of non-study activities.
One night, a student named Gleason passed gas, and my dorm friend, Fred, yelled, “Gleason, you a—hole!” At that point three different Gleasons got up to take issue with Fred’s remark, to which he exclaimed, “Notre Dame . . . the only place on earth where you can yell , “Gleason, you a—hole!’ in a room, and three guys get up to kick your a—!"
Putting the Pieces Together
by Lynn Marshall ’50
“How many here have read Life magazine?” All the hands in Professor O’Malley’s freshmen English class went up. “How many have read David Copperfield?” One hand was raised.
O’Malley’s class was the first one I had at Notre Dame. I had come from a demanding Jesuit Prep school in New York City and didn’t know quite exactly what I would find in the Midwest.
The tone of his class was immediately established. He called on each student to define the role of a teacher. No one hit the mark as far as he was concerned. “Ah, gentlemen, you have all failed the question. A teacher is one who brings out the inwardness of a student. And don’t ask me to define inwardness.”
If Kurt Vonnegut had been listening in, he would have provided a graphic illustration of that word. He told his students at the Iowa School of Writing that to find out what each of them were made of, he would put his hand down their throats, reach deep inside to extricate the camera that was there, pull it up and look at what its film showed.
After those introductory remarks, the writing marathon was explained. Each student would submit a paper every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on a topic assigned by the master. Each paper would be returned and critiqued in the next class after it was submitted. O’Malley’s written comments on the paper were your guide.
During our first semester, the multiplicity of topics was astonishing:
+Describe the sound of a person taking a bite into an apple
+See the movie The Bicycle Thief and write about it
+The American Way of Life
+What is Success
+Robert Hutchin’s Criticism of American Education
+The Reader’s Digest
+I am going to read you passages from Mark Twain and James Thurber. Write whom you think is the true humorist and why
And then the tsunami of criticism appeared from his pen:
+All you do is reiterate, reiterate that you found the campus beautiful. But there isn’t even a hint of detail to show what makes the beauty, what you have seen.
+OKEH, Mr. Marshall.
+No way at all.
+You shouldn’t be concerned about punch lines. Fitness and effectiveness, of course, are desirable. But “punch lines” is another matter.
+Very vivid, sharp, swift, Lynn. Perhaps you need more detail, though—and the whole thing is extremely jerky.
+Nice, but doesn’t quite fit.
At Christmas time he handed out to each of us a blank piece of paper with the mark A++ on it.
The second semester continued with the never-ending medley of topics. But after last semester’s bumpy take-off, the ascent became smoother.
+Nice, Lynn. A further development might make this one even nicer, of course.
+These are wonderful expressions of the common states of mind.
+Fine! You have the right tone—and the kind of flexible, limber prose.
+You do it beautifully well.
If, as Shakespeare said in Lear, “ripeness is all,” O’Malley was becoming the all ripener at this point in my life.
There was only the final exam to take. Everyone wondered what O’Malley would give to encompass his year-long global teaching.
This is the exam paper he handed out: Please write about the following poem:
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles in all stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced-fold, fallow and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim
There was a universal groan from the class. I think, however, that O’Malley wasn’t interested in our analysis but how we went about taking a whack at it. He meant it to stretch, to reach. A few students froze.
After this class, I only had one more encounter with O’Malley—on a campus sidewalk. He asked me how my summer had gone. I told him I had managed to read War and Peace during that period. “Ah,” he said, “a vast panorama of Russian history. Too bad you didn’t read Ulysses.”
After ND, my life continued with whisperings from O’Malley to follow me through10 years of law practice, 20 years in sub-Sahara Africa, five years in Haiti and 10 years teaching English to private high school students.
Glory be to God for dappled English teachers!
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