Sept. 23, 2015
The routine is much the same six Saturdays each fall.
Wake up about 4 a.m. (that’s Central time).
Jump in the silver Nissan.
Take U.S. Route 24 east to Interstate 55 northeast to Interstate 80 and then over to South Bend.
Make one stop along the way for gas at the Ripley Street exit off I-80.
Arrive on campus about three hours prior to kickoff and park in the Bulla lot (this is the first season in that location after years in the Library lot).
Head to Notre Dame Stadium on the shuttle bus about an hour before the game starts.
When it’s over, drive back to East Peoria, Illinois, arriving sometime before midnight. If it’s an Irish night game, arrival time is more like 3 a.m. (just in time for 8:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday at St. Monica’s Church).
There’s no road map nor GPS device nor cell phone maps app required for Carl “Bud” Schmitt.
That’s because this is the 60th consecutive year Schmitt has been making that trip to the University of Notre Dame, attending every Irish football home game during that span.
Notre Dame ticket office records don’t go back that far in great detail, so it’s impossible to know if there are Irish fans with similar streaks.
Schmitt has had four Notre Dame season tickets since at least 1956 (he thinks it could have been 1955). His daughter Lettie drives most of the time now, daughter Monika and son Ara try to make it to at least one game a year—and other friends and relatives have joined the group at different times through those 60 seasons. They used to sit in the north end zone, just a few rows above the tunnel (near a group of nuns from Saint Mary’s College, according to Schmitt). Then, when the stadium expanded in 1997, Schmitt’s seats were moved to Section 7, Row 27, Seats 15-18. He likes it there, just above the Notre Dame band and in a same row as the Irish men’s basketball coaching staff.
“I’m pretty happy where I’m at,” says Schmitt. “I wouldn’t trade those seats for too many.”
Schmitt turns 90 the day Notre Dame plays Navy. He believes he had watched 335 straight Notre Dame home games heading into the 2015 season. Throw in last year’s Shamrock Series game in Indianapolis and a couple of games in Evanston, Illinois, against Northwestern, and the number inflates.
Wearing a blue-and-gold striped long-sleeved Notre Dame rugby shirt, Schmitt sits with his daughter Lettie next to an expanded card table in the Bulla lot. They snack on chicken wraps, pretzels, trail mix, chocolate chip cookies and Vitamin Water. Schmitt says in the old days he might have had an adult beverage or two, but his doctor now frowns on that.
“At one time we’d stop and hoist a few, but those days are gone,” says Schmitt with an easy laugh and smile.
Schmitt recalls his father being a Notre Dame fan, but Schmitt’s serious Notre Dame ties go back to the 1950s when his high school classmate and teammate, Corwin “Cornie” Clatt of Peoria, played fullback for Notre Dame (1942, 1946-47). When Schmitt was a kid, he remembers rooting for the Irish while listening to games on the radio because Benny Sheridan, who came from Havana, Illinois (about 13 miles southwest of Peoria), played halfback for Notre Dame (1937-39).
“I was the scrub, Cornie was the all-stater—but my picture still hangs up there in the hallway of the high school with Cornie’s,” says Schmitt with a grin.
Any Notre Dame football memorabilia to be found at the Schmitt household?
“Oh my goodness, yes, all kinds of stuff, all over the house,” says Lettie. “He used to keep programs from every game, but he knows all the current players and he’ll recognize past players down on the field. He’s been watching the Showtime episodes this fall.”
Predating Schmitt’s current streak, he had a friend Bill Coogan who always wanted Schmitt to go with him to games in South Bend. Eventually, Schmitt says Coogan could no longer head to South Bend because of his third-shift job responsibilities at Caterpillar in Peoria—and that’s about the time Schmitt obtained his four season tickets.
Schmitt figures he’s the biggest Notre Dame football fan in Peoria—he doesn’t know who would finish second. He named his son Ara after former Irish coach Ara Parseghian.
“My son was the smartest kid in kindergarten because he could spell his name forwards and backwards,” Schmitt says.
Schmitt doesn’t miss Irish road games on television, but his daughter Lettie makes it clear her father prefers to watch by himself.
“Even as a child, I remember Dad listening to the Notre Dame games on the radio. We were not supposed to talk, we were not supposed to play the piano, we were supposed to go outside,” says Lettie. “You were supposed to leave Dad alone.”
Schmitt doesn’t mind telling you that the Notre Dame win over top-rated Miami in 1988 still ranks atop the list of the best Irish games he’s seen.
A long-time educator in the Peoria area (he has a local nature trail named after him), Schmitt remembers watching the Irish play at Illinois in 1946 and then attending his first Notre Dame home game in 1950.
Both the Peoria Journal-Star and South Bend Tribune published stories about his streak 10 years ago when he was at 50 years and counting. His health may not be perfect, but Schmitt has no plans to halt his trips to South Bend any time soon.
He’s a humble Catholic man from the Midwest who is happy simply to sit in Notre Dame Stadium and watch his favorite football team on Saturdays.
But, in case anyone is keeping track, it’s now 60 years and counting—and that’s a streak not likely to be threatened.
-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director