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How could a Cougar fan road trip in mid-November to the ice-cold Midwest result in a treasured memory? Two of my sons, my son-in-law and I certainly found out.
In 2003, the BYU football team was in the midst of a down season. Quarterback injuries and some underwhelming performances sent the Cougars spiraling down to one of the worst records in decades.
A trip to play Notre Dame on a dreary November day didn't have the prospect of an exciting weekend. After all, Notre Dame was in a down year too.
We flew into Chicago on a Friday night, saw the big stores, the shops and the restaurants, as early Christmas shoppers descended onto Michigan Avenue and the famous Water Tower area in downtown Chicago.
We ordered a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Giordano's and enjoyed every bite, and then picked up the freeway/tollway route and headed to our hotel in nearby Indiana.
The next morning we cruised on the turnpike toward the pleasant college town of South Bend, Indiana. Our first stop was at the historic College Football Hall of Fame, which was a special experience in itself.
We visited with injured BYU QB John Beck from our kids' high school, Mesa Mountain View. He had sustained a season-ending injury in the home loss to Boise State.
We then headed to the Notre Dame campus and were directed by Notre Dame fans to the Main Building, which we soon realized was a special place.
As we approached the rotunda of the building, we were in awe with the majesty of the religious murals, especially as we looked at the ceiling of the rotunda.
It was an emotional and uplifting experience to fully realize that this special university gave homage to the sacred images that we jointly treasure.
As we left the building we were invited to join with the Notre Dame fans as they traditionally walked behind the Notre Dame band as they marched into the stadium.
Approaching the turnstiles, each ticket taker repeated, "Welcome to Notre Dame Stadium." The respect they had for guests to their facility was obvious.
We were surrounded by Fighting Irish fans in the stadium, rooting for their team but also showing respect for the visiting fans.
The Notre Dame band played the BYU fight song on the field before and after the game. As we prepared to leave after the game was over we congratulated the home team fans around us and they were gracious in victory.
The stadium was big, plain, and historic but somehow the transcendent memory was not the facility itself, but was in the common ideals of the contestants. What a novel notion in the era of in-your-face combatants. It was truly refreshing.
I was impressed enough to write a laudatory letter to Notre Dame President Edward Malloy about the positive experience. I received a generous and heartfelt reply.
In the middle of the return letter Malloy captured my feelings about the two universities. He wrote "I have a high regard for BYU as a university and for all it represents. Both of us are religiously affiliated with a strong academic tradition and with highly competitive programs."
I have treasured that letter ever since. He included his nickname with his signature — Ed "Monk" Malloy — which was a nice personal touch.
Maybe college football and college sports will someday return to a more respectful era among competitors. In the meantime I have a cherished moment to remember.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Arizona, is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the '60s. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.