Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Onward to say Goodbye...

Written November 18, 2012

The last stop on my college football tour for 2012 was the University of Notre Dame; and it doubled as a special opportunity for me to pay tribute to my father's life.  When I learned that my dad had chosen to be cremated several months before his passing, I thought of doing something special as a final "goodbye."  Initially, I was planning to go up to Maryland, where he and I once made a trip to his dad's hometown to spread my granddad's ashes.  That certainly would have sufficed, but that idea came to me before football season started.  During the 2012 opener against Navy, Notre Dame was in Dublin, Ireland giving the Midshipmen a shellacking when it hit me: I should take my dad's remains to South Bend.  I immediately booked a trip for the last home game of the season.  I believe there was an "f" bomb in the reactive sentence when I asked my dad what he thought of that, accentuating his enthusiasm.

Back then, dreams of an undefeated season were of the "pipe" variety.  I'm no betting man, but I probably would've taken you up on one if you had suggested the Irish would have a shot at 11-0 against Wake Forest on November 17.  When I last saw my dad a week before he passed, I read through his college football "Bible" (Lindy's pre-season magazine); he made notes about ND's potential 2012 record, predicting that they would finish 8-4.  I, personally, wasn't even sure that they'd do that well.  Now, as I sit here recapping my weekend as the Fighting Irish have just been named the #1 team in the land, it dawns on me that - no matter what happens the rest of the season - this has been one of the most memorable seasons of my fandom...and my dad would have LOVED it! 

It has been a long time since there was as much excitement about Notre Dame heading into the last weekend of the season as there was during the first.  Not since 1993 have the Irish won 11 games or been ranked #1 in the polls.  This is the first legitimate national title shot they've had since.  My dad was an easily jaded fan.  2006, the season where we attended our first live ND game, was the last year that the Irish evoked anything close to the kind of excitement that they have in 2012.  That is quite a drought by even modern Golden Domer standards.  This would have been just the type of season to get my dad's Scotch-Irish heart pumping the blue and gold again. 

My dad watched his last Notre Dame game with me on September 22, 2012, but ever since he passed (8 days later) I've felt like his presence in their games has been palpable.  It was as if he swooped down and forced air through the lungs of the official, who blew his whistle to stop Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor's last push over the goal line in overtime on October 13 and I'm fairly certain that he floated to one side of the goal post and blew out a subtle gust that carried Pittsburgh's field goal for the win in double overtime wide.  On November 17th, his spirit was in two places at once in Eugene, Oregon and Waco, Texas to aid Stanford and Baylor to shocking victories over #2 Oregon and #1 Kansas State that cleared the way for the #3 ranked Irish to ascend to the top spot in the polls. 

A few hours prior to the upsets, I discretely scattered his ashes on the Notre Dame campus as the Irish faithful prepared for kickoff.  My dad and I were actually supposed to go that game together.  For Christmas in 2010, my wife and I had bought season tickets for Wake Forest Football down the road in Winston-Salem because the Irish were on the schedule.  Our gift to my dad was to have him come up for the Wake-ND game in North Carolina in 2011 and then we'd all go up to South Bend, Indiana for the other half of the home-and-home in 2012.  He still accompanied me on that trip.  We flew to Chicago together, we drove a rental car east to Indiana together, and we walked toward the stadium together.

At a Chamber of Commerce banquet last week, the lead sponsor had given each attendee a coffee thermos.  A perfectly sized coffee thermos, at that.  With my wife and I each receiving one as a parting gift, I now had an answer to a question that had plagued me since I decided to spread my dad's ashes at Notre Dame: how was I going to get them onto campus?  At Notre Dame, it is not exactly legal to make their campus a person's final resting place in the form that my dad chose for his remains.  So, for the purpose of legality, this may or may not be a fictional story, kind policemen of South Bend, Indiana and representatives of the University of Notre Dame who may one day read this entry.  The pictures taken could be stock.  This could be a tale to get people to read a blog.  Maybe it is.  Maybe it isn't.  Like dust in the wind.  I found a huge tree with no one around about a hundred yards from a lake.  There my dad will stay.  A spice bottle carried a small part of him with me into the stadium, where I sprinkled a tiny piece of my father both in the stands and in the dirt surrounding the Knute Rockne statue.  Again, may or may not be true, authorities. 

It gave me closure.  Rest in Peace, Dad. 

The view from Dad's final resting place

Written November 6, 2013

Over a year has passed since my father died.  He often visits me in my dreams, encouraging me in the way that only he could when he was alive.  He was, as I've come to describe him recently, my biggest fan.  As jaded as he could be about Notre Dame Football, he was never jaded about me.  His brand of unwavering support can never be replaced.  

I have a game day ritual at the house during football season of flying our Notre Dame Fighting Irish flag and putting on my green Notre Dame jersey.  Not a day goes by, honestly, when I don't think of my dad, but I'm taken aback on Saturdays.  The excitement of the season is there, but added to it is the feeling that I always got when my flight would touch down in Orlando (where my dad lived for his final 13 years).  I was still a kid when my dad moved to Florida, so every time that I got there, I would think to myself, "Hey, dad" and then every time that my flight home took off, I would think, "Bye, dad...had a great time."  I managed to carry that into adulthood.  I actually said it out loud when I drove down to my dad's house in January (finally) to sort out his belongings.  The emotion behind that once unknown tradition has made Notre Dame Football more than just the biggest happening of the week at the McIntyre house - it's a constant reminder of my relationship with my dad, built (in part) on Irish gold and blue through and through (and I mean that in the best possible way).  

Those of you that follow the sport know how last season ended.  The Irish beat the pants off Wake, then defeated USC to earn a spot in the National Championship game.  They proceeded to get completely decimated by Alabama.  A patient of mine is a Crimson Tide fan and he razzed me about it a little bit.  I told him, "Hey, I would have loved to have won the national title, but there's nothing that can take away from 2012 regular season.  The entire thing felt like a tribute to my father."  Notre Dame may as well have won the national title, as far as I'm concerned.  I felt like they did.  12-0 in the season that my father passed and my daughter was born?  Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre dad was up there waking up the echoes Cheering Her Name.   

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