The meaning of Christmas has changed for me. I'm closer to a mid-life crisis now than leaving cookies for Santa. Getting presents is great, giving is a little better so I guess I've come a long way from the greedy child I once was.
This year, it became clear to me a few hours can be a present especially when you don't know how many more there will be. I was reminded of this on Christmas Eve. On a traditionally quiet day in sports, the college football bowl game between Hawaii and Notre Dame had meaning for my dad and me.
My father and Notre Dame football is the reason I'm a sports fan. I started watching Notre Dame games with my father when I was about five. I'm the youngest of two and there are 15 years between me and my sister. She went to St. Mary's College in South Bend, Ind., when I was three. She transferred to Notre Dame when the school admitted women and my family has followed the Fighting Irish ever since. Not so much my sister, who was pre-med, studied hard, and knew little of Touchdown Jesus.
Dad knew, and taught me much of what I know about football while we watched Notre Dame games. He must've explained a holding penalty a thousand times before I understood. I have a fuzzy memory of watching dad watch a USC-Notre Dame game in the 1970s when the evil Trojans and the late Ricky Bell ran all over the Irish. Dad was scowling, growling and mumbling at the television, leaning forward in his chair and biting on the pinky finger of his right hand. Mom and I wouldn't go near him.
After I moved out, I used to call home multiple times during Notre Dame games. Dad never said much while I rambled on about a coach's call, a touchdown, a bad sequence of events. Before Wednesday night I can't tell you the last time I watched a Notre Dame game with my father, now 87 and in poor health.
He sat in his chair on Christmas Eve, not the same one from the 70s, but it's in the same place and quietly booed the Irish. He was disappointed in their season, he thought Charlie Weis should've been fired and he wanted to get me riled up. It worked. Each time Notre Dame scored or made a play, I clapped and sang the fight song. "Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame....." After a long completion by Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, I asked: "What do you think of that, Lombardi?" He got the last word. Without hesitation, dad replied: "What the hell is going on out there?," quoting coach from an often-played video clip while on the sidelines with the Green Bay Packers.
Though still quick-witted and fiesty, dad, like me, isn't the same as he was 30 years ago. Age has taken its toll the last couple of years, and he's dependent upon oxygen and tethered to tubes. Sports has always been a part of his life. He grew up playing hockey on ponds outside of Boston and continued the game in high school and briefly in college. Golf consumed much of his adult life when he wasn't working, and he played up to four or five times a week at his peak. Dad's sports now come from television, which he's able to see despite poor eyesight on a wide screen tv my sister's family game him last Christmas.
Notre Dame snapped a nine-game bowl losing streak with a 49-21 win over Hawaii. Dad and I heckled each other until he went to bed midway through the fourth quarter at which time he was still sneering and whining when the second-team Irish defense gave up yards. It was good watching with you again, Willie. Merry Christmas.