Local Dispatch / For love of daughter, he'll just this once back Fightin' Irish
January 2, 2013 5:00 AM
One reason for a Pittsburgh family to despise Notre Dame, until now, was the school's luring of Connellsville star quarterback Johnny Lujack.
By Richard Peterson
My father spent a good bit of his life pumping gas at service stations on the working-class South Side and rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. He loved the Pirates and the Steelers, win or lose, and he was a great boxing fan, thanks to Pittsburgh champions like Harry Greb, Fritzie Zivic and Billy Conn.
He took me to my first Pirate and Steeler games and let me hang out with him at a local beer joint where he drank his Iron City and watched the Wednesday and Friday night fights on television. He never made it past the ninth grade, but he followed the fortunes of Pitt Panthers football with the passion of a die-hard alumnus.
While he loved Pittsburgh sports teams, there were also teams that he hated for their past and present sins against his Pirates, Steelers and Panthers. He was a devout Yankee-hater because they'd humiliated Pie Traynor and the Waner brothers in the 1927 World Series. He was thrilled with the 1960 World Series victory and saw Bill Mazeroski's home run as a divine act of retribution.
My father also hated the Cleveland Browns because they always beat the Steelers, and usually by a wide margin. He thought their coach, Paul Brown, was arrogant and his quarterback, Otto Graham, smug-looking and spoiled. He had as much contempt for the Browns' immaculate white home football jerseys as he had for Yankee pinstripes.
My father had traditional rivals to root against when the Panthers played football. There was that annual brawl against West Virginia and the Penn State game, which usually was played around Thanksgiving. Those were big games, but the team on Pitt's schedule that my father loved to hate was Notre Dame.
It bothered my Lithuanian father, whose family name was Petrauskas, that the "Fightin' Irish" won three national championship in the 1940s by stealing from Pitt quarterback Johnny Lujack, a Polish kid from nearby Connelllsville. What really did it to him, however, was a game Notre Dame played in Pittsburgh back in 1926, though it wasn't against Pitt.
That November, an undefeated Notre Dame team played Carnegie Tech at Forbes Field. Notre Dame's legendary coach Knute Rockne was so certain of an easy victory that he stayed behind and went to Chicago to watch the Army-Navy game at Soldier Field. With the help of a snowstorm, Carnegie Tech upset Notre Dame (ranked by ESPN as the fourth-greatest upset in college football history), but, for my father, Rockne had committed the unforgivable sin.
He didn't have much to leave me, but my father made sure I grew up a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan, and that included hating the Yankees, Browns and Notre Dame. Over the years, I've had no trouble honoring my father. In this lopsided baseball era of financial haves and have-nots, it's easy to hate the big-money Yankees. The original Browns may have flown to Baltimore, but the likes of Ray Lewis make it easy to hate the Ravens.
As for Notre Dame, it's been fun over the years watching Paul Martha, Tony Dorsett and Tyler Palko torment the Fightin' Irish and gratifying to watch Pitt win its last game at Pitt Stadium against Notre Dame. But all that changed when my daughter Anne, out of all sense and reason, decided to attend Notre Dame.
I didn't have a problem while she was there. She loved the school but had no love for its football tradition. The child of parents who went to college in the radical 1960s, she was one of only a handful of students to demonstrate when Notre Dame invited Ronald Reagan to its campus.
My dilemma, since Anne's graduation, is that she has slowly but inexorably embraced the role of a devoted Notre Dame alumnus and that includes rooting for the Fightin' Irish. Fortunately, neither Pitt nor Notre Dame excelled most recent years, so their games weren't generally a threat to our relationship.
This year, however, things have been different. When Pitt played Notre Dame, Anne assumed I'd root for her alma mater because the Irish were fighting for a national championship and Pitt had so little at stake. I tried, but I just couldn't do it. I rooted for Pitt to upset Notre Dame until the game's bitter end.
To make amends, I've decided that next Monday, despite my father's teachings, I'll be rooting for Notre Dame to beat Alabama for the national championship. For penance, I promise to sing a dozen choruses of "The Bucs Are Going All the Way," "Here We Go [Steelers]" and "Hail to Pitt" once the game is over.
Richard "Pete" Peterson of Makanda, Ill., an author of sports books and English professor emeritus who is originally from the South Side, can be reached at email@example.com.
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