Jason Kelly | October 9, 2017
You know that old joke about Ara Parseghian?
During a wintry game early in his tenure as the Notre Dame football coach, the students start chanting, “Ara stop the snow.” He turns to an assistant coach and says, “Do you think I could?” Several years and many victories later, the chant arises again on another snowy Saturday, but this time he asks, “Do you think I should?”
Two national championships and 95 wins in 11 seasons from 1964 to 1974 convey an aura of omnipotence — and when it comes to Fighting Irish football, he was a savior of sorts. He rescued Notre Dame from a decade of mediocrity, including five straight years without a winning record prior to his arrival. But the punch line to the “stop the snow” joke lands in part because Ara never confused himself with the great meteorologist in the sky.
Although a deity in the eyes of many fans and players — “a charismatic, all-seeing god on the high tower at practice,” Michael Oriard ’70 wrote of his coach — Ara’s reputation grew out of a simple, decent humanity that the highest of football triumphs and the lowest of life’s trials did not alter.
In the old pictures, with his piercing stare and square jaw, he does look like he was carved from stone to be a football coach. An actual statue would come in due time, but for all the achievements that put him on a pedestal outside Notre Dame Stadium, bronzed and hoisted on the shoulders of his players, Ara resisted being held up as bigger than life.
That explains a lot about why he looms a little larger in the Notre Dame imagination than even other icons in the football pantheon. Why his death in August at age 94 felt like a personal loss to so many people.