Thursday, 24 September 2004

   Frank R. Hall and Associates
   382 E. Montecito Ave
   Sierra Madre, Ca 91024

Most of you know Patty and I love to travel and I usually write a little travelogue about our adventures to share with our friends. This is one of those and if you'd rather not spend the time to read it, it's about 6 pages, just hit your "Delete" key and send me a terse little "Take me off your list" so you won't be bothered with our future ramblings. I promise you won't hurt my feelings.

If this essay is about South Bend, it must be about Notre Dame. True, enough. It's also about how Lou Holtz changed my life. No, it wasn't because his team trounced the Trojans (which they did more than once) it was because he was a "Distinguished Speaker" in a series I attended at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. This was around 1993.

Holtz told the audience that as a young man he had been laid off from his job as a High School teacher and coach, which caused him to go into a deep depression. He said he spent weeks laying around the house all day waiting for the phone to ring, but it didn't. Finally his wife told him, "shape up or ship out" and suggested he make a list of all the things he wanted to do during his lifetime.

Challenged, he did just that. He now says that making that list helped him stay focused on what he wanted to accomplish and, interestingly, one of the things he put on the list was "To coach at Notre Dame." The original list had 81 entries and he said he had just accomplished number 64, which happened to be "White Water Rafting."

What inspired me about Holtz' speech was that my own brother had recently died at age 66 after spending his lifetime saying, "When I retire I'm going to do this" and "When I retire I'm going to do that." He never did any of the things he had "always wanted" to do.

So, Patty and I compiled our lists and we've spent the intervening time getting a lot of those things done. One of the things on my list was, "Attend a USC/Notre Dame game at South Bend." So, this was the year we finally did it.

My friend John Mohler is on the USC Medical Faculty and I figured if anyone could get good tickets he could. As it happened I was half-right, he could get tickets, but, not GOOD tickets. I think you have to be a Priest or a Nun to sit inside the 20s in Notre Dame Stadium. Once we nailed the tickets we inspected various travel options and decided on a four day University Travel tour package.

Of course we bought the tickets and the travel package long before September 11th and by October 17th air travel had become a little more difficult. It turned out about 20% of the people who paid for the tour didn't go. Too bad for them.

On arrival at LAX it took us the anticipated one hour plus to get through Security and when we got to our gate about 25 people dressed in varying shades of Cardinal and Gold were milling about waiting to board the plane. A good looking, relatively short man sporting a huge white mustache and carrying a clipboard approached to ask who we were. I told him I was Frank Hall and he looked disappointed. He was Sam Tsakalakis, Trojan Kicker from 1952-54 who was to be our "Tour Host." Sam was disappointed because he hoped the Frank Hall on his list might be the Quarterback of the same name who played with him on the Trojans in the mid 50s.

I told Sam I spent my college years apologizing to and/or explaining to people that I wasn't "THE REAL Frank Hall." I told him the story about the time I had gone through the Kappa Alpha Theta new pledge "Presents" line and introduced myself to a beautiful blonde thusly: "Hi, I'm Frank Hall." To which she replied, "Sure, and I'm Jon Arnett."

Sam loved that story and told it to nearly everyone else on the tour.

Our flight was uneventful and by the time we boarded a bus at O'Hare to take us to the Ritz Carlton in Chicago our numbers had swelled to about 30. The bulk of the tour group arrived the following day bringing our total over 100 Trojan fans. Our room at the Ritz had a Lake Michigan view. Spectacular.

Our first evening we walked a block to Bistro 110 for dinner and stuffed ourselves on baked artichoke in Brie, hot bread with baked garlic and baked Cod stuffed with rice and vegetables. It's a great place to eat when you're in Chicago.

We had been afraid of rain or cold, but the weather turned out to be mild and sunny for our entire stay with the highs ranging from 62F to 65F.

Thursday, our first full day in Chicago, was devoted to shopping along Michigan Avenue. John and I referred to ourselves as, "He who follows behind and carries packages," stealing a line from our friend Bob Misen. I can see why my Patty and Mary Ellen Mohler loved the place; there is no shopping remotely like it in Southern California. Thank God for the credit ceiling on my Visa card.

Thursday night a reception was held at the downtown Doubletree Hotel hosted by Sam and the Travel agency. The featured speaker was Craig Fertig, Trojan Quarterback from 1962-65, and now a television "color man" on USC games. He had some great stories.

He reminded us that until Coach John McKay changed the schedule, USC played Notre Dame in late November as the last game of the year, home or away.

In 1965, when Fertig was a senior, legendary Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian had the referees call the Trojans out onto the field in a driving snow storm and kept them waiting 20 minutes while the Fighting Irish stayed in their warm dressing room until game time. Needless to say the frozen Trojans lost the game.

The next time the Trojans were scheduled in South Bend in November of 1967 it was snowing again and now Fertig was an Assistant Coach. When the referees came to call McKay's team out onto the field he ignored them. A few minutes later the Refs came back and demanded that McKay take his team out on the field.

McKay asked, "What happens if I don't?"

"You'll forfeit the game", said the Ref.

"What would the score be then?" McKay asked.

"Two to nothing" said the ref.

"Well," said McKay, "that would be the best we've ever done against these BASTARDS on that frozen field."

And, McKay refused to take the team on the field until the Irish had also gone out.

That was the year O. J. Simpson and the Trojans finally beat the Irish at South Bend. Shortly after that, McKay convinced the Notre Dame folks to schedule the Irish home game in October on the grounds that more USC fans would likely come to the Midwest for the game. He was right, too.

Fertig also described the Notre Dame locker room with its forced air heat and plush carpets, not to mention the opulent buffet spread. He contrasted that to the Visitor's locker room which "has a tile floor, a pot bellied stove for heat and one bar of soap in the shower."

Fertig also talked about when he was Head Football Coach at Oregon State, his former boss, McKay, told him, "There are two kinds of Coaches: those who HAVE been fired and those who are ABOUT to be fired." It turned out, at the time, Fertig was the latter.

Craig also discussed the Oregon State football team during their winning 2000 season. When asked who was the most important person to Oregon State's success last year, Fertig said, "the Admissions Director" without a moment's hesitation. He said OSU has the worst GPA of any team west of Texas.

Fertig introduced McKay's widow, Corky, who got a standing ovation from the mostly tipsy crowd. It was at this reception that I ran into the only other person on the tour I knew from our days at USC, Diane Halfhill, a member of our neighboring sorority,
A D Pi, now a teacher in the Orange Unified School District

That night we ate at Uno's Pizza, where "Chicago Deep Dish Pizza" was supposedly born. Two "Medium" Pizzas were too much food for the four of us. It was great.

On Friday we attended an exhibition at the Chicago Institute of Art featuring works of Van Gogh and Gauguin who shared a studio in the South of France for nine weeks in 1888. Soon after they ended the arrangement Van Gogh went off the deep end, cut off his ear and took his own life. Gauguin in the meantime was off to the South Seas, mostly to avoid his alimony and child support, where he fathered many more children by those brown bare breasted lovelies he was so fond of painting.

Friday evening was the big rally sponsored by the Midwest Trojan Club on "The Navy Pier" an old-fashioned amusement pier on the lakefront. The rally was in the Exhibition Hall, big enough to be a blimp hanger. There were between 500 and 1,000 Trojan fans in attendance, but it sounded like 10,000 in that cavernous building. What amazed us was the huge crowd of Trojans on Friday night seemed such a miniscule part of the Notre Dame stadium crowd on Saturday.

The rally was supposed to start at 6 PM. It didn't. The bar opened at 6 PM and from then until about 7:45 nothing happened except liquor consumption and the purchase of
T-shirts. Here, as arranged, we met up with our friends Ann and Larry Fetters, she's a Vice President at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton and he is CEO of Foothill Presbyterian Hospital in Glendora. Both are U.S.C. Grads.

Beginning about 7:30 the organizers tried to quiet the crowd so various dignitaries could speak. This was an exercise in futility. They introduced Craig Fertig who tried to be heard for several minutes and finally gave up. Then they introduced J. K. McKay son of the coaching icon, a former star player in his own right, who tried to be heard for several minutes and also gave up.

Finally, the USC Band arrived and struck up "Fight On" finally getting the crowd's attention. After a few deafening songs we left for dinner at the Capital Grille where we had the "Best Steak in Chicago" and walked back to the Ritz.

Saturday morning we were up early to board the buses to take us to South Bend. There had been a lot of celebrating the night before and some were suffering from hangovers, referred to as "Jet Lag", so we were a little late getting away. The buses were stocked with doughnuts, breakfast rolls, muffins and coffee, plus the makings for Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers. Many began a daylong bender. Not us, fortunately.

When we had been on the road a few minutes Sam announced that "Some guy in the back of the bus claims to be Frank Hall", which became a standing joke for much of the trip. Very funny.

As we crossed the bridge into Indiana we left the city behind and entered beautiful farmland dotted by small towns. Patty called it "Bush Country" referring to the red and blue map all the TV analysts were explaining on election night to show who voted for Bush and who voted for that other guy. What was his name?

It took a bit over an hour to reach the South Bend Marriott where we had brunch. Across the street from the hotel was the College Football Hall of Fame moved to South Bend from its original location outside Cincinnati. We didn't have a lot of time there, just enough to buy a T-shirt, besides, I'd seen the Hall 20 years before in Ohio. So, I wandered outside where I noticed the parking lot had been set up to simulate a football field with goal posts at one end. There were four or five teenagers lined up to take turns kicking a field goal of about 20 yards. Most missed.

Standing a few feet away gazing wistfully at the goal posts was Sam Tsakalakis. I asked him why he didn't take a shot at one to show the kids how it's done. He said, "I've just recovered from having both my hips replaced, if I tried it you'd probably see my leg sailing between the up rights." So we both just watched the kids, none of whom had any idea that the little old guy standing there had personally beaten the Irish with a last second kick exactly 48 years ago.

We loaded back on the bus for the short drive to the stadium. The parking lots were crammed with tailgate parties. Many diehards wore T-shirts urging, "Save Notre Dame Football, Dump Davey." The beleaguered Irish coach probably extended his tenure to the end of the season by beating the Trojans that day.

As we walked to the stadium we were greeted by good-natured ribbing because of our Cardinal and Gold attire, but, Notre Dame fans were polite and helpful when we stopped to chat or asked directions. Several thanked us for coming. The Stadium is adjacent to the University and we had more than an hour to enjoy the beautiful campus.

We saw "Touchdown Jesus" the famed mural of Jesus with arms upstretched adorning the Library. We saw the famous "Golden Dome" which sits on the "Main" or original university building. It has recently been refurbished and it has been beautifully restored. No initials carved in this woodwork and of course no graffiti anywhere.

We wandered into the Chapel, a moving experience for my wife, who is Catholic, and for me, too because it is reminiscent of the great cathedrals of Europe. In an alcove behind the altar is a special spot where a Priest blesses the home team before the game. And, you wonder why we always lose in South Bend?

As we were there we saw the young men, team members, handsome in their white shirts and ties, just like the old days. However, the Fighting Irish of old seem to have become the Fighting African Americans of today.

In a park like setting on the campus, the Marching Band presents a Concert for the fans gathered there to picnic. It's really a dress rehearsal of what they will play during halftime. All over the campus there are Bar-B-Qs set up by students to sell hot dogs and hamburgers to the alums attending the game. There are no Fraternities or Sororities, but the various residential halls participate in the food preparation and sale to underwrite their social activities. No "Beer Busts," "Toga Parties" or "Hell Week" here, I presume.

After an hour on campus we went into the stadium to find our seats which were in row 7 in the end zone. If there is a visiting band they have nowhere to sit, so they stand in front of the visitor's section. Like the Rose Bowl, the stadium has no armrests so you have to fight your neighbors for "fanny room." Because people in the front rows stand to see over the band, you have to stand to see over them. So, we stood for most of the game.

The USC Song Girls were right in front of us for most of the day. From John's regular seats in row 71 at the Coliseum the Song Girls always look like "Pin-ups" or "Centerfolds." When you are in Row 7 of Notre Dame Stadium they are right in front of you and they all look like your granddaughter who has just put on Mommy's make-up for the first time. It makes you realize how young they are, and how old you are.

Another thing that strikes a Trojan follower is that when you attend a USC game in Los Angeles you are accustomed to having huge numbers of people in the stands rooting for the other team. It is particularly true when the other team is from the Midwest. All those Iowans moved to California and still root for Iowa. But, when you attend a game in Notre Dame stadium and the Irish come out onto the field it seems as if everyone in the stadium, except you, is cheering for them at the top of their lungs. It isn't until you experience it outside of LA that you really understand the impact of a "Home Crowd."

As to the game, it wasn't much. In the first half it looked like the Trojans might have a chance, but our punter decided to run from his own 30. He failed to make a first down and the Irish promptly scored. Then the Trojans got a first and goal on the Irish one yard line and couldn't punch it across in 4 plays and that was pretty much "all she wrote." It didn't matter, all that much. The game was close and we were in it to the end. Face it, if you're a Trojan, you really don't expect to win when you go to South Bend.

On the way back to Chicago many of the Trojan alums on the bus drank until the Vodka was exhausted. Most went to sleep, but one group continued to talk loudly punctuated by the high piercing laugh of one woman who shrieked all the way from South Bend to Chicago. I hope she had a gigantic hangover the next morning.

The flight home was remarkable only in that many of the Trojan Band members were on "stand-by" on our flight. They were overweight, sallow, tattooed, earringed, with obscene quips on their T-shirts and carrying the smell of people who hadn't bathed in four days. We were unimpressed. We decided that's why all bands wear uniforms.

I hate to end on that sour note, because we had a wonderful time. If you haven't done it, you should - but - be prepared to lose gracefully, if you're a Trojan, that is.



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