Local Notre Dame fans trying to look on the bright side
By David Sharos For The Sun January 9, 2013 1:08PM
The much hyped national championship game which pitted Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish against the Alabama Crimson Tide this past Monday night is now in the history books, as Coach Brian Kelly’s Irish team was thoroughly trounced by a score of 42-14.
But for Naperville resident Greg Szatko, 60, and his son Mike, 23, there will be more to remember from Monday’s game than the agony of defeat. The Notre Dame alum that played defensive tackle during the 1973 championship season and his son were among the lucky ones able to attend the game in South Florida.
“I belong to a local Notre Dame fan club here in the area and we were able to get two tickets at the last minute about a week before the game,” Szatko said. “After the USC game, we booked airline tickets and a hotel and car in case we were able to go down there and it turns out we did. The plane was just loaded with ND fans wearing more different types of paraphernalia than I’ve ever seen.”
The Szatkos arrived on Jan. 5 and visited with friends in Orlando before driving up to Miami on Sunday and joining the fan fest which Szatko said allowed him to reconnect with about a dozen former players and a lot more friends. On game day, father and son enjoyed a unique “tailgate” party held on a docked boat.
“My friend had a party that was sponsored by Panera Bread and we tailgated on a boat that was docked and would listen to all the Notre Dame and Alabama fans as they drove by and honked their horns,” he said.
On game day, Szatko and his son sat in the upper level on the Notre Dame side near the 10-yard line. Szatko said fans were evenly split among both teams and that witnessing “the well-hyped spectacle” was amazing.
“They have these big screen TVs all over and you get to see replays of things a lot more than you do on television at home,” he said. “The energy in the stadium was amazing.”
Typical of most fans, Szatko said the majority of the Notre Dame faithful didn’t begin to lose heart until the third quarter, despite being down by more than 21 points.
“We weren’t too upset at the first score, although the way Alabama ran through our defense, it was way too easy,” he said. “The second score wasn’t good either, but the way the team played all year, a lot of us thought they could come back. With turnovers and so forth, anything can happen.”
Szatko admits that by the third quarter, “things got dicey and the game itself was getting ugly” but that as a fan now instead of a player, he maintains a different perspective.
“The game is a game, and it’s an exciting event, and it’s entertainment,” he said. “You can’t control what happens on the field. It was great to reconnect with old teammates and friends and meet new people.”
Szatko also feels Notre Dame made great strides this year and that its bowl appearance will only help improve the program even more.
“We came a long way from where we were, and anytime you get five extra weeks of legal practice for your team, that’s got to help,” he said. “Looking ahead to spring practices and next year, having those extra four to five weeks have got to improve you.”