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On October 19, 2022, my Poppy, Theodore S. Dailey passed away at the age of 84 with his family by his side. Poppy fought Parkinson’s Disease for all the time I remember him, and not once did he complain.
Not even a peep. A true testament to the strength and faith Poppy possessed.
Looking back on the relationship I had with a man who I consider my second father, I find a common variable.
Some think sports are just silly games that are played, those people are far from correct. Sports are actually something much bigger. Sports are something that unites people, sports are something that tie people to one another and is a great starting point for some of the best relationships I’ve had in life.
Me and my Poppy would gather every Saturday in his living room during the college football seasons to watch the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play.
As Mike Tirico would say “Here come the Irish”, my Nanny would get us each a bowl of chocolate ice cream that would be devoured before kickoff.
When I was young, still in elementary school, every time I saw my Poppy he would tell me a story that started off with, “when you were just a little itty bitty baby”, and the story would carry into how he raised me for the first week of my life.
I like to think that was the starting point in the close bond we developed.
However, it is no secret it was Notre Dame that tied us together. The fascination with the gold helmets Notre Dame sported. The overarching goal of a National Championship. Notre Dame was our thing. We'd enjoy it together and embrace the ups and downs of the College Football season.
A reason I love College Football the most out of any sports league in the world is because every game matters. You lose once, good chance you’re out of contention. If you lose twice, you best bet start packing your bags and calling your mom for a ride home because the National Championship is not in sight for you.
Notre Dame always had a solid team. My first memories are of the 2012 team that went to the BCS National Championship game and lost to Alabama.
The years followed also produced some great memories, such as the Ian Book era and Notre Dame reachnig the playoffs twice.
All of these games, I watched alongside my Poppy.
While watching Notre Dame try to win, and many times try not to lose, my Poppy would tell me stories about himself as a kid.
He was an athlete through and through. An accomplished youth boxer, my Poppy also played baseball, basketball, and his main love, football.
He would go on to be the quarterback of the varsity team then attend Norwich University and play there before realizing he missed New Jersey and transferring to Seton Hall, where he played the other kind of football, soccer.
After college, Poppy met just about every famous person known to man. He met both Mother Terera and Muhhamed Ali. He had golf balls signed by the entirety of the PGA Tour and he would always give me his collectibles. Most notably a baseball signed by Franco Harris, the wideout from the Steelers who caught the immaculate reception.
And no, I don’t know why he got a baseball signed, but it’s very cool nevertheless.
However, he would rave about the one man he never met, Johnny Lujack.
Lujack, the winner of the 1947 Heisman Trophy, is one of the best players to ever wear the gold helmet at Notre Dame.
Lujack was my Poppy’s hero growing up, and my Poppy would tell me how he would turn the radio on to listen to Notre Dame games and how amazing of a player Lujack was.
When I came across a video titled, “The Adventures of Johnny Lujack” in 2019, I shared it to my Poppy, who was still much healthier at the time.
Poppy would watch that video on repeat, and watch with a smile everytime.
My Poppy had given me everything I could ever ask. He was always by my side supporting me and a father figure in my life, so I wanted to return the favor.
In December of 2020, I set out on the goal of finding Johnny Lujack, who is the oldest living Heisman winner, and arranging a call between him and my Poppy.
It took a lot of research to find Johnny’s kids and find if his kids had kids.
Eventually, I stumbled across the instagram profile of Kevin Lujack, Johnny’s grandson. I reached out to Kevin, and told him the story of how my Poppy’s hero is Johnny Lujack, how my Poppy is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and wasn’t in the best of mental states due to COVID (he couldn’t see his grandkids as often as he once did).
Kevin got back, and couldn’t of been nicer. He put me in touch with his father, Jeff.
Jeff and Kevin were two of the nicest people I’ve ever come across, and they were nice enough to send out a letter on behalf of Johnny from the Lujack family.
I printed the letter out, framed it, and gave it to my Poppy for Christmas. It was the greatest Christmas gift I ever gave anybody, and it meant the world for me.
To be able to put my Poppy in touch with his childhood hero was a dream come true not just for me, but my Poppy, and to see how happy he was truly meant the world.
I remain in contact with the Lujacks, and we still chat about Notre Dame to this day.
Everytime I visited my Poppy from thereafter, he would say, “hows Lujack”.
Eventually, he would start calling me Lujack after a while. Although I don’t think I’ll ever have the football talents of Johnny, I am flattered my Pops would call me that haha.
Anyways, you’re probably asking where I am going with this story.
Sports are the great connector, and can make great relationships even greater.
Although my Poppy passed away - and is in a better place now, I’ll always have Notre Dame to think of him, remember him, and remember the great memories we had watching the games together.
I’m forever grateful for what the Unviersity of Notre Dame has provided us and for the Lujack family for being so helpful in helping connect my Poppy with his childhood hero.
So next time somebody tells you sports are silly, show them this.
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All Editorials written by Chris Dailey