Excerpt from The Irish Way of Life: Stores of Family, Faith and Friendship
A Shrine to the Hail Mary of Field Goal Attempts
Many of the Irish fans in Notre Dame Stadium that day whispered a prayer. Some reached for their rosaries in their pockets, asking the Blessed Mother for immediate divine intercession for the team that bears her name. Other promised God they would change their lives for the better if he would let this latest comeback attempt become another remarkable reality in the school’s storied football history.
Standing in the crowd of nearly 60,000, Al Carson lowered his head and made his own prayers and promises as Harry Oliver trotted onto the field to try the most desperate of field-goal attempts: 51 yards, into a strong wind, with just seconds remaining in the 1980 game that the hated Michigan Wolverines led.
Call it the “Hail Mary” of field goal attempts.
The ball was snapped, and a hush fell over the stadium. Everyone held their breath in that agonizing stretch of seconds when hope and heartbreak co-exist. As Oliver kicked the ball, few people in the crowd noticed that the flags around the top of the stadium suddenly went limp, signaling the wind had died momentarily. The ball kept rising and rising toward the goalposts. Then it began its descent. Fans leaned into one another, clutched one another, and whispered one last prayer — “Please, God!” — to have the ball make it over the crossbar.
So it did, that September day. As the referees raised their outstretched hands, teammates mobbed Oliver, students flooded the field, and the cheers and the shouts of 60,000 suddenly best friends echoed toward the heavens — where some saint was busily listing and calculating all promises and pledges that Irish fans in the stands and in their homes had made that splendid Saturday afternoon.
In the midst of the crazy celebration, Al Carson walked onto the field where students still shrieked with joy, wanting to savor the moment for as long as possible. Carson headed toward the spot from which Oliver had made the kick. He looked toward the goalposts in the distance and marveled at how the ball had traveled so far, so true. Then he noticed something a few yards up the field. A small section of displaced grass, a divot. Could it be, he thought? Yes, it had to be. The divot had been made when Oliver kicked the ball, he told himself. With all the conviction of a true believer, he picked up the divot and left Notre Dame Stadium, convinced he had secured a tremendous treasure. As he made the three-hour return trip to his home, he nursed the divot and made plans for it.
At this home, he planted the divot at the edge of his flower garden, a garden with a statue of the Blessed Mother in the midst of it.
He believed that she, of all people, would understand and appreciate the tremendous faith — and the blessed lunacy — of a Notre Dame football fan.
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