November 5, 2010

CUA tours tradition-rich Notre Dame; prepares to meet Irish

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – After a nearly four-hour tour of the University of Notre Dame campus Friday, Catholic University Head Men's Basketball Coach Steve Howes asked his players who wanted to join him for 5:15 Mass.

Freshman Billy Donovan was one of the first to raise his hand.

"I learned from my parents and my grandparents that God is the most important thing in life," Donovan said. "One of the reasons I chose Catholic for school is because it's faith-based. That's something that's really important to me and my family."

Donovan, his teammates and coaches were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Notre Dame campus by CUA alumnus and Fighting Irish men's swimming associate head coach Matt Tallman. The 10th-year coach swam for the Cardinals from 1991-95.

"I thought it was amazing," senior Brian Baker said. "The campus was beautiful, and it was a real treat to see everything and hear about all the history that's gone on there."

CUA is in town to play Notre Dame in an exhibition game on Saturday at 7 p.m. It's the opening tip-off to the Cardinals' 100th-anniversary season.

The Cards left CUA by tour bus Wednesday, visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Thursday, and practiced on the Irish home court, the Joyce Center, that night. They practiced there again Friday night and will have a morning shoot-around.

"The trip has been all that I could have dreamed and then some," Howes said. "It's been unbelievable."

The Cardinals began their tour where Tallman plies his trade, Rolfs Aquatic Center. Next it was upstairs to Sports Heritage Hall inside Joyce Center, which features mementos and highlights of the storied traditions of every Notre Dame men's and women's sports team.

CUA then went to the Guglielmino Athletic Complex, which houses the seven Heisman Trophies Irish football players have won. From there it was on to the Main Building and its famous Golden Dome. The building is primarily used as administration headquarters and has a few classrooms. Sitting atop the dome is a statue of Mary, the Mother of God, after whom Notre Dame ("Our Lady") is named.

With the 19-foot statue, the Main Building is the second-tallest structure on campus behind the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where the team attended Mass. Tallman told the Cards how the football team attends Mass in the basilica before every home game and then renews its traditional walk to the stadium. The path is lined with Irish fans, and the players are dressed in suits and ties.

After lunch at the all-you-can-eat South Dining Hall, the entourage headed to Notre Dame Stadium, which opened in 1930 when the legendary Knute Rockne was head football coach. Michael Danch, associate athletics director for facilities, escorted the Cardinals into the football team's locker room and on to the bluegrass turf field.

Many players took photos of the famous "Play Like a Champion Today" sign that every Notre Dame player touches before he runs out to play.

Danch enthralled everyone with his stories of Irish gridiron greats, beginning from the time he was a young boy of 8. Names like Rockne, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Bob Golic, Joe Montana, George Gipp, John Huarte, Jack Snow and others rolled off his tongue like they were still roaming Notre Dame Stadium.

Danch recalled Pat O'Brien playing the title role in the 1940 movie, "Knute Rockne: All-American," and former President Ronald Reagan portraying Gipp.

Despite the light snow, Howes said he could have continued enjoying Danch's storytelling for hours.

"To stand on that field and know the history and grow up watching players like Tim Brown and Rocket Ishmael, it was just remarkable," Howes said. "You could feel the passion and the greatness [of the players] that had gone before. I didn't even feel the cold.

"It felt like story time around a fireplace."

The tour concluded with a trip to Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, which on a game day keeps the cash registers humming. So how much was that miniature gold football helmet, coach?

"Too much," he said.

Howes wasn't the only one mesmerized by Danch's tales of Irish glory.

"It was pretty good to learn about the history of the football team," sophomore Chris Kearney said. "It just kind of heightens the whole aspect of us playing against Notre Dame, with such a rich sports history. It's a really great opportunity for us to be a part of it."

Danch finished his end-zone talk with a story of a great comeback engineered by Montana, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He said that refuse-to-give-up attitude is a good lesson for the Cardinals.

"But let's be real, guys. You're not going to win Saturday night. It's just not going to happen," Danch said amid laughter.

CUA knows it faces a tall task of defeating a major scholarship-laden Division I team that competes in the Big East. But that's not the goal of this Midwest excursion. It's experiences like touring one of the most famous universities in the world that will last with the players. The score will long be forgotten.

"What is truly special is to see the look on our player's faces," Howes said. "We're creating memories that will stay with them forever."

Howes hopes the voyage to play the Irish motivates his players to reach their enormous potential and win their first Landmark Conference championship. Such a victory will put his club into the NCAA Tournament.

"We've been around greatness on this trip, whether it was in the Hall of Fame or on the field at Notre Dame Stadium," he said. "So hopefully this trip will awaken some of the echoes in our rich tradition and spur these guys on to success this year."

Irish Coach Addresses Cards
Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey stopped by to chat with Howes – a longtime friend of his – before Friday's practice. He got a kick out of the score that freshman manager T.J. Hyland put up on the scoreboard: Catholic 87, Notre Dame 86, and was gracious enough to pose for a picture with Howes in front of the unlikely final tally.

Howes then asked Brey to say a few words to the Cards.

"I think you're going to have a heck of a year," he said. "Have fun and don't break any backboards on us." He then turned to Howes and joked, "They've got curfew tonight, don't they?"

Manager to Get Special Treat
Senior manager/student assistant coach Ryan Hyland is going to play in Saturday's game. He's been practicing with the team since it arrived in Indiana and has had the green light to instruct players since last season.

"He's given us four great years as a manager and student assistant," Howes said. "He knows the system inside and out and can teach it to our players. He's going to be a terrific coach one day.

"You always want to reward loyalty and hard work, especially to guys who are of good character like Ryan."

Story written by Chris McManes, former CUA Sports Information Director 

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