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New Year's with Notre Dame football

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Notre Dame plays in the
Champs Sports Bowl  on Thursday
By New Year's Day Notre Dame's season will be over. Again. Yet when I was growing up Notre Dame seasons didn't end until New Year's Day and that was at a time when New Year's Day was the last day on the college football calendar, unlike today when it seems to drag on through half of January.

Like all the best memories, mine are pretty vague. In my mind, Notre Dame played in one of the big four bowl games each year. Of course, it couldn't be the Rose Bowl, but ND played in one of the other three - the Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl - annually. And, again in my mind, although Notre Dame was never on top of the polls themselves, they were more often than not playing the Number 1 team in the country in the bowl game.

As I said, my happy memories are vague and I'm refusing to allow Google spoil them with facts. That's the trouble with the internet - stats and facts can ruin what you "know to be true."

My memories of New Year's Day with Notre Dame are also tied up in family memories, the kind that can't be ruined by Google, only by other family members with clearer memories. Some of my best memories from childhood are from Christmas time. In our house, not only did we look forward to a visit from Santa, but also from another old man - Father Edmund Murray or, as he was known to us, Father Ed.

Father Ed taught Irish History at Notre Dame. He loved that place and instilled that in each of us. He hoped we would go to college there and we did too, even if when we were young it was because we thought we would get to see even more of Father Ed.

On paper Father Ed would appear to be a distant relative - he was my grandmother's first cousin - but in reality he was like our grandfather and every year he would come to us to spend Christmas with us. For the four of us growing up Father Ed's arrival at Christmas was a very close second to Santa's in terms of excitement and anticipation.

Father Ed didn't lavish us with gifts, but we all had plenty of Notre Dame tee-shirts, sweatshirts and hats. He was a lively, jolly man who loved listening to us, telling us stories, playing cards with us or taking us out for ice creams or whatever. And he liked watching football, especially, of course, Notre Dame.

One game in particular stands out for me - the 1973 Sugar Bowl. The game was actually on New Year's Eve 1973 and not New Year's Day, but it was the biggest game of the year. Alabama was undefeated and Number 1 and Notre Dame was undefeated and Number 2.

My parents were out at a New Year's Eve dance and Father Ed was baby-sitting. I was the oldest in the family and Father Ed let me stay up to watch the game with him. I was only nine. I had never stayed up so late in my life. Although I have only vague memories of the game now, there are a few plays I can still see clearly - in black and white.

I remember being over the moon when Notre Dame had held on for a 24-23 victory. I can't remember anything Father Ed said the whole night, but I can still remember the loud clap of his hands each time Notre Dame scored or made a big play and especially when the game ended. In fact, I think he jumped out of his chair. I'm sure he'd have had more fun watching with a group of alumni or even my father, but he never let on and as far as I'm still concerned that's one of the best nights of my life.

A few weeks after that game a gold Notre Dame National Champions banner arrived at our house. That banner hung in my brother's and my bedroom for years afterwards.

Father Ed is a long time dead, but I still think about him a lot at this time of year. I still root for Notre Dame, although I rarely see them. I'm hoping I can watch the Champs Sports Bowl - whatever that is - this week, although it would be better if ND was playing on New Year's Day where they belong.

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