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Following the leader

Acker, Molly | Friday, September 30, 2005

By now you’ve surely heard the story. It has been covered by both the local and national media. Headlines such as “Weis Uses Play Called By Dying Ten-Year-Old Boy” and “Weis Honors Dying Boy By Using His Called Play” have appeared in newsstands across the country all week. This will likely be the feel good story of the year (yes, that even goes for a win over USC or a BCS game). Over the past few days, we’ve all become familiar with Charlie Weis granting Montana Mazurkiewicz’s dying wish during Saturday’s game, but it is important to reflect on the magnitude of what happened.

Many of us get carried away with Notre Dame Football. I am related to plenty of people who place almost too great an emphasis on the Fighting Irish; heck, I do it myself. However, what happened last Saturday, amidst perhaps the biggest media circus of the college football season, put Notre Dame Football into proper perspective.

The Mazurkiewicz family is unquestionably a clan of die-hard Notre Dame fans. Anyone who has their doubts need only look at the names of the family’s two sons: Rockne and Montana. Instead of opting for more traditional names, the Mazurkiewicz’s chose to name their children after Notre Dame’s greatest coach and its most recognizable player. Perhaps Montana had no choice but to be a fan of the Fighting Irish, but at the mere age of 10, he proved to be one until the bitter end.

Last week Montana, who was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, was given an opportunity to meet the head coach of his favorite football team. He was in a great deal of pain and his prognosis was not good. However, the young boy was thrilled to talk to Charlie Weis when he came to his home last week.

They talked about his namesake, Joe Montana; they talked about the loss to Michigan State; they talked about life. Weis asked Montana if there was anything he could do for him. Coach Weis knew he could not save the boy’s life, but he wanted to do something to make Montana’s last days just a little brighter. He suggested that Montana pick what the Irish’s first play against Washington would be. Montana decided that the game should open with a “pass right.”

Sadly, Montana passed away on Friday, and he never got an opportunity to watch the Irish take the field against Washington. Upon hearing that Montana had died, Coach Weis called the Mazurkiewicz’s to offer his condolences. In doing so, he reminded the grieving family, “This game is for Montana, and the play still stands.”

As it turned out, Notre Dame’s first play on Saturday came from its own 1 yard-line; a place from which teams rarely pass. Weis, having put football in its proper perspective, kept his promise to Montana, dismissed conventional wisdom, and called for a “pass right.” We’ll never really know if it was skill or divine intervention, but Brady Quinn completed Montana’s pass to Anthony Fasano for a 13-yard gain.

Montana’s story shows us how truly lucky we are to be part of the Notre Dame family. We are lucky to have a compassionate coach who is willing to run an ill-advised play in order to make a difference. We are lucky to have a leader who understands the importance of winning – both on and off the field. We are lucky to once again have a coach who understands the magic and mystique of Notre Dame Football and is not afraid to put his faith in it. We are all lucky to be a part of an institution that has such an impact on people’s lives that it can help comfort a dying boy in his last days.

It all seems so simple: a good man doing what he could to fulfill a child’s last wish. In reality, Coach Weis put an awful lot on the line when he called little Montana Mazurkiewicz’s play during Saturday’s game. He also helped put things into perspective. Wins and losses are important. (I’m sure that Notre Dame’s storied football tradition had a lot to do with the Mazurkiewicz’s affinity towards the University.) However, there are also moments when winning a football game becomes secondary. It is these moments – when we applaud the team after a loss, when we win one for the Gipper, or when a coach calls a play for a dying boy – that the true spirit of Notre Dame shines through.

Molly Acker is a senior at Saint Mary’s. She is a double major in communication studies and humanistic studies. She can be reached at acke6758@saintmarys.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.