Here Come the Irish!

November 20, 2010 – New York City began buzzing about the
Notre Dame- Army game on Thursday night. That’s when the University of Notre
Dame honored Lou Holtz at a gala in his name.

The former Notre Dame coach posted a 100-30 record with the
Irish and captured the 1988 National Championship.

When I asked Holtz what tonight’s game means to Notre Dame, the coach provided an impressive historical perspective.

“I think it’s marvelous,” Holtz said. “This rivalry goes all
the way back to 1913, when Yale wouldn’t play Army, so Army invited Notre Dame
to play them in New York. The New York Times wrote that Notre Dame was
from Illinois — and not Indiana. But even though no-one knew anything about Notre Dame, they came
in and won the game. Of course, the 0-0 tie in 1946 is probably the most
memorable game of them all, but there have been so many great moments over the
years.

“Knute Rocke’s speech tells you everything you need to know
about attitude,” Holtz said when I asked him about the his predesesor’s “Win One
for the Gipper Speech. “It made those players understand what their purpose
was. That pep talk gave all of us motivation, not just the people who were in the locker room that day.”

Holtz also discussed the pressures that are unique to being
the head football coach at Notre Dame.

“You’re the keeper of the flame,” he said. “It’s your job to
keep up the tradition of Notre Dame, and that tradition is greater than any
other in football.”

The day after I interviewed Holtz, I spent a few hours with
another person whose name resonates in the hearts of Irish fateful. Daniel
“Rudy” Ruettiger, who is best known for the movie, Rudy, was in town to deliver
a motivation speech at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx. I spent an hour
with Rudy before he took the stage, and that interview will be published in the
spring issue of Yankees Magazine.

The interview was as inspiring as the movie – which I’ve
seen more times than I can remember. For those of you who haven’t seen the
flick, Rudy isn’t much more than 5 feet tall, and he walked on to the Notre
Dame football team in the mid-70s. After a two-year stint on the team’s practice squad, Rudy
dressed for the final game of his senior year. He was put into the game with 27
seconds remaining, and he sacked Georgia Tech’s quarterback on the last play of
the game. Moments later, Rudy was carried off the field by his teammates.

When I asked Rudy which scenes from the movie make him think “How did I do
that?” he answered quickly.

“I never think that when I watch the movie,” he said. “I may
have been a long shot to play football at Notre Dame, but I expected that
moment to happen all along. I always believed it would happen, and I never gave
up that hope. I was preparing for that moment for ten years.”

After the interview, I guided Rudy on a tour of Yankee
Stadium. I brought a commemorative football to use as a photo prop, and I
played catch with Rudy on the Yankee Stadium field with the keepsake ball. That
is a memory I won’t soon forget.

Another experience from the days leading up to the game that
I will bring to Yankees Magazine is my interview with Notre Dame grad Regis
Philbin.

Regis reminisced about watching the Cadets march into the
old Yankee Stadium before one of the legendary Army-Notre Dame games that took place during his
childhood. And when I asked Regis – a noted Yankees fan – “If you could have one wish granted,
would you take the field for the Yankees or for the Fighting Irish?” I got a most unique response.

“That’s one of the toughest questions I’ve been asked in a
long time,” Regis said. “It’s too hard to answer. How do you like
that?

–Alfred Santasiere III

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