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Irish join others by playing in pink

Meaghan Veselik | Monday, October 11, 2010

Saturday was a win for both of Irish coach Brian Kelly’s families as the Irish won on the field while supporting breast cancer research and awareness, a cause close to his heart. From the pink armbands and towels to Paqui Kelly’s pink Notre Dame jersey and the hug she gave her husband at the end, Saturday’s “Pink” Game was a special one.

“Anytime you get a chance to see your family [it’s special], you know, because [the coaches and team] spend about 80 hours a week,” Kelly said. “We’ve got two families: football family and our own family. So when you get a chance to share it with your family, that’s a great day. Again, doing it at Notre Dame, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Kelly was able to bring both his families together at the end of the game when he stood behind his players as they held on to one another and sang the Alma Mater while he could hold close his wife and son.

Saturday’s game was a win for Kelly’s football family, but also for his own family who has had to face the challenges of breast cancer twice before. Paqui, a two-time survivor of the disease, now champions raising awareness and early detection of the disease, as well as for raising funds to support its research. Saturday she was showing her support for the Irish and breast cancer in head-to-toe pink, including the aforementioned pink jersey and the new adidas Breast Cancer Collection’s pink, navy and white Notre Dame visor.

The team and coaches also sported the new adidas pink-accented line, wearing white polos with pink and navy accents for the program’s first “Pink” game and to commemorate October as National Breast Cancer Awareness month, a month Kelly was proud his team could support.

“Well I think college football and the NFL have embraced breast cancer and heightened its awareness nationally,” he said. “When you can do it on the college level, you know for obviously the publicity we get on TV and in the NFL, I think it’s such a great cause and it’s awesome that we’re able to do that.”

Kelly and his wife have also supported breast cancer research through their Kelly Cares Foundation. The foundation focuses on supporting various organizations and causes that share similar values as the Kelly’s in three central areas: education, community and health with a focus on women’s health and breast cancer.

Kelly Cares has already worked to turn its support for breast cancer awareness and research into action in the Notre Dame community by donating to the Mike and Josie Harper Cancer Research Institute in Harper Hall. The donation brings scientists from Notre Dame and Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend together in cancer research to help prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.

Kelly was not the only one who was happy to support the cause on Saturday. His players proudly sported pink wrist or armbands on the field and used pink Gatorade towels instead of white ones on the sidelines. They, too, were happy to help promote breast cancer awareness for their own families, their coach and for each other, Irish junior quarterback Dayne Crist said.

Crist said that supporting the cause added an extra element to the game.

“Just being able to represent such a great cause, you know, that kind of adds to the whole aura of the game and the pageantry of the game,” Crist said. “Obviously, with how Coach Kelly was affected with breast cancer, that’s our leader and that’s who were supportive of. And there’s tons of guys in the locker room who, unfortunately, were affected by that in one way or another.”

Senior cornerback Darrin Walls, wearing a pink, navy, and gold Irish football shirt after the game, felt that having a “Pink” game brought the team and coaches closer together, and that the game held a lot of significance for his team, as well as for Notre Dame.

“It’s big,” he said. “My grandma had breast cancer and she overcame that. I think it’s big to show the support we have as a team, just the concern we have, and I think that builds trust in coaches and things like that, so it’s a good deal. A lot of us have known someone who’s been dealing with breast cancer, so it means a lot and our support shows that Notre Dame cares a lot about things other than football.”