We lost more than a National Championship this week. We lost a champion. On Wednesday night, father, husband, Notre Dame man, All American and member of the 1988 National Championship team Mirko Jurkovic died after a two-year battle with colon cancer. He is to be laid to rest on Saturday and leaves behind a wife and three children.
I wish that I had an “I met Mirko” story. Instead, I have this: in 1990, yours truly was a freshman, living in Morrissey. As that first football season progressed and countless Papa Johns pizzas were consumed during early morning bull sessions, someone made a sign out of an old pizza box. On it, they wrote three simple admonisions: no pepper games, no crabbing, no Mirko Jurkovic-ing. His unique name stood out, sure, but he was a rock and my friends and I identified with the linemen. Mainly because we all weighed about what they did. Damn Papa Johns.
Mirko was accessible. That’s why he was on the wall. Not distant, not aloof. He was one of us, and that’s why this hurts. He was real. He was alive. A defensive lineman who switched to offensive guard and became an All American. And now he’s gone. I can’t tell you that the fact that he was but 42 isn’t weighing on my 41 year old heart. And early though the laurel grows it withers quicker than the rose.
Mirko went on to become a vibrant force in the Notre Dame community and when you watch the tribute below, you can feel the emotion in Jack Nolan’s voice. He will be missed.