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Synan ’66: Proud to play interhall football

| Friday, August 25, 2023

My dream had come true. I was playing football at Notre Dame.

There I was, on the hollowed grounds, strapping on the historic helmets with the blue cross over the top. There I was, wearing the white number four on the green jersey.

How did this dream come to be? Is it possible that this was related to the prayers of my maternal grandmother? In the 1930s and the 1940s, in the age of radio, my grandma would sit by her radio and finger her rosary beads while listening to the Notre Dame football game broadcast on the Mutual Radio Network. Was she praying for the success of her team or was she praying that her grandson might someday play football at Notre Dame?

Playing football at Notre Dame was the culmination of a career that began at Saint Nicholas Elementary School. The new assistant pastor decided to organize a football team when I was in eighth grade. He scheduled a few games, organized us and obtained the basic elements of uniforms. We were to provide our own shoes, our own socks and (if we could) our own helmets. We were given shoulder pads, football pants and a jersey. Against Saint Ladislaus, an away game, I had forgotten to pack away my sneakers. So when I arrived, all I had was my brand-new saddle oxfords. This was really the first pair of “teenager” shoes that I was allowed. Unfortunately, the contest, played in the saddle oxfords, permanently affected the white markings on those beautiful shoes.

In high school football, I was a two-year Letterman. We were ineligible to play varsity as freshmen, but towards the end of my sophomore season, I became a starting linebacker. At 133 pounds, I was one of the lightweights on the field, but I was also “all we had.” Throughout the course of that year, we had lost at least 10 players to season-ending injuries; playing at a small school with a football turnout that often prevented us from practicing 11-on-11 scrimmages, I was pressed into duty.

In my junior season (150 pounds) and in my senior season (165 pounds) I started at left guard and linebacker. As a linebacker, I was usually assigned to the outside, enabling me to sometimes pass interceptor and score two touchdowns in my career. As a small guard, my capacity for straight-on blocking was obviously limited. But as a fast-moving pulling guard, my momentum for blocking was sufficient.

Towards the end of my senior season, the local newspaper published an All-Star team for the region. There was a First Team, a Second Team and Honorable Mention. The All-Star teams were according to school classification. In my school classification, I was designated Honorable Mention at offensive guard and at defensive linebacker.

With these credentials, I might have been destined to play football at Notre Dame.

Perhaps, I earned my place on that list. There is no question that, as a defensive player, my name was called out frequently by the public address announcer when identifying who made the tackle on a given play. But, if we were to judiciously investigate these All-Star Team Honorable Mention accolades, we might discover that they were put together by the newspaper’s only sportswriter, probably to meet a publishing deadline. It wasn’t a voting system engaging all of the local coaches. It wasn’t a public poll of input from fans. It was simply one guy sitting at his typewriter making up a list.

I was accepted at Notre Dame, but not on a football scholarship. I had no scholarship offers. I was still a 165-pound guard and linebacker.

But there I was, strapping on the gold leather helmet with the blue cross. The same helmet was worn by John Lattner in his cover picture on Time magazine. Paul Horning had worn this helmet also, featured in numerous magazine articles, during his Heisman Trophy year.

Dormitory football at Notre Dame is a long tradition. Most of the dorms field a team. The players are given hand-me-down uniforms from the varsity football team of decades earlier.

My leather helmet was a varsity issue 20 years ago. My hand-me-down green jersey was number 4.

I was a wide receiver for Alumni Hall. I was playing football at Notre Dame!

Joe Synan

Class of 1966

Jun. 22

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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