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Honoring Pete Duranko

Staff Editorial | Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Blue-Gold game, which traditionally draws upwards of 30,000 fans to the Stadium each spring, gives alums a whiff of the Irish football experience to come in the fall. Interest has peaked in this year’s game, but there’s another cause the Notre Dame faithful will support this weekend.

Pete Duranko deserves the benefit dinner his former teammates and classmates are hosting in his name Saturday at the Joyce Center. And those friends – and the Notre Dame athletic department – deserve praise for their efforts.

The motivation behind “For the love of Pete,” a fundraiser for the Monogram Club’s Catastrophic Relief Fund, is not that the ALS-stricken Duranko was on the national championship 1966 football team. Nor is it his selection as an All-American at defensive end.

The reason why hundreds of alumni and friends will pay $125 a plate for dinner Saturday night is who Pete is – and that’s the way it should be.

Duranko’s former teammate David Martin recalls a young Pete as a hard worker who often lightened the mood on the sidelines of practices as part of “a bunch of really good guys from that 1966 team.” That way of life earned Duranko respect. That respect earned him lifelong friends who want to help him now.

Six years after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – Duranko maintains an upbeat attitude that inspires the people who know him best. In 2002, he was in South Bend singing the Notre Dame Victory March in what he claimed to be Polish.

But as Lou Gehrig’s Disease advances, things have gotten tougher for Duranko. His former teammates are hoping the Monogram Club directs a large portion of the money raised in his name – up to $100,000 – towards their friend.

And the people who are helping him now are doing the right thing. Martin chose to dedicate time and organizational skills because he thought that was the best way to support Duranko. Former Notre Dame baseball player and author Cappy Gagnon joined with Dick Swatland to compile a contact list of a slew of Duranko’s former teammates.

Martin credits deputy director of athletics Stan Wilcox and associate athletic director John Heisler for joining with athletic director Kevin White in offering support and resources to the initiative. As soon as Charlie Weis was approached, he said he would do what he could to help the cause and named Duranko an honorary captain for this year’s Blue-Gold Game.

Duranko’s former teammate and fellow All-American Jimmy Lynch and 1953 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner agreed to come to support him.

Along with Lynch and Lattner, White and Weis, former Notre Dame standouts Bob Kuechenberg and Jim Seymour will be in attendance. So will alumni players like Kevin Hardy, Larry Conjar and George Goeddeke.

The outpouring of support for Duranko from so many people is a testament to who Duranko is – and who the supporters are.