Ara Parseghian feted on 90th birthday

Author: John Heisler

Joe Kernan (left) with Ara ParseghianJoe Kernan, left, with Ara Parseghian (Lighthouse Imaging)

Former Irish football coach Ara Parseghian celebrated his 90th birthday Saturday night at the Naimoli Club atop Purcell Pavilion, with nearly 300 former players, friends and family joining him. Some 100 former Irish players attended the event, including Jim Lynch, Joe Theismann, Dave Casper and George Kunz.

Former Irish running back Rocky Bleier served as master of ceremonies, with remarks offered by former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, former Irish assistant coach Mike Stock and Ara’s son Mike. Former Irish center George Goeddeke orchestrated the singing, including a Notre Dame/Parseghian version of the old Texaco commercial jingle.

The program began with a showing of the ESPN feature on Parseghian from December when he received ESPN’s Contributions to Football award at the ESPN College Football Awards Show in Orlando. Tom Rinaldi, a former WNDU news reporter, crafted the ESPN piece.

Phelps talked about the letter he wrote to Parseghian in 1965 about his feelings for Notre Dame—and kidded that Ara later told him he stuck it in his “crazy letter file.” Phelps also noted that Parseghian liked Digger’s 1-3-1 zone defense, so the Irish basketball staff decided to use it in Phelps’ first trip to Bloomington to play Indiana and first-year coach Bob Knight. The final score? Indiana 94, Notre Dame 29. Phelps noted that his Irish later “sealed the deal” using Ara’s same 1-3-1 to defeat #1 North Carolina and Dean Smith in 1987.

Stock referred to Parseghian’s two guiding principles: 1). We have no breaking point, and, 2). There is no circumstance we cannot overcome.

Mike Parseghian noted that most people have one career but that his dad has had three – football coaching, broadcasting and then championing the cause for finding a cure to Niemann-Pick Type C disease that claimed the lives of three of Ara’s grandchildren (Mike and Cindy Parseghian’s children).

The highlight of the evening came with presentation of a $300,000 check to the Ara Parseghian Medical Foundation, via contributions from dinner attendees and many others.

Ara noted that he and his wife Katie will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this year. He also thanked Notre Dame College of Science dean Greg Crawford who has become a staunch supporter of the medical foundation. This summer Crawford will ride his bike from Los Angeles to Baltimore to highlight the Parseghian foundation. Said Ara, “We’ve got a blue-chipper there and he’s gonna take us to the finish line.”

Ara concluded with an invitation for 10 years down the road when he celebrates his next big birthday: “I want you here when I turn 100.”

Photos courtesy of Mike and Susan Bennett, Lighthouse Imaging