Brendan O'Shaughnessy | November 17, 2018
Like many subway alumni, writer Greg Jordan’s love for a university he never attended traces back to youthful Saturdays watching football games with his father, the son of a coal miner in northeast Pennsylvania who called himself a “tunnel alumni.”
There was one game that stands out: the 1979 Cotton Bowl, the famous “Chicken Soup” comeback led by a flu-battered Joe Montana. But on-field heroics were only a backdrop for a moment that was more about family, religion and moral instruction, Jordan said.
“I was 9 years old, and you get these intimations of what your father admires, and what you should want to be when you grow up,” Jordan said. “The earliest memories are not about plays or games but around the iconography of the Notre Dame coaches. Parseghian, Leahy, Rockne. These names were like the names of the popes, and when you grow up in a Catholic household, there’s sort of a priestly or clerical dimension to the tone with which my dad would talk about these coaches.”
Jordan also recalled that a great uncle told him Jesus himself was buried on campus under the mural known as Touchdown Jesus — and he believed it for years. But beyond family ties and lies, Notre Dame came to represent something else, a primal need in hardscrabble coal country.
The miners, Jordan’s grandfathers and their friends, were largely Irish immigrants, and the mine owners were Welsh gentry who exploited cheap labor. “The notion that you had to fight to survive — to make your way in this immigrant experience — that definitely resonated with them,” Jordan said. “They could identify with the Fighting Irish logo.”
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