My two favorite college football teams are, 1) UCLA, and 2) whoever is playing against USC this week. However, over the years, I have become somewhat emotionally soured on college football. The low graduation rate of players, the influence of the pros, and then the scandals. And then, I hear of men like Charlie Weis, and I have hope.
This is Charlie Weis. Mr. Weis is the coach of the University of Notre Dame football team. He is also the owner of four Super Bowl championship rings as products of a stellar 15-season career as a National Football League assistant coach. Weis is in his first year at Notre Dame in 2005 (he was hired Dec. 12, 2004) - after spending the last five years as the highly-regarded offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. Weis becomes the first Notre Dame graduate to hold the football head coaching position at his alma mater since Hugh Devore (a '34 graduate).
But there is something more about Charlie Weis. He is a man of great character. He keeps his word. As told yesterday on ESPN, the Notre Dame coach met last week with 10-year old Montana Mazurkiewicz, who had been told by doctors weeks earlier that there was nothing more they could do to stop the spread of his inoperable brain tumor.
"He was a big Notre Dame fan in general, but football especially," said his mother, Cathy Mazurkiewicz. Weis showed up at the Mazurkiewicz home in Mishawaka, just east of South Bend, and talked with Montana about his tumor and about Weis' 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, who has global development delay, a rare disorder similar to autism. Weis said the meeting was touching. "He told me about his love for Notre Dame football and how he just wanted to make it through this game this week," Weis said. "He just wanted to be able to live through this game because he knew he wasn't going to live very much longer."
As Weis talked to the boy, Cathy Mazurkiewicz rubbed her son's shoulder trying to ease his pain. Weis said he could tell the boy was trying not to show he was in pain. His mother told Montana, who had just become paralyzed from the waist down a day earlier because of the tumor, to toss her a football Weis had given him. Montana tried to throw the football, put could barely lift it. So Weis climbed into the reclining chair with him and helped him complete the pass to his mother. Before leaving, Weis signed the football.
Weis asked Montana if there was something he could do for him. He agreed to let Montana call the first play against Washington on Saturday. He called "pass right." Montana never got to see the play. He died Friday at his home.
Weis heard about the death and called Cathy Mazurkiewicz on Friday night to assure her he would still call Montana's play. "He said, 'This game is for Montana, and the play still stands,'" she said. Weis said he told the team about the visit. He said it wasn't a "Win one for the Gipper" speech, because he doesn't believe in using individuals as inspiration. He just wanted the team to know people like Montana are out there. "That they represent a lot of people that they don't even realize they're representing," Weis said. When the Irish started on their own 1-yard-line following a fumble recovery, Cathy Mazurkiewicz wasn't sure Notre Dame would be able to throw a pass. Weis was concerned about that, too. So was quarterback Brady Quinn.
"He (Quinn) said 'What are we going to do?'" Weis said. "I said 'We have no choice. We're throwing it to the right.'" Weis called a play where most of the Irish went left, Quinn ran right and looked for tight end Anthony Fasano on the right.
Mazurkiewicz watched with her family. "I just closed my eyes. I thought, 'There's no way he's going to be able to make that pass. Not from where they're at. He's going to get sacked and the University of Washington's going to get two points,'" she said. Fasano caught the pass and leapt over a defender for a 13-yard gain. "It's almost like Montana was willing him to beat that defender and take it to the house," Weis said. Cathy Mazurkiewicz was happy.
"It was an amazing play. Montana would have been very pleased. I was very pleased," she said. "I was just so overwhelmed. I couldn't watch much more."
Weis called her again after the game, a 36-17 victory by the 13th-ranked Fighting Irish, and said he had a game ball signed by the team that he wanted to bring to the family on Sunday. "He's a very neat man. Very compassionate," she said. "I just thanked him for using that play, no matter the circumstances."
Cathy Mazurkiewicz commented, "Charlie Weis is a man who keeps his promises. First he promised to visit my son, and then he promised to call that first play for Montana. He kept his promise, twice"
I for one, am deeply thankful for men like Charlie Weis. Men with character, and compassion, and convictions. I am hopeful. I have always had a soft spot for the Irish. Now I think I know why.
Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame
Wake up the echoes cheering her name,
Send the volley cheer on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky,
What tho the odds be great or small
Old Notre Dame will win over all,
While her loyal sons are marching Onward to Victory.