Hayduk recalls playing for Notre Dame
BY DONNIE COLLINS
There are echoes George Hayduk never has to wake.
They’re the ones that whisk him back almost 40 years in a flash. To New Orleans. The old Tulane Stadium. To a New Years Eve never to be forgotten.
They’re the ones that remind him who he is, remind him of the storied football program of which he became part and the coach who helped guide him into manhood.
Wake up the echoes? Nothing will make them rest.
On Monday, there was a seat in the end zone of Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., reserved for Hayduk. He was there with his two daughters as he watched Alabama get off to a hot start and defeat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 42-14, in the NCAA Division I BCS Championship .
A bulldozing fullback during his days Lackawanna Trail, he had become what he’d be known for by Dec. 31, 1973: a gritty, physical defensive end for the Fighting Irish during the heart of coach Ara Parseghian’s greatness.
He served as a backup that season, but in that Dec. 31 game, he saw plenty of action at defensive tackle. Most importantly, he saw the Fighting Irish outlast the Crimson Tide, 24-23, to win the sixth of their eight national titles.
“You don’t appreciate it enough when you go through it,” Hayduk said. “I was a kid from Factoryville, Pa. A town of 1,000 people. And I was there, playing for the national championship. …”
There, his voice trailed off, into the comfort of memories.
There were the echoes again.
Thirty-nine years after Hayduk and his Fighting Irish teammates toppled Alabama for the national title, Notre Dame looked for the same result Monday, but fell short. The Fighting Irish, top-ranked and unbeaten, faced the No. 2 Crimson Tide for the prize the program practically owned for generations that came to know Knute Rockne, Frank Leahey, Parsegian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz as the caretakers of greatness.
On the tight-knit campus of about 12,000 students, the anticipation for Notre Dame’s first crack at a national title since 1988 has become national news. Just more than 615 miles to the east, Scranton might be almost as electrified.
Back on top
For the last 24 years, Hayduk did his best to make a yearly journey back to campus, back to the place where his greatest athletic accomplishments are most appreciated.
When he arrived for the Sept. 22 game against Michigan, he could already sense a different buzz. Weeks earlier, before the season began, he’d honestly have been tickled if he had been guaranteed a 9-3 finish for his Irish. It was already a different feeling by then.
Since, he has found comparisons between the 2012 Irish and his 1973 Irish that he isn’t sure he can quantify as a coincidence. Both teams had underpublicized senior classes. Both teams were diverse on offense and defense. Both teams had freshmen making significant impacts as starters – defensive end Ross Browner in 1973, and quarterback Everett Golson this year. Both teams beat USC by almost identical scores. Both teams were bonded by tragedy – in 1973, quarterback Tom Clements’ younger sister was killed when she was hit by a car the week before the season opener and, this season, linebacker Manti Te’o lost his grandmother and girlfriend in the same week. Both teams drew Alabama in the national title game. Both teams will play as underdogs.
But only one team, he knows, will play to eliminate years of frustration, to aim to please a nation of fans and ruin the night of likely as many haters. In Miami. In South Bend. In Scranton. Notre Dame will always be a team to watch.
“You’ve got two traditional college football powers playing for the championship. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Hayduk said. “You’ve got people who love Notre Dame. You’ve got people who hate Notre Dame. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it outdraw the Super Bowl.”