Courtesy of Andy Staples
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Like most former football walk-ons, I found myself pulled, as if by gravity, toward a bench.
I came here to cover the Notre Dame-Michigan game, but I couldn't let my second trip to South Bend pass without paying homage to the patron saint of walk-ons. I had to find the bench Rudy sat on when he opened his acceptance letter to Notre Dame -- or at least the one Sean Astin sat on in the 1993 film. Naturally, this proved more difficult than I'd anticipated.
In the movie, Rudy appears to pick up an envelope in the student union of Holy Cross College, the Notre Dame subsidiary Rudy attended as a freshman and sophomore. He walks outside to a bench, where he learns his dream has come true. He has been admitted to Notre Dame. So visited the Holy Cross campus Saturday, hoping to find the bench. I found ropes. And cops. And tailgaters. Alas, I didn't have the proper parking pass.
I thought my dream was dashed. So I parked near Notre Dame Stadium and went searching for my best friend from high school, who happens to be a Notre Dame alum. He and his former classmates bore good news. It was a trick of the camera, they said. The bench is not at Holy Cross, but on the Notre Dame campus, next to the lake near the grotto.
I tore off through campus, certain I could find it. The image remains burned in my memory. Rudy on the bench, looking up as the golden dome and the spires of Notre Dame's basilica rise over the water. See, most walk-ons have Rudy memorized. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie when it hit theatres during my sophomore year of high school, but I didn't truly understand it until a fall night in 1996.
I lay in a dorm bunk bed at the University of Florida, too sore to move after another day of pitiful attempts to block defensive linemen 50 pounds heavier than me. Rudy came on TV, and I watched for two reasons. I remembered liking the movie, and my body ached too much to stand up and retrieve the remote. Suddenly, during the montage when Notre Dame's scholarship players demolish the 5-foot-nothing, hundred-and-nothing defensive end, I realized I had tears streaming down my face.
I've cried every viewing since.
So I had to find the bench, but thanks to the rains that drowned northern Indiana on Friday, most of the benches around the lake were submerged. But there was one, off in the distance, that wasn't underwater. The foliage framed the spires perfectly, but it obscured the dome. But maybe, just maybe, in the years that have passed since that scene was filmed, the vegetation has overtaken the dome.
I sat on the bench and looked out and thought of all the walk-ons who practice every day with no hope at glory on Saturday. Maybe Rudy sat in the same spot more than 30 years ago with an envelope in his hands. Maybe he didn't.
All I know is that some kind of walk-on mojo was in the air. During Saturday's first quarter, five-foot-nothing, hundred-and-nothing Notre Dame walk-on Mike Anello recovered a fumble to set up the Fighting Irish's second touchdown.