Two eras in Notre Dame football collided last Saturday and they’re still clearing the wreckage.
The great coach Ara Parseghian, now 80, was honored in the morning at the unveiling of his statue — a magnificent piece of artwork by the famed sculptor Jerry McKenna, who has done 20 pieces at Notre Dame and countless others around the world.
This was the sculptor’s greatest effort. He put his soul into it. McKenna has done huge sculptures of Notre Dame coaching legends such as Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy as well as athletic director Edward (Moose) Krause, but for Parseghian he rose to his greatest artistic heights.
It’s a spectacular bronze depiction of Ara, hoisted on the shoulders of three of his players after a 24-11 victory over Texas in the 1971 Cotton Bowl. Including the pedestal, it’s almost 20 feet high — so big that defensive lineman Pete Schivarelli, one of the three lifting Ara, grew from 5-8 in real life to 6-2 in bronze.
More than 100 of Ara’s former players plus family, friends and fans attended the unveiling that morning in a concourse of Notre Dame Stadium. There were so many they had to be credentialed in advance.
Parseghian was not enthusiastic about such an honor — until the drapes dropped and he saw it.
“I wasn’t in favor of it, but now I like it,” he said with moist eyes.
Later he confided to me, “It is breathtaking.”
So much for the statue.
In 11 years at Notre Dame from 1964-74, Ara’s record was 95-17-4 with two national championships. He won his first national championship in 1966 not with a win, but with a tie, 10-10 with Michigan State in unfriendly Spartan Stadium.
This was one of those things I had to tell him.
“You did the right thing,” I said. “I wrote it that night and still believe it today.”
Most of the national sporting press ripped Parseghian for sitting on a tie. With the score knotted, Notre Dame got the ball for the final time on its 30-yard line with 1:24 remaining. Ara ran the ball four straight times and ran out the clock.
“My quarterback, my best running back and my center weren’t on the field. They were standing next to me on the sidelines hurt,” Parseghian recalled.
Notre Dame went into the game ranked No. 1, and Michigan State was second. The next week the rankings were unchanged.
The morning with Ara was exhilarating. Later that afternoon my wife and I attended the game. Coincidentally, the opponent was Michigan State.
I probably should issue a disclaimer at this point. Most of my life I’ve been spoiled. I attended dozens of Notre Dame games, always parked next to the stadium and sat cozily in the press box.
On this day, I wasn’t working. We parked a mile north of the Stadium and took a shuttle bus to the stadium. Twenty bucks. We sat in section 5, row 48. Tickets $62 each. Plank bench. Squeezed in.
And TV commercials. NBC, which paid a fortune for exclusive TV rights to Notre Dame home games, seems intent on stretching out the broadcast to four hours. Timeouts became interminably long as NBC milked every break for as much revenue as it could. We sat there with nothing happening.
They introduced half a dozen members of the 1947 national championship team during one time out.
During another they trotted out the grounds crew for a round of applause. That got my attention. The field has never looked worse. Usually the Notre Dame playing field is the finest in college football. Not this year. It is blotched with discolored areas. Maybe it is diseased.
Notre Dame, uninspired and lacking talent, lost to Michigan State, a fourth straight loss this year and six straight losses dating to last year.
I can’t remember when I covered so much emotional territory in one day.
Contact Dan Coughlin at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org