More than a game: Michigan vs Notre Dame, a family affair

By Tanner Wooten ,

Football

Writer’s note: This is something that I felt compelled to write after saying goodbye to grandparents as they left to go back home to Fort Wayne. Writing this was therapeutic in a way, and helped me get some feelings out. It’s not the most “feel-good” story, but I hope some can relate to sports being so much more than just a game.

I’m going to start this off on a somber note.

My grandfather was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in late 2016. I’ll never forget that day, that moment my phone rang, that phone call with my mom, the tear-filled drive back home from Lincoln to Omaha, Nebraska. The 12-hour drive back to their home in Garrett, Indiana. It’s something that is ingrained into my head and a memory that will stay with me forever.

At the time, we panicked. We didn’t know if it would be our last chance to spend time with someone who was so much to so many: A husband, a father, an uncle, a son, a grandfather.

To me, he was a little bit more than just my grandpa. He taught me how to throw a baseball, showed me how to change the brakes and rotors on a car, and just about everything in between.

He was also part of my disdain for Notre Dame Football.

I come from a predominantly Catholic family in the northeast side of Indiana, about two hours east of South Bend, home of the University of Notre Dame and one of the most storied football programs in the country. In a state where you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t root for Notre Dame, my family was no exception.

Alas, I cannot stand Notre Dame Football.

I was born into a Notre Dame family, but somehow was lucky enough to end up rooting for the good guys. Michigan Football was all I cared about growing up, and I looked forward to the moment toe met leather every single autumn. I could never understand how someone could root for Notre Dame. They thought they were the greatest thing since sliced bread, and seemed to rest on its glory of past years that happened way before I was even born. I had some Michigan allies in my family, but it was mostly always trash talking from the Notre Dame fans.

My grandpa and I always gave each other a hard time over the years depending on who won the early season match-up, which Michigan did more often than not in the 2000’s into the 2010’s. After the game in 2014, in which Notre Dame won 31-0, I was disappointed to see the historic rivalry come to an abrupt hiatus. However, when the game was announced in July of 2016 to be coming back, I was elated. The game was a cornerstone of my youth and it should be played, at least, on a somewhat-consistent basis.

Now, as someone who only spent a few years living in Michigan, and most of my youth in Indiana, I always disliked Notre Dame more than Michigan State. I’m sure most Michigan fans disagree with that.

My tune has changed over the years with the Notre Dame game being off the schedule for the last three seasons, however, and the Spartans have taken that second spot. With my grandpa fighting his tail off against this disease, I’ve found myself developing a soft spot for the Fighting Irish. I still don’t like them, but if they win, I can find solace that my grandpa gets to enjoy some good football.

Now, this fall, the game is back and there are a lot of question marks. Who will fill the holes left on Notre Dame’s defense? Has Michigan found its quarterback? Will Michigan be able to get over the hump in 2018? Can Notre Dame move the ball on Michigan’s talented and blitz-happy defense?

There is something special about this game. Two of the most storied programs ever. The Winged Helmet. The Golden Dome. Michigan. Notre Dame. For some Michigan fans, it may be like the rivalry with Minnesota. Described in one word: “Whatever.” For some, maybe it means as much to them as it does to me.

For me, it is a family affair. Something that I looked forward to every September. So for some Michigan fans, this game is the first stop of their redemption tour. The first test of Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines. For me, it’s a little bit more than that. September 1, 2018, will be a day I look back on fondly, no matter the outcome.

For me – I’m just looking forward to watching this game with my Grandpa and getting to enjoy at least one more Michigan-Notre Dame game with the man who I’ve always looked up to. And I can’t wait to see Michigan kick their tail up and down the field.

As Bo famously said, “To hell with Notre Dame.” (Except, maybe just a little less this time)

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