Like many others who had watched Notre Dame play on television or heard about its legendary football program, South Carolina native Germaine Holden took a leap of faith when he decided to enroll at the university in South Bend, Ind.. A four year defensive starter for the Irish, Holden thrived under head coach Lou Holtz and got an education that served him well later in life. He currently splits his time between Denver, Colorado and Australia and has three sons: Baer, Tyger and Wulf.
Q: Being from Anderson, S.C., was Notre Dame always a viable recruiting open for you?
A: “I didn’t have any idea where Notre Dame was. I had heard of it and seen the football team on television but I didn’t follow them and I was not a lifelong fan. Coming from the Southeast you didn’t hear too much about Notre Dame. My first real exposure to the university came when Tony Rice went there, as he is from a town that is about 30 minutes away from me (Greenwood, S.C.). Then when Jeff Burris (Rock Hill, S.C.) committed to Notre Dame I decided I should take a closer look. During my school search, I took five official visits. I was at Miami during Thanksgiving weekend of 1990. I was at Notre Dame the following weekend. Then in mid-January I went to UCLA, Nebraska, and then finally to South Carolina. I saved my trip to South Carolina until the end because when you live in South Carolina that is the last chance for your parents to get courted and doted on from the local school. I had no intention of going to South Carolina unless they completely blew my mind.”
“Irv Smith and Nick Smith were my hosts during my official visit to Notre Dame. I had made an unofficial visit to ND the summer before, so I already had met a bunch of the guys which made my official visit seemed very natural, very comfortable.”
“What was the deciding factor that led me to choose Notre Dame? My parents did a great job in raising me, and they trusted me to make the right choice so they left the decision 100 percent up to me. They supported me and would give me advice if I asked, but they wanted me to be the decision-maker. I had the good fortune of having a brother who was four years ahead of me in school, who had been recruited to play college football, and I had already gone through the process with him. I got to tag along on his trips and had a chance to observe his journey, which helped me a lot with mine. My brother ended up playing football at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
“I saw the benefits and the burdens that came with going to school so close to home. With him being so close, we could invade his life whenever we wanted to. Geographically it was impossible for him to gain his independence. He didn’t have to cut the cord and my parents didn’t have to either. He could come home on weekends and do his laundry and have Sunday dinner and I saw how that was not a beneficial thing for him. From his experience I realized that I did not want to be close to home. I wanted people to have to plan to come visit me and not just drop in. Four of the five schools that I took official visits to were not close to where I am from.”
“During the process you have to come up with some sort of criteria to base your decision on, and these were mine. One, I did not want to be close to home. Two, I did not want to play on turf. Three, I did not want to be redshirted my freshman year. Four, I did not want to go to a school that was in a big city because I was not from a big city and they intimidated me. Five, I didn’t want to go to a big school.
I wanted to go to a small school in a small town where I could get a good education and play football for a good program.”
“So in the end what I wanted was a little school with a big name, and that was Notre Dame. The big drawback was the weather. It was by far my worst visit. There was this awful ethanol smell in the air all weekend. It was the least “fun” of any of my recruiting trips, but the guys were very cool. Derek Brown, a tight end at Notre Dame, sat me down and said to me, “Look, listen man. Here’s the deal. You can go to Miami if you want to, and if you do you’ll probably have a blast, and when we play you we will beat you. You can go to Miami and you can kick it for four years. Or, you can come to school here, win a lot, be a part of a great program, graduate with a degree from Notre Dame and kick it for the rest of your life.’ That pretty much sealed the deal for me.”
Q: Was that your biggest challenge during your time at Notre Dame?
A: “Truthfully, It was a combination of the weather and the academic rigors. Honestly I don’t think I was quite prepared from an academic perspective with how tough it was. I was thrown for a loop. Just being around so many extremely smart people who had been at the top of their classes in their respective high schools across the nation and now I’m sitting next to them in classes. I might have been in class with them before, but I was not peers with them before. Academically, I felt a tad bit overwhelmed. The characteristics that athletes have which make them successful in sports, also make them successful in school and life. Academic life at Notre Dame was a microcosm of the business culture of the United States. If you can make it through your studies at Notre Dame, you can make it anywhere. You just learn to adapt. That’s what all of us did at ND. We got through it. I wasn’t an All-American or a first round draft pick. I had many frustrating moments when I wanted to pack up my stuff and go home, but I would not change one moment of my time at Notre Dame. It made me who I am today.”
Q: What is your favorite Notre Dame football memory?
A. “Probably when I set the bench press record, and then went on to hold it for 15 years. I believe I pressed 520 or 530 pounds.”
“Having my teammates around me is what I enjoyed most about my time at Notre Dame. It was a fraternity, a brotherhood, at a school that does not have fraternities or sororities. The collective experience of being around such a great group of guys and to know that I was not going through it by myself was such a huge benefit. We were in it together and that is what it was all about. One team. One mission. That is really what I hold so dear of my time at ND.”
Q: What was your NFL experience like?
A: “I played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for a short time. They paid me, I was on their roster, but I did not enjoy it. The camaraderie was gone. And that was the door that closed on my athletic career. The experience just soured me on the game that I had loved for so long. I am a great fan of the NFL and am thankful that some of my teammates went on and were successful. It was a big part of many of my
teammates’ lives, but it didn’t play a big part in mine.”
Q: Where did life take you after football?
A: “My first job (after football) was for an independent living facility for at risk youth in Anderson, S.C. Then I got hired at Notre Dame as an academic counselor in their academic services department which was very enjoyable, but the money was not great. At the time I was married and had two children and needed something that would better take care of my family. One of my teammates, Tracy Graham, who was like a brother to me, had started a business right out of college (Internet Services Management Group) and was looking to start a second one (GramTel). He asked me if I would be interested in partnering with him and I accepted. That was my introduction to business. I worked for Tracy from 2000 to 2004 and then was offered a job in Denver, Colo., for Republic Financial Corporation (2004 to 2007). Then in May of 2007 I was offered a job with GMT Global Republic Aviation and worked there from 2007-2011. While I was at GMT I also earned my MBA from the University of Denver.”
“In May of 2011 I left GMT and joined RLG International, which is based in Vancouver, Canada. They are predominately a consulting company that trains executives how to become more effective and productive leaders, and my role is that of a performance coach. We work with companies throughout the world to create an alignment between the corporate expectations and the realities of the front line. What is expected from upper management and what is heard by the employees on the front line is often quite different. We connect the front line employees with the bottom line results. Transocean is my current client. They are the largest owner of offshore drilling rigs. I work out on the oil rigs with the managers teaching them how to express their technical goals to their employees. Often times these managers excel at the technical aspects of the job but need help with the managerial side. It’s my role to bridge that gap.”
Q: What advice do you have for current college athletes?
A: “Take advantage of the platform that they have at their respective universities. The world is literally at your fingertips. It is limitless what they have access to if they only reach out for it. Learn how to ask for help and accept it. We as athletes are used to people coming to us to ask for things, but we never learn how to reach out to others for help until we absolutely have to. Learning how to ask others for help, how to reach out and really take advantage of what the world has to offer us is very important.
Many athletes never learn how to do that until they are out of school and on their own. They should learn that skill while they are still in school and have available resources. Learn to humble yourself and reach out and ask others for help.”
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A: “This is the one that is indelibly etched in my mind. I had the luxury of starting six games my freshman year because one of my teammates got hurt. We were in practice one day and I blew my assignment and Coach Holtz stopped practice. He called everybody around … coaches, players, trainers, in a circle around me and had me in the middle with him. He called me to task (something that he did to his players early and often, especially if he believed that you had potential. He wanted to build a bridge between your potential and your future.) He told me to tell everyone around me why I was so damn special. ‘We’ve got ten other guys out here doing what they are supposed to be doing and here you are doing what you wanted to do and not what you were supposed to do. Why is that?’”
“He kicked me out of practice and I had to sit there on the sidelines and watch the rest of practice. He called me back out on the field to run sprints at the end of practice and then at the end as I was walking off the field he called me over to him. He said, ‘You understand why I did what I did, right?’ And I said, ‘I think so.’ And he said, ‘Look, I cannot emphasize to you enough to do the little things the right way. Not some of the time but all of the time.’ He reached up and patted my head … and then patted me on the butt and said, ‘You’re doing a great job, keep up the good work. We love you and we need you.’ If I could turn my children over to Lou when they turn 17 or 18 years old I would. There is no one I’d rather turn them over to than someone like him.”
I’d like to give a big thank you to Germaine for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series!
Don’t look now, but March is sneaking up on us, and fast. After Bayou Irish did an excellent job on Monday getting us familiar with the Irish Baseball team that is off to a red-hot start, I figured now was a great time to assess the current state of Notre Dame basketball.
Notre Dame is 22-6 overall and 10-5 in Big East play. That leaves the Irish ranked #21 overall and has us currently tied for 4th place in the conference (tied with Syracuse — trailing Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville, with games still remaining against the last two). In the latest Joe Lunardi Bracketology on ESPN, the Irish are projected as a 6-seed, which seems just about right. If Brey can get this team to go on a little win streak to close out the Big East and have some success in the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, we probably can rise as high as 4-seed — if we lose some steam we could probably end up as more of an 8-seed — but either way, we know roughly where we stand.
— Josh Flynt (@NDSportsBlogger) February 26, 2013
But what I want to look at, however, is how we should perform in March. It’s the big elephant in the room with Mike Brey — he has been absolutely excellent leading a resurgence of Notre Dame basketball (don’t forget, the Irish only made the NCAA Tournament once in the ten years prior to Brey) yet his teams’ postseason performances haven’t matched up with their regular season successes. But I think that’s about to change — this year is the year that Notre Dame breaks through and wins a few when it matters most. Here are some reasons why:
Depth - Ever since Scott Martin’s knee tendinitis began flaring up and sidelined the captain indefinitely, the Great Mock Turtleneck has been forced to go deeper on his bench (coincidentally, Brey hasn’t worn the mock turtleneck the past few games at home either). Atkins, Grant, Connaughton, Biedschied, Cooley, Knight, Sherman, Auguste are all playing legitimate minutes — that’s eight guys — which should alleviate some of the fatigue that occurs down the stretch each yet. This is going to be huge for Notre Dame, especially considering the amount of overtimes they have had to play in recent weeks. Also, while Martin has yet to return to the floor, it is expected he will do so fairly soon (he has been warming up with the team as of late, just not playing), which will allow Brey to use a nine-man rotation, something that would have been absolutely unthinkable at the start of the year.
Versatility - Going along with the depth, the Irish now have enough players to play several different styles. If the Irish want to play small ball and run the floor, you could see an Atkins-Grant-Biedschied-Martin-Cooley lineup out there. But if they want to utilize the new-found interior size, Brey could put out Atkins-Grant-Martin-Knight-Cooley as well. It’s a flexibility that he hasn’t had in past years, but one that has been paying off as of late. The Irish now have legitimate defense and shot-blocking abilities with Zach Auguste and Tom Knight (over 1.5 blks/gm since moving into the starting lineup) to go with the most efficient offense in the country (number one in assist/turnover ratio).
Consistency - This team is the most consistent team Brey has had since before the Luke Harangody era. Consistent, you shout? But this team could beat #11 Louisville and then go get smacked by Providence — how are they consistent?
Look, there’s no doubt that even the most consistent teams have ups and downs. But what is markedly different about the 2012-13 Irish and the versions of recent years is that there isn’t a huge difference in how they play on the road vs how they play at home. In recent years the Irish has had home win streaks of 45 and 34 games — people just didn’t come into Purcell Pavilion and leave victorious. That being said, we would get completely trashed on the road — it was as if a different team took the floor. This year in Big East play, we have suffered 2 home losses (UConn and Georgetown) and 3 losses on the road (St. John’s, Syracuse, Providence) — we have lost our “unbeatable at home” mentality but become better away from South Bend — a trade-off that may be disappointing for the students temporarily but should pay huge dividends come tournament time.
Take our two games vs DePaul for instance. We played them on the road, led all game, but allowed them to take us to overtime where we had to squeak out a win. Three weeks later and the same exact game takes place in front of a scarce crowd in Purcell — Irish lead all game but DePaul fights back in, forces overtime where the Irish pull away. This team just gives the same effort each and every night, which is a testament to how we have been tougher leaving home — which is good, because the tournament isn’t played at Notre Dame.
Experience - Last year’s Notre Dame team had a hell of a year — Tim Abromaitis went down with a torn ACL and the team still managed to finish in the top four of the Big East. Yet that overachievement in March led to disappointment in April — why? There wasn’t even experience.
Don’t get me wrong, Scott Martin was a 5th-year senior and essentially an extra coach on the floor, which is great. But Atkins was only a true sophomore, Jerian Grant was finishing up his first year of game action, as was Pat Connaughton, and even Jack Cooley was just finishing up his first year as a big time player. The team was unquestionably good, but they weren’t exactly seasoned.
This year is completely different. This is Eric Atkins 3rd year of starting basketball, and Jerian Grant has two years under his belt (plus a redshirt year). Jack Cooley has now been through the ringer and is a Big East Player of the Year candidate. Scott Martin is on his 6th run through college basketball. Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight are both in their 4th year of college — in short, this is where talent meets experience. The team plays with discipline and knows how to conduct business — panicking and choking a late lead in the tournament (a la Xavier) just won’t happen.
Where from here? The most important thing moving forward is that the Irish continue to get better in the final three games and into the Big East Tournament. Because Brey has been fitting together a lot of moving parts, the team has been forming a new identity over the course of several months, and truthfully they are still working to perfect it. Scott Martin will have to re-assimilate himself into this team, but we already know what we are getting from him so it shouldn’t be too big of a challenge.
The Irish are currently tied for 4th in the Big East with 3 games left. They have all but assured themselves a single-bye in the conference tournament, and have a great chance at once again obtaining the coveted double-bye.
Keep an eye on this team, and start tuning in if you haven’t been — this is the Mike Brey team that finally advances deep in March.
Ah, the NFL combine — the place where tenths of a second in a 40 yard dash and a couple of inches on a vertical jump can translated into millions of dollars. Truth be told, I think it is one of the more overrated and overhyped events the NFL does, but there is no doubt that the combine is a place in which draft fortunes can be made.
Eight Notre Dame football stars took to Indianapolis to try and boost their draft fortunes and their results are after the jump.
|40 Yard Dash||4.68|
|3 Cone Drill||6.92|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.32|
|60 Yard Shuttle||11.52|
Before the combine, Eifert was already thought of as one of the best TEs available in the draft. After the combine, Eifert has likely sealed a spot in the first round.
Eifert remained steady in the top five of every drill that he participated in. No other TE was able to claim such well-balanced top honors. His 40 time and vertical jump alone would be enough to make coaches salivate, but considering that he was in the top three in the bench press was just icing on the cake.
I doubt any team will draft him as a “classic”, smash-mouth TE, but with the way NFL teams are using TEs split wide and as receiving threats (much like Kelly did all season), there will be a team that will gladly snatch Eifert up.
Prediction: 1st Round
|40 Yard Dash||4.82|
|3 Cone Drill||7.13|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.27|
|60 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
Let’s just get this out of the way: Te’o didn’t impress at all in the combine. John Harbaugh agrees.
That being said, he still likely didn’t hurt his draft stock. Te’o was always slated as a possible 1st round pick, but in the middle to late part of the round at best. The simple fact is that linebackers just aren’t drafted that high. For Te’o to break that mold, he was going to have to amaze and he didn’t.
Even though it was a storyline during the combine, I think it’s safe to say the entire Leenay/Catfishing thing wasn’t really a focus for most NFL teams considering him.
Te’o didn’t help his draft status much, but I don’t think he did much to hurt it. He still has a chance at ND’s pro day to make a final impression.
Prediction: Late 1st Round – Early 2nd Round
|40 Yard Dash||4.56|
|3 Cone Drill||DNP|
|20 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
|60 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
Cierre left a potential year of eligibility on the table to chase down his NFL dream. Thus far, it appears that he made a decent gamble.
No one really expected Wood to have a stellar 40 time, yet he turned in a top-15 time. His biggest victory though was tacking on top-5 performances in the vertical and broad jump, showcasing that he has more than enough athletic talent to justify a mid-round draft pick.
Enjoy the payday, Cierre, you’ve earned it!
Prediction: 4th-5th Round
|40 Yard Dash||4.68|
|3 Cone Drill||DNP|
|20 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
|60 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
There is no doubt that Theo Riddick was just as much a part of the strong Irish running game as Cierre was, perhaps even more so when the tough yards were needed. However, Riddick simply didn’t come up with great numbers in his combine drills at all.
Theo is on the lower end of the NFL’s “draftable grade” rating, coming in at 51.05, with 50 being the cutoff for a draftable player.
The real question is what role a team thinks Theo could fill: third down back? Slot receiver? Backup/third RB for a changeup?
Theo definitely turned a lot of heads this season after a rather mediocre couple of years in the slot. Perhaps he will do so yet again, but most teams may just hope he slides into free agency and use their late round picks for other areas of need.
I have little doubt he’s going to find a way on a NFL roster, but whether that happens during or after the draft is still very much up in the air.
Prediction: 7th Round – Undrafted Free Agent
|40 Yard Dash||5.33|
|3 Cone Drill||7.81|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.71|
|60 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
Cave was far from one of the more athletic linemen at the combine and not participating in the bench press makes it impossible to really compare his strength to other top talent.
Of all the Irish players to make a prediction for, Cave is by far the toughest. There were only 9 true centers at the combine so that alone works in Cave’s favor. Hell, I watched I think three centers attempt to play for the Cowboys this season alone*.
(*Do not get me started on how atrocious the Dallas offensive line is…)
Someone will definitely scoop him up. He’ll make a solid addition to a two-deep.
Dallas, please pick him. He at least knows how to pull of a shotgun snap which is already a huge improvement!
Prediction: 4th-5th Round
|40 Yard Dash||DNP|
|3 Cone Drill||DNP|
|20 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
|60 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
KLM was at the combine simply to interview as he is still recovering from his awful ACL injury suffered at the title game.
I feel awful for the guy as he probably would’ve been drafted had that not happened.
Get well soon, Kap. I want to see you destroying people in the NFL.
Prediction: Undrafted Free Agent
|40 Yard Dash||4.83|
|3 Cone Drill||6.75|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.16|
|60 Yard Shuttle||TBD|
Saying Zeke could’ve had a better day at the combine is an understatement. He had the lowest bench numbers of all safeties and the slowest 40 time of all DBs; in fact, he only bested linemen, a handful of LBs & TEs, and a couple of QBs & RBs in that category.
He did, however, end his day strong with top performances amongst all safeties with a top-5 performance in the 3 Cone Drill and was just .06 away from a top-5 finish in the 20 Yard Shuttle.
Hopefully, he has a much stronger showing at ND’s pro day because his draft stock absolutely plummeted today. Originally, I thought he would have a chance to be an early round pick…now, I just hope he gets drafted.
Prediction: 6th Round – Undrafted Free Agent
|40 Yard Dash||DNP|
|3 Cone Drill||DNP|
|20 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
|60 Yard Shuttle||DNP|
Another unfortunate casualty to injury. There’s simply no way a team is going to take a risk picking him with the 2013 draft class being well-stocked with DBs.
Prediction: Undrafted Free Agent
At a time when personalized technologies like the iPhone and Hulu have eroded the natural ebb and flow of time and season, sport provides most of the few remaining way-points on the calendar. With our smart phones and tablets, we can time-shift “must see t.v.” to fit our individual schedules, rendering the start time of a particular game less meaningful than ever before. The release of the House of Cards remake on Netflix this month is perhaps the first step in the permanent decoupling of serial television from its historical and highly-choreographed season long unfolding. But until someone figures out a way to do that with sporting events, the start of a season will remain immutable.
And, for whatever reason, no sport retains its talismanic place on the calendar like baseball. Starting with the gathering of pitchers and catchers in warmer climes, everything about the start of a new baseball season finds its simulacrum in the natural world: the swallows returning to Capistrano, Punxsutawney Phil, etc. This year, I was fortunate enough to cover the start of Notre Dame’s 2013 baseball campaign and its three game series against Tulane, played out over the weekend of February 22-24, at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium.
Coach Mik Aoki’s Fighting Irish came into the weekend at 2-1 and on the outside-looking-in on the nation’s Top 25. Having defeated Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio State, the Irish lost to Mercer in a Florida tournament before heading back to South Bend for a week of practice and classes. “I don’t know who puts the travel day together,” said junior pitcher Sean Fitzgerald when asked about the effect of Notre Dame’s early-season travel schedule, which sees the Irish play in Sarasota, New Orleans and Los Angeles on successive weekends. “But, our team does a good job of getting their naps in.” Continuing, Fitzgerald noted that Notre Dame’s emphasis on academics adds to the challenges faced by the team. “We leave as late as possible in the week so we can get in our classes.”
This is a team, however, that is well-suited to rise to any challenges, whether on the field or in the classroom. “This is as talented a team as I’ve been on in my time here,” said Adam Norton, a senior pitcher. “The juniors and seniors in the team are really strong and have set a good foundation for the younger guys, each year building on the year before.” Facing a veteran-laden team like Tulane, this experience would pay dividends.
Coming into the weekend, Tulane brought its own 2-1 record along with all four starting pitchers from last year and a total of seven returning position players. “Tulane is historically very good,” said Adam Norton when asked Wednesday about the weekend series. “We’re not going to walk in there and they’re going to lie down.” After completing the three game sweep to bring the Irish to 5-1 on the season, Coach Aoki was pleased. “I’m really proud of our club. We came down and played well. Tulane didn’t get timely hits and we competed. We did a good job and executed offensively.”
By game time Friday night, the weather was chilly (for New Orleans) and a fine mist descending. When it was over, a two-run homer by junior Eric Jagielo was the difference maker for the Irish, who held off a Tulane threat in the bottom of the ninth, to preserve the win for Fitzgerald who went 6 and a third innings, with two strike outs. Saturday’s game was another win for the Irish, this time 3-1 over another Tulane squad who scattered hits harmlessly across the innings. Adam Norton went seven innings, striking out five and walking two.
On Sunday, the Irish offensive came alive, led by Ryan Bull who went four for five and crushed a two run blast deep into left field. Nick McCarty got the win for the Irish, on the back of great bullpen support from Donnie Hissa and David Hearne. “I thought Hissa was a little shaky, but he got us out of a tough spot,” said Coach Aoki.
Following the game and with his squad at 5-1, Coach Aoki was decidedly upbeat. “We had good at bats. [Tulane’sTony] Rizzotti is a Friday night guy for anybody. I feel good about our offense [. . .] our kids played.” Even before the three game sweep and crucial away wins, pitchers Fitzgerald and Norton were predicting big things for the Irish. “We’re projected to finish in the top three [of the Big East],” Fitzgerald offered. “If our offense stays consistent and our pitching comes around, we’re going to be really good.” Adam Norton continued, saying that “[there is] no reason we can’t win [the Big East]. Louisville is always good, but I think if we play our game [and] stay focused, I don’t see why we can’t be near the top.”
Special as the sweep was, an equally special moment came on Saturday, when the New Orleans Notre Dame Alumni Club hosted the team, coaches and staff at a meal and a mass on Tulane’s campus. Giving the Notre Dame community the literal and figurative opportunity to break bread, heaping plates of jambalaya, crawfish pasta and warm bread pudding became conversation starters and relationship builders. Whether they were genuinely taken by the moment, or just genuinely that giving of themselves, Captain Frank DeSico and freshman Kyle Richardson fomented a game of catch in the hallway with some of the children.
Commenting on the mass and the relationship between the team and its fans, Coach Aoki said “I think it’s a unique and special thing that we have at Notre Dame. It’s such a testament to what our university does. People don’t do that for a place at which they didn’t have a special time. [The mass and events like it] teach our kids to give back. Our kids are fortunate to play at Notre Dame. This teaches them to give back and break out of an entitlement mode.” Having witnessed the delight in the eyes of the children and adults who got to share some remarkable hours with the Irish, Notre Dame is fortunate to have a baseball team, staff and coaches such as these.
Author’s Note: I’d like to thank Josh Flynt (@NDSportsBlogger) for hooking me up with Michael Bertsch, Assistant Media Relations Director, whom I would like to thank for hooking me up with my interviews of Sean, Adam and Coach. I’d like to thank Sean, Adam and Coach for taking time to speak with me. And, finally, Frank and Kyle for playing with the kids, one of whom is feverishly writing cards to her new friends as I write this article.
This week, the Michigan State football chaplain got himself in a bit of trouble for making a public boast about the Spartan basketball team, that was of questionable taste (to say the least). I know this is as much of a shock to you as it is to me – not that a priest has a filthy mouth, but that Michigan State athletes would welcome a man of God without trying to boil and eat him. I’m sure you also had the same initial suspicion that I had: a priest with low manners joining freely with our enemies must be a Jesuit. But keep in mind that Jesuits are characterized by dangerous intelligence. Michigan State players are not.
Much of my confusion was cleared up when I was informed that said chaplain is a graduate of the University of Michigan. What does one expect from a Wolverine but an angry snarl…and a grunt? At the very least, we must applaud the missionary zeal that has led him from Ann Arbor even deeper in partibus infidelium to East Lansing. This whole episode has given me cause to think generally about the ministry of the team chaplain, and to consider specifically issues of proper, upstanding conduct on the part of these ministers of Holy Church. We have so many of these Grace-Coaches here at Notre Dame, that our congregational post-nominals might as well be written CSChaplain.
Since St. Sebastian first took his turn as goalie for the Roman archery team, we have celebrated the Athleta Christi Nobilis, the Noble Champion of Christ. In these enlightened times, we no longer smite or slay; we limit our exertions to defeating in sportsmanlike fashion our opponents – who nonetheless remain enemies of our souls, bent on our utter destruction. It is for the coach to be like the military commander in this athletic combat. It is for the chaplain to be like the spiritual Department of Defense Inspector General, preaching, correcting, rebuking, and encouraging in season and out of season. Both coach and chaplain should manifest a love of the athlete as well as a love of the game. But while the coach can get away gutter-mouth exhortations peppered with barnyard language, locker room imagery, and hyperbolic threats of grievous bodily harm (all bellowed at ear-splitting full volume with eyes bulging and veins popping), the chaplain must set his mind on things that are above. Here are a few guidelines for appropriate sports chaplain conduct.
Fight the GOOD Fight. By all means cheer, jump up and down, and shake your fist at the opposing team. But leave the violent challenges out. With a very few exceptions, a chaplain would be returned to the dust from which he came if he ever tried to take on a strapping college athlete of any sort. Your Heavenly Dad might be able to beat up his dad, but after a real fight, priest, you’d be collecting your teeth with broken hands. And don’t be crude. Insult all you want – I’m French, my people created the art of insult. But draw some lines that exclude bodily functions and obscenities. Remember: that the end of your days, you may have to kiss your Blessed Virgin Mother with that mouth.
God made you to LAUGH. Like Abraham’s wife Sarah. But like Sarah, make sure that everyone’s laughing with you. We’re talking about sports and it’s good to be passionate about your school and your team. Skewer, lambaste, satirize, and lampoon the other school and the other team. You can even go after a couple of the opponent’s star athletes for shoddy performance or public foibles. But don’t get too personal. Even though it’s hard to believe at times (especially in the case of Michigan), the people on the other side of the field, or court, or stands are just that…real human people. They are all children of God (though at USC they are very naughty, dirty children). And be prepared to take all the abuse that will, rightly, be shoveled your way. Even Michigan State fans are capable of wit, albeit ham-fisted and ungrammatical. But don’t respond to vulgar baiting, don’t join with an opponent who is steeped in filth. Tangle with an Alabama fan once, and no matter how much ritual washing you perform, the stench will linger upon you for months.
Be prepared for the rain to come, the stream to rise, the wind to blow, and your house to fall down. Because it will. You can’t win ‘em all. The chaplain’s most important work comes right after the defeat. Comfort the afflicted, instill hope, and never, ever, give up on your athletes, your team, or your school. It’s not just football chaplains who have to be prepared to take hits. There’s always a lot of talk about team spirit. Well, if a chaplain isn’t keeping up his team’s spirits all the time, but especially in the darkest moments, he’s about as useful as a diploma from an SEC school. Sports are metaphors for combat; so never forget the example of a true combat chaplain, Father Aquinas T. Colgan, who always told his troops staggering back from battle, that as long as you’re alive, “Every night’s a New Year’s Eve; every day’s a payday!” He was a good Irishman, Fr. Colgan…but alas, he was a Carmelite.
Above all, no matter what the sport, no matter whether the team wins championships or is the doormat of the league, the chaplain must always give his athletes all his heart, all his soul, and all his strength. Brothers, take the tennis chaplain as your model – for, of us all, only the tennis chaplain truly serves.
P.S. If there is any chaplain out there who has mastered all of these virtues, please tell this occasionally crass, usually barbed, sportsfan-sinner how to do so.