The Uncle Dave Bowl

I was sitting in Dos Amigos, a cheap mexican restaurant in Boone. I hadn’t watched a second of the Notre Dame- Pittsburgh game all day. And for most of the day, I had been glad for it. Notre Dame was 8-0, but things were quickly unraveling. We had fallen behind 20-6, and despite a miraculous rally, Notre Dame faced a 33 yard field goal from Pittsburgh in the second overtime that would have ended the undefeated dream. I was receiving frantic texts from my dad and sister every 30 seconds. I was maybe a quarter engaged with my friends and their conversation. I was just waiting for the hammer to drop. For my dad to text me “FG good. Pitt wins.”

All I could think to myself was “We need a miracle.”

I’ve spent a lot of my college years thinking about religion and spirituality. I’m comfortable with where my beliefs stand. It’s actually been an area of great irony in my life that I am a rabid fan of Notre Dame– the highest profile christian university in the country. I chuckle at my own expense about it sometimes. My fandom had never been about religion. If anything it was about family. My dad, a passionate Notre Dame fan, raised me to love the team, the colors and the tradition that surrounds Notre Dame. Just like his dad, an alum, had.

Earlier this week, my great uncle Dave passed away. I can’t say I knew him that much. He was also a Notre Dame graduate. He was a veteran. WWII? Vietnam? I’m not sure. I only really remember talking to him this summer, when I sat in his room at the Beuhler Home in Peoria, Ill. with an assortment of my extended family. That was the last time I ever saw him, and it’s probably the first time I can actively remember having a conversation with him.

I don’t buy into the spirituality that surrounds Notre Dame. “Wake up the Echoes” has been a phrase that mostly falls on deaf ears. But Saturday, things were different.

“Missed it !!!!!” was what my dad sent me shortly after Kevin Harper’s field goal went wide-right. “That was Uncle Dave at work,” quickly followed.

By the time I was walking out of the restaurant, Everett Golson had plunged in from one yard away to seal the game for Notre Dame, 26-23. All I could do was stand outside in the cool Boone evening, staring blankly forward with a stupid grin on my face, amazed that Notre Dame was 9-0. With the exception of the moments immediately prior to the field goal attempt, I never really doubted that Notre Dame would pull it off.

I don’t think anybody’s beliefs are held 100 percent. All day I kept thinking that something was going to help Notre Dame pull this game off. I felt myself placing my chips on “blind faith” rather my usual “logic and statistics.” Down 20-6 in the fourth quarter with a rattled redshirt freshman quarterback sounds like a death sentence for any team. But I just kept texting my dad reassurance. “It’ll be fine. We got this.”

It’s completely silly for me to chalk Notre Dame winning this game up to devine intervention from my deceased great-uncle. The effect of this game resonates to so many more people than just the people I’m related to. But all I know is that win on Saturday meant a hell of a lot to them. And that’s what mattered most to me Saturday night. The whole idea behind Notre Dame is faith, God and family. I know at least to the people I’m related to, those ideas were backed up Saturday evening. And isn’t that what sports are all about? For those moments where the games blur into something transcendental that breaks the typical ways we evaluate things?

I like to think I’ve got a pretty good view of the universe and that my idea of the afterlife is a pretty accurate one. You know, like everybody else in the world. But I have absolutely no clue, like everybody else in the world. Things like that are so complicated that our guesses aren’t even educated. And sometimes things happen that make you reevaluate your previously held beliefs. I’m not saying I’m changing my stance on faith and the universe based on a football game, but for a brief second I opened myself up to the possibility of a different perspective.

That night I let the win resonate on a frequency unused for many years. Not long after the final score had sunk in. I said something I’ve said many times, but haven’t meant since I was probably 15 years old.

“Thank God.”

I had a brief phone call with my dad following the win.

“I should of known better,” he said. “On the day Uncle Dave was put to rest, that we wouldn’t lose this game.”

I agreed. And I have to pass on the phrase that has been on my family’s lips since yesterday.

Thanks, Uncle Dave.

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