It took a trip to Notre Dame Stadium to bring this Buckeye home.
During my days attending North Baltimore High School, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about on Friday nights but Saturday afternoons were very exciting. The late 1970’s found North Baltimore strategically situated right between two college football dynasties: the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, under the leadership of Dan Devine and Ara Parseghian, winners of two national championships during the 70’s and the Ohio State University Buckeyes, led by Woody Hayes and two-time Heisman winner, Archie Griffin, always perched near the top of the national rankings.
Not only was North Baltimore geographically positioned between the two powerhouses, it seemed to be spiritually straddling the line as well. Where a North Baltimore resident worshiped on Sunday seemed to have a direct correlation to which team he supported on Saturday afternoon.
Since I attended church at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, I was raised squarely in the OSU Buckeye camp. My favorite t-shirts were adorned with some sort of OSU logo. The most exciting day of the year was the OSU-Michigan game and in the best years, January 1 found us watching our beloved Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl.
I distinctly remember some of my high school friends, who worshiped at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Catholic Church, were equally ardent Notre Dame fans. They sported jerseys with leprechauns or shamrocks on them. They even had the advantage of “Notre Dame Football Replay” that was aired on television right after church on Sunday mornings. I can still hear the announcer say, “Later, on the same series of downs….”
Some of my school friends were lucky enough to attend Notre Dame games. Even though I didn’t like the Fighting Irish, I still remember their excitement about Notre Dame games and game day traditions. Mostly, I remember hearing stories from Nancy Swartz (’76) and Pete Boney (’78) whose parents often attended the games together.
The common thread in every story about a North Baltimore resident going to a Notre Dame game somehow involved tickets from Clair Blackall, a NBHS and Notre Dame (BS ’29, MS ’30) alum. Then there would be the talk about the game day traditions at Notre Dame: lighting a candle at the Grotto before the game, walking through the Basilica, the Golden Dome, the Band of the Fighting Irish following the Irish Guard into the stadium, and then the game that Notre Dame almost always won. Finally, there would be the trip home that involved a stop at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury, Indiana, for some good Amish cooking. One time, Nancy Swartz even got to shake hands with Digger Phelps.
Then time flew like it always does. I graduated from OSU. I cheered diligently for the Buckeyes through the good years and the bad. Before we knew it, our children grew up and went to college. One of our daughters went to the University of Miami and I found myself unexpectedly watching the once-hated Miami Hurricanes. Soon, I grew to realize that the joy of a college football Saturday isn’t about which team you support; it’s about the pageantry, the tradition, the sense of community. Now every fall, we venture to stadiums we have only seen on television and explore different college football cultures.
I have been to several Notre Dame games, but this year I was granted an inside peek to those North Baltimore stories I remember hearing during my youth. On October 20, North Baltimore was well-represented at the Notre Dame-BYU football game. In one long row, NBHS was represented by Larry Slaughterbeck (’59), Nancy Swartz (’76), Julie Brown (’78), Zac Swartz (’93), Jake Swartz (’94). Larry brought his grandson, Samuel Slaughterbeck, and other NB relatives included Gene Swartz’ grandson Luke, and his great-grandsons, Tyler, Zachary, and Avery.
On that crisp autumn afternoon in South Bend, the Swartz family generously shared their Fighting Irish traditions with some lifelong OSU fans. Recreating those game days Nancy Swartz shared with her dad, she led us from the Grotto to the Basilica to the Golden Dome to the team walk into the stadium and the “oldest band in the land” performing outdoors before the game.
Once inside the stadium, surrounded by Gene Swartz’ daughter, grandsons and great-grandsons, we watched the Irish sneak out a 17-14 victory over the Cougars, but my favorite memory was watching 6 year-old Avery Swartz play his air guitar as Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train was blasted over the stadium loudspeakers to encourage the Irish defense on third down stands. I couldn’t help but think about how proud his great-grandpa would be to see this avid Irish fan.
In the end, a day spent at Notre Dame stadium reaffirmed to this Buckeye alum that the magic of college football isn’t measured in wins and losses; it is really about traditions and special times spent together that create lifelong memories. This experience also reenergized my ties to North Baltimore: to old friends and to memories of NB people from my childhood like Clair Blackall, Gene Swartz, Ed and Marceille Boney.
“Strong of heart and true to her name. We will ne’er forget her and we’ll cheer her ever, loyal to Notre Dame.”