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Legendary Holtz ‘ND man’ always

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, September 12, 2008

For those of you who haven’t heard yet, we are in the midst of what should be called “Lou Holtz Weekend” at Notre Dame. The former head coach and current ESPN college football analyst will speak at Friday’s pep rally, have a statue dedicated for him Saturday morning and then be honored again at halftime of the game Saturday.

And why not?

The most obvious reason is that he is in the Mount Rushmore of Notre Dame football alongside Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Frank Leahy. Holtz left Notre Dame with 100 wins, second to only Rockne’s 105, and a national championship.

But alongside his coaching record at the University, Holtz is the ultimate “Notre Dame Man.”

I’m sorry for inventing a term just now, allow me to explain.

Many of you have likely heard the term “Michigan Man,” generally applied someone who went to Michigan or coached Michigan. This is usually where the definition of this term ends.

But a “Notre Dame Man” can be someone that has nothing to do with the University as a student or coach or professor or administrator. Instead, a Notre Dame Man only needs to be someone who supports and respects Notre Dame and what it represents.

Everyone knows someone like Holtz, who grew up rooting for Notre Dame for no other reason than they were Catholic and liked football. Holtz is no exception.

“I think you’re a Notre Dame man growing up. I was Notre Dame from the time I could make the sign of the cross, so to speak. Whereas you’re a Michigan man when you get there,” Holtz said.

Holtz added that the late Bo Schembechler, who could be called the quintessential “Michigan Man” because of his success with the Wolverines, could not have been so beforehand because he was an assistant under former Buckeyes legend Woody Hayes.

“I guarantee you Bo Schembechler wasn’t a Michigan Man before he went there. You don’t coach at Ohio State and be a Michigan Man,” Holtz said.

For Holtz, college was almost an afterthought he would not have pursued if not for his high school football coach. He didn’t even make it to the University in an official capacity until 1986. But his entire life, he was, to varying degrees, a “Notre Dame Man.”

When Holtz finally did become an official part of the Notre Dame community (or as many call it, Family), his belief in the traditions and history of Notre Dame were strengthened more than anything.

Unlike the old saying “Records are made to be broken,” Holtz understands that some just aren’t. When he left Notre Dame, he said it was for a wide variety of reasons, and although it wasn’t the deciding factor, Rockne’s all-time wins record played into his retirement.

“To be called the winningest coach in Notre Dame history would not have been fair. I had enough time, if we hadn’t missed some extra points or field goals, maybe it might have been different,” Holtz said. “There are certain records that should stand; I felt I didn’t deserve to break it.”

Nowadays, Holtz continues to be the ultimate Notre Dame Man, this time on television instead of the sideline. Sitting next to the equally biased Mark May, Holtz is the “voice of reason” at ESPN, defending Notre Dame against all-comers. But Lou doesn’t try to hide his bias; rather, he accepts it as part of his love for this school.

“Even though on television you’re supposed to be unbiased, you’re supposed to be fair and honest, and I’m none of those things when it comes to Notre Dame. But that’s the way I feel,” he said in an interview with The Observer.

But for Holtz, Notre Dame’s importance stretches far beyond the Stadium; it is instead an experience that will touch everyone who was lucky enough to be a part of it.

“Notre Dame is not just football. It’s such a special place to be able to go to the Grotto, to Sacred Heart. You’re excited to walk that campus and see the students. It’s magical. There’s no other place in America like it,” he said.

But just as Holtz’s fandom stretched from his youth, he said that every person in the Notre Dame community “will fall in love with it even more so” after they leave.

“When they found out the tremendous respect that everybody has for Notre Dame, then you really come to appreciate what makes Notre Dame great,” Holtz said.

But what really makes Notre Dame great isn’t the places or events or traditions. It’s the people, people like Holtz, who did their best in whatever capacity for the University.

So throw out all the wins, the big games, the records, everything football related.

So now why does Lou Holtz deserve a statue?

Because he is Notre Dame.

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

Contact Jay Fitzpatrick at [email protected]