‘This guy is irreplaceable:’ Friends, colleagues remember Lou Somogyi
Maria Luisa Paul | Monday, April 26, 2021
Few people understand the grief of losing a beloved pet.
When Irish Breakdown publisher Bryan Driskell and his wife, two self-declared animal lovers, had to make the hard decision of putting their dog down, not all could empathize with their overwhelming loss — except maybe their neighbor and Driskell’s colleague, Lou Somogyi.
The senior editor for Blue & Gold Illustrated and longtime Notre Dame football reporter sent Driskell a heartfelt letter and a poem. He called to make sure Driskell was okay. He treated it like Driskell had “lost a child.” Overall, Somogyi displayed the care and kindness that characterized him throughout his life.
“He just was such a caring, loving person,” said Driskell while remembering Somogyi. “Whether it was for people, whether it was for his dog, Bella, whether it was for his cats, whether it was for his wife, he just felt deeply. He was the kindest and most caring person I’ve ever met.”
Somogyi passed away unexpectedly on April 17 at the age of 58. Blue & Gold Illustrated reported he died of an apparent heart attack after playing tennis.
A native of South Bend, Ind., Somogyi was born Aug. 8, 1962, and received a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame in 1984. He is survived by his wife Amalia; stepchildren, Mike Vegh, Jennifer and Brandon Thomas and Kimberly Vegh; and stepgranddaughter, Noelle Thomas.
When news of his death broke, accolades from Notre Dame coaches, reporters and fans alike flooded in. Many highlighted his vast knowledge of Notre Dame sports and acumen for writing. However, his friends and colleagues remember him not only as a legendary reporter but as a selfless, faithful, compassionate and kindhearted person.
An encyclopedic knowledge
It was mid-August and COVID-19 had unanticipatedly brought Notre Dame and the ACC together. The unprecedented nature of the pandemic gave rise to different questions concerning practice alterations and, maybe most importantly, who would replace Coach Brian Kelly in case he got sick.
“It would be Lou Somogyi,” said Kelly when asked about his potential replacement in a press conference. “I know Lou would do a great job with the special teams and he could keep [assistant coach Brian] Polian on the sidelines and from getting us a 15-yard penalty.”
Kelly’s comment was meant to be tongue in cheek, but it revealed an aspect that defined Somogyi’s 37-year-long career as a Notre Dame football beat reporter and editor for Blue & Gold Illustrated: an encyclopedic knowledge on Notre Dame Athletics.
After this episode, the staff at Blue & Gold — who often joked the magazine should be titled “Lou & Gold Illustrated” because of Somogyi’s dedication — created a fake cover with Somogyi’s face superimposed over a coach’s outfit. Patrick Engel, a beat writer at this publication, said everyone in the office found it hilarious. That is, everyone in the office but Somogyi, who replied, “It should be a picture of the Hindenburg.”
“That right there just sums up his sense of humor and self-deprecation,” Engel said.
Despite his self-deprecation, Somogyi had the impressive skill of knowing even the minor details of the University’s vast history. He could not only recall players and their statistics but games’ exact dates and weather conditions.
“You could say, ‘tell me, who was the backup center at the 1973 game against Southern Cal,’ and he could tell you where the kid was from, who won the game, what the weather was like when the kid played,” Stu Coman, Blue & Gold’s publisher, said. “It was crazy, yet he would always say he couldn’t remember what he had for lunch.”
Somogyi’s wealth of knowledge did not limit itself to football — it comprised Notre Dame’s athletic history, including basketball. Because of it, the University’s Sports Information Office, coaches and reporters alike would often resort to him to answer their doubts.
His expertise made him one of Coach Mike Brey’s main historic references.
“He had the best mental and probably physical archived memory of Notre Dame history,” Brey said. “I always picked at his brain, especially during my early years when I was still kind of feeling my way and hoping to understand the big picture.”
The Notre Dame men’s basketball coach said the two tended to engage in lively debates — the most illustrious of them regarding the greatest achievement in the history of Notre Dame basketball. After hours of going back and forth, they called a draw, with Somogyi concluding that the program’s best win was the 1978 upset against UCLA and agreeing that its greatest achievement was the 2015 ACC Championship, in which Notre Dame won over both Duke and North Carolina on Tobacco Road.
“I respected it because he knew the history. So I always felt like ‘well, if it meant it was powerful to him, us winning [the ACC Championship] in 2015, then I know was powerful because he’s a true historian,’” Brey said.
However, Somogyi’s mastery of everything Notre Dame sports preceded his career as a professional reporter.
While a student at Notre Dame, Somogyi formed a friendship with Notre Dame sports historian and founder of the National Fighting Irish Subway Alumni Association, Herb Juliano. This relationship greatly influenced Somogyi, said Chris Needles (class of ’83), who drew parallels between both men’s love for Notre Dame sports and devotion to the Church.
“When Mr. Juliano died around 1998, I think Lou saw it as his mission to take that forward and assume the mantle,” Needles said. “Even though he didn’t specifically work for the university, he grew into that role as the historian, that if you wanted to know anything about any Notre Dame game, going back to the history of time, Lou was the person you consulted.”
Needles, who served as The Observer’s Sports Editor from 1982 to 1983, remembered Somogyi as a passionate and hardworking writer who was willing to cover any assignment.
“He was just somebody that showed up at The Observer to wanting to write stories and willing to cover any aspect of Notre Dame sports,” Needles said. “Lou was always happy and eager to take on what some might have seen as lesser assignments, but he loved it all. I mean, he loved everything about Notre Dame.”
Living the dream
Somogyi was connected to Notre Dame since birth. He grew up on the outskirts of campus attending school in St. Joseph High School. Both of his parents worked at the University. The Four Horsemen painted his dreams.
Like Rudy Ruettiger, he transferred from Holy Cross College and became a student in 1980. Four years later, Tim Prister (class of ’82) — also a South Bend native — hired him at Blue & Gold. Since then, Somogyi lived his dream with fervor.
“We grew up in Notre Dame Stadium. And so for both of us, it was a dream come true that we were covering Notre Dame football and working in Blue & Gold Illustrated,” Prister said. “He reached the pinnacle of his career when he started covering Notre Dame professionally. He didn’t need any more than that.”
The son of two Hungarian immigrants, Somogyi learned to work hard from an early age, and he carried a “relentless work ethic” throughout his career.
“He was a professional,” Prister said. “There was nothing that could prevent him from doing the job to the highest degree of his effort,” Prister said.
Somogyi’s care for his work translated into a sort of perfectionism, often exerting himself into correcting any sort of mistake. In fact, even after the issue was proofread twice, Somogyi would take it upon himself to have a final revision.
“Even back in the days before digital publishing, Lou would find a mistake after they had already sent it to the printer, and he would drive to Milford, Ind. — maybe 45 minutes from South Bend — with a two-line correction for them to paste,” Coman remembered. “This is crazy, but he cared about what he was doing, and he wanted things to be perfect.”
He spent sleepless nights working on editions — surprisingly never turning to caffeine to keep him awake — and his drive and dedication were not merely personal, but it also rendered into patience and support for his colleagues.
“There have been moments where I wonder like, ‘Am I good enough at this?’” said Engel about doubting his abilities. “When those moments come up, I will never forget what Lou saw in me and what he thought I could do. That alone is enough to get through that, and to keep confident and to believe I belong here and I can do this.”
According to Coman, Somogyi’s generosity and love for Blue & Gold knew no bounds, as he often put others’ needs in front of his own. The Blue & Gold publisher teared up while recalling instances when Somogyi would pass on money if it meant benefiting the publication.
“There have been several times where we’ve interviewed somebody for an open position, and he’s said, ‘if you need to reduce my salary to hire them, do it.’ And then we distributed some money on a profit share program to our employees, and Lou sent me a note saying, ‘I appreciate the money. But if you need to invest that in the company, that’d be fine with me,’” Coman said. “And that was kind of just how much he cared about the magazine being successful.”
More than a star reporter, Somogyi is remembered as a man of faith — consistently showing up at St. Joseph Catholic Church’s 7 a.m. mass to play the organ — whose loss leaves many voids and whose kindness will continue inspiring all who met him.
“He completely embodied ‘human first, journalist second,’ and I guarantee you he never lost sight of it once in forty years in the business,” Engel said. “He definitely enriched his days, just in his interactions with the other people and in how he rubbed off on other people.”
It is in the spirit of this generosity that Blue & Gold established the Lou Somogyi Memorial Scholarship at Notre Dame, which will primarily benefit South Bend students who transfer from Holy Cross to Notre Dame, but also other students who make the same move to transfer or are in financial need. Donations can be made on the giving.nd.edu website.