In the late ‘80s, I was working for the Division of Nursing Care Facilities and on certain days, it was my turn to answer incoming calls. Occasionally the husband of one of our nurses that went out to inspect nursing homes in the area would call asking to speak to her. For this story, I will call him Bud.
I would put Bud on hold to see if his wife was available and if she happened to be on the phone, she would often say, “tell him to hang on a few minutes.” I would tell Bud her response and he and I would often then start to chat about the weather, the news, daily events, or sports. I discovered that he was as Irish as the Blarney Stone and a big Notre Dame football fan. I could relate to that as growing up and coming home after Sunday Mass, the first thing I did when I got home was turn on the tv to watch Notre Dame football highlights with Lindsey Nelson saying, “We now take you to further action.”
I had never been to a Notre Dame home football game and Bud would often tell me that I needed to make a trip out to South Bend for a football weekend. “John, you got to go. There’s no other place like it. You have to do it. You’ll love it.” It wasn’t like today where one can go anywhere and buy a ticket on a secondary market like Stubhub on your smart phone within hours of kickoff.
When Bud would call on a Monday in fall, we would often rehash the Notre Dame and Pittsburgh Steelers games of the past weekend as well as the upcoming weekend’s opponent. Bud was always very jovial, and it often seemed like when he called, he would chat longer to me than he did his wife whenever I would put his call through to her.
Unfortunately, Bud’s health started to decline, and it was just one medical issue after another. He had suffered a heart attack and then learned that he had cancer.
Wanting to do something to help lift his spirits I took a chance and wrote to Lou Holtz at Notre Dame telling him about Bud’s health situation and asking if he could send him a brief note of encouragement and that I was sure it would lift his spirits while he went through his health struggles. I knew Bud’s address as sometimes his wife would ride the same bus home I did from work and everyone was in the phone book back then.
I thought that if that Lou were ever to write Bud, it would happen after the regular season as the demands and time constraints of the head football coach at Notre Dame during football season must be incredible.
The very next week, I got a thank you letter from Lou with a copy of the letter of encouragement he sent to Bud. He even sent another one to Bud later in the year and Bud won his bout with cancer. Not long thereafter, I took another job position and my path and Bud’s would cross only every few years or so, but my Lou Holtz story doesn’t end there.
I’m not one to have dreams come true. I have never had a dream come true. I haven’t won the lottery. Jennifer Aniston isn’t looking for a middle-aged guy rocking a dad bod. Not yet anyway. (Jen, I’m on Facebook and Twitter!) One night in Fall of 2008, I had a dream where I met Lou Holtz. In the dream, I saw him from a distance and wave to him to come to me. I cannot believe I even had the nerve to do such a thing. I keep waving and sure enough Lou starts walking towards me.
When he got close, I told him thank you as I wrote to you asking if you could write to a friend of mine that was having some health issues and your letters really lifted his spirit. Lou said, “Thank you for bringing it to my attention and happy to do so.” I wanted to ask him for his autograph but did not have anything with me for him to sign.
Then I woke up and realized when am I ever going to see Lou Holtz? The best chance would be maybe on Notre Dame’s campus if they were having some anniversary celebration of the 1988 national championship team. I certainly would not be in Bristol, Connecticut, visiting ESPN studios on a college football Saturday where Lou was an analyst along with Rece Davis and Mark May. There are times even my subconscious can distinguish what is realistic and what is not, and I never gave that dream a second thought.
It just so happened that later that week, Auburn was playing at West Virginia on a Thursday night game on ESPN. Thinking how infrequently an SEC team travels this far north and when would I ever have another opportunity to see Auburn play, I decided to make the 100-mile drive to Morgantown for the game.
I get there a few hours before kickoff and with time to kill, I decide to walk around the stadium, and as I’m walking around, I notice ESPN’s production truck and as I look towards it, who do I see in the distance but Lou Holtz! I learned later that ESPN had Lou in the broadcast booth for the game as he was born in West Virginia. Follansbee, West Virginia to be exact.
Just like I had dreamt only a few days before, I’m waving to Lou Holtz to come towards me.
He pauses and then, just like in my dream, he starts walking towards me.
When he gets close, I tell him thank you as years ago I asked if you could write a friend of mine that was having some health issues and that your letters really lifted his spirit, and just like I dreamt Lou said, “Thank you for bringing it to my attention and happy to do so.”
Not having anything else to ask him to sign, I asked him if he could sign the Pittsburgh Steelers cap I was wearing.
Bud had passed away a little more than two years prior to that in June of 2006 at the age of 69. Since my first chat with Bud, I have made the six and a half-hour drive to South Bend more than a dozen times and I think of Bud every time I have been there. He was right, there’s no place like Notre Dame.