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The Last Word: Ara would have liked this

October 1, 2017

By John Heisler

Longtime University of Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, who died early last month, long was known for staying away from Irish home games once he left coaching.

Parseghian’s stance wasn’t based on lack of interest. While continuing to live in the South Bend area, he simply preferred to watch the action from the sanctity of his family room where he could better concentrate on the action at hand.

Even a few years ago when Ara agreed to take part in the pregame flag presentation for an Irish home game, once he had concluded that duty a Notre Dame athletic administrator immediately drove him home.

But Ara might have made an exception Saturday night.

As a Miami graduate and an ultra-successful head coach at both institutions (1951-55 at Miami, 1964-74 at Notre Dame), there’s no one more intertwined into the football history of both institutions as the Irish and RedHawks met for the first time in 108 years on the football field at Notre Dame Stadium.

It was absolutely fitting that the head coach on the east sideline for Miami-Chuck Martin-came to Oxford after four seasons on the Notre Dame staff under current Irish coach Brian Kelly.

Don’t forget that the Miami president is Greg Crawford, former dean of the College of Science at Notre Dame and a key player when the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation was brought in-house at Notre Dame.

It’s also fitting that Parseghian’s legacy was seen everywhere this weekend in tribute to his coaching accomplishments at both Notre Dame and Miami:

–The current Irish team is wearing ARA stickers on the front of all its helmets this season.
–The name ARA is found on the goalpost pads at either end of Notre Dame Stadium in 2017.
–The official coin used Saturday for the pregame coin toss featured Parseghian, with his signature phrase, “We have no breaking point.”
–Parseghian was featured prominently on the cover of Saturday’s official game program.
–Katie Parseghian took part in the pregame flag presentation.
–Ara was honored during the game with a series of “Remembering Ara” vignettes on the video board.

When Parseghian encountered health issues over the summer, the family invited former players and others to send notes to Ara.

One came from former Irish player Tom Parise (a fullback for the Irish from 1973-75), who now lives in Carefree, Arizona:

“This game is not over. It is just another quarter we all must play.

“I want to thank you for all you gave me.

“You gave me your time unselfishly.

“You gave me many lifelong friends and brothers, my teammates and all associated with the honor of the gold helmet.

“You gave me the belief that anything is possible if you prepare for it.

“You gave me the image of what a husband, father and man should be.

“You gave me the understanding of persistence and its role in success.

“You gave me the experience of my life.

“I am glad you didn’t give me your dropkick technique. It was horrible. I never saw you make one.

“Coach, you have meant so much to so many. I say this for all of us fortunate to have known you.”

That same tone was reflected in the dozens of letters that arrived at the Parseghian home.

Notre Dame trustee emeritus and longtime local businessman Art Decio numbered among Parseghian’s closest friends. In recent years they shared lunch every Wednesday as part of the ROMEO (retired old men eating out) group.

“Almost 60 years ago, I was invited to hear a coach speak at a football banquet,” says Decio. “I didn’t want to go. Thankfully, I was persuaded to attend.

“When I stepped into an elevator at Hotel Elkhart, I met a handsome, dynamic, smart young man named Ara. I knew instantly he was something special.

“Like many of you, I was drawn to Ara’s charm and confidence. But what impressed me most during my life-long friendship with Ara was his humility and integrity.

“He was a man who was compelled to do the right thing … no matter the cost. He brought his virtues to the gridiron where he didn’t just coach football, he coached life.

“He understood what was important in life. He was devoted to Katie, his wife of 68 years. When Ara married the love of his life, he was ready to conquer the football world. With his passion and drive, nothing seemed impossible.

“As head coach at Miami of Ohio, his last four teams never lost more than one game. In 1962, Ara guided Northwestern to a No.1 ranking, then he seized the moment and applied for the Notre Dame head coaching job. Ara knew there were obstacles, yet (Notre Dame president) Father (Theodore M.) Hesburgh and (Notre Dame executive vice president) Father (Edmund P.) Joyce wanted a coach who would reflect Notre Dame’s values. In Ara, they found a man who understood the value of honor.

“Notre Dame was in need of a miracle … and that miracle was Ara. He rose to the challenge, and in one season, he returned Notre Dame to glory.

“Through it all, Ara remained a family man. No father was ever prouder of his children than Ara.

“Despite the challenges life brought Ara and his family, he never lost faith. Instead, Ara fought new opponents. He undertook campaigns to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis and Niemann-Pick Type C.

“Whether you played for Ara, cheered for him or admired him from afar, Ara was a man worth loving.

“I can see him still, almost 60 years later, full of energy and enthusiasm as he shook my hand. Fearless, he was ready to put his mark on the world.

“He was a champion of people. He was our hero, a man victorious in life and love.”

The era of Ara-at both Notre Dame and Miami-lives on.