Nov. 19, 2015
By John Heisler
Paul Kelly, father of University of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, remembers it like it was yesterday.
"Our first Red Sox game actually was the World Series in 1975 against the Cincinnati Reds," Paul recalls. "We had seats in right field, by the Pesky Pole. During batting practice Ken Griffey hit a ball right to us. I put my hand up and it actually stuck, and I said, `Oh my God, I actually caught a ball.' You'd think I might have broken my fingers or something, but I didn't even feel it.
"Of course, Brian and Paul (Brian's older brother by 11 months) were jumping up and down and were all excited. So I told them, `You've got to save this ball. This is historic. This is a World Series baseball.' And the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series since 1918. They said, `Okay, okay, okay.' I told them, `You save this as a memento.'
"So I get home from work one day and Paul and Brian are out there on the hardtop driveway playing catch with the ball, and all I can see are the threads flying out of the baseball. I said, `Guys, what are you doing?' They said, `We're playing catch.' I said, `I told you we want to save that ball.' They said, `We thought it was to play catch with.' So that killed that trophy."
With stories like that one stuffed in his hip pocket, Brian and his Irish football team Saturday night will attempt to create a few more memorable scenes with Boston as the backdrop when Notre Dame and Boston College square off at Fenway Park in the annual Shamrock Series event.
Brian was born in Everett, Massachusetts, raised in Chelsea, later moved to Tewksbury, attended St. John's Prep and then went on to play football at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.
"Our household was big on sports," says Paul. "I was a big Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, Patriots--then they were the Boston Patriots--fan. As youngsters they (Brian and Paul) obviously became fans of the Boston pro sports teams. Shortly after he graduated from Holy Cross, Paul bought Patriot season tickets and he's had them ever since. Brian ended up back out in the Midwest so he did not get a chance to come back that much."
The Kellys didn't spent much time at Fenway Park, but they absolutely kept up with Red Sox goings-on.
"Every time the Sox were on we'd watch them." Paul says. "We didn't go that often. You had to take the subway in, and tickets weren't that expensive--but we didn't have a silver spoon. The boys actually became big Bruins fans because that was the Bobby Orr era. They actually went to more Bruins games than Red Sox games because I had access at work to hockey tickets and Celtic tickets. The Patriots in those days were playing anywhere they could find a park--they went to a couple of Patriots game, not many.
"I think they probably just got their sports background from being in a home where that's about all we talked about. That's all we ever watched. They are avid sports fans now. Paul, especially, follows all the Boston teams fanatically."
-- Fenway Park's transformation from baseball diamond to football field was a two-week conversion process. The Fenway Park grounds crew, led by director of grounds David Mellor, began its work Nov. 2 with the removal of the pitcher's mound and completed the task Nov. 14 as blue and gold were painted onto the end zones.
-- Football has been part of the fabric of Fenway Park since it opened its doors in 1912. That year, Oak Park High School of Illinois faced off against local Everett High School in the National High School Football Championship Game. Boston Latin High School and Boston English High School also played a late-November football game in 1912. From that time, and through the 1960s, football was as much a part of Fenway Park's schedule as baseball. It wasn't until 1969, after the Patriots moved to Foxboro after calling Fenway Park home for six years, that football was no longer played at the ballpark. The final football game at Fenway Park took place Dec. 1, 1968, between the Boston Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots won 33-14.
-- Here's how six other Notre Dame teams finished that started 9-1 (no matter when the defeat occurred). Four of these teams played in bowl games (two wins) and three finished in the Associated Press top 10:
Year Final Record Final AP Ranking
1921 10-1 ---
1954 9-1 4th
1974 10-2 6th (Orange Bowl champion)
1977 11-1 1st (Cotton Bowl champion)
1998 9-3 22nd (Gator Bowl)
2006 10-3 17th (Sugar Bowl)
-- The 10 teams Notre Dame has played so far in 2015 stand a combined 55-44. The nine Irish wins have come over teams that are a combined 45-44, including 8-2 Temple and 8-1 Navy, plus USC and Pitt (both 7-3). The two teams remaining on the Irish slate are a combined 11-9, including 8-2 Stanford.
This week's NCAA toughest schedule numbers (no games versus non-FBS teams are included) show Notre Dame's cumulative schedule ranking 32nd (57-44 for .564), its past schedule 31st (48-35 for .578) and its future schedule tied for 61st (9-9 for .500).
Notre Dame's last six games have been against teams that are a combined 43-16: Clemson 10-0, Navy 8-1, USC 7-3, Temple 8-2, Pitt 7-3 and Wake Forest 3-7. By comparison, Maryland is the team the NCAA says has played the toughest schedule to date, with Terp foes going 65-30 (.684).
-- Boston College head coach Steve Addazio was an Irish assistant football coach from 1999-2001. Eagle receiver coach Brian White was an Irish graduate assistant coach in 1988-89. Boston College recruiting specialist Leo Ferrine is a 2008 Notre Dame graduate and a former Irish defensive back.
-- Boston College ranks number one in the country in total defense (236.5 yards per game), and the Eagles will face an Irish offense ranking 26th nationally at 467.8 yards per game. Boston College also ranks number one in the country in rushing defense (71.7 yards per game)--and it will face off against an Irish running game averaging 215.6 yards per contest and ranking 24th nationally.
-- Notre Dame has won four straight in the series, the last time in 2012 when the Irish came to Chestnut Hill at 9-0 and ranked No. 4 and defeated the Eagles 21-6. Prior to that game, Boston College had won six straight times in the series (2001-08).
-- The biggest Notre Dame connection to Fenway Park? It's quite likely former Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski, who attended Notre Dame (actually on a basketball scholarship) for five semesters before signing with the Red Sox. He began his minor-league career in 1959, made his Major League debut in 1961--and graduated from Merrimack College in 1961 (he came back to South Bend to study on three different occasions in the offseason).
-- With Fenway Park now set for football, the facility will play host to four high school football games next Wednesday and Thursday. And according to Red Sox president Sam Kennedy Thursday in the Boston Globe, Fenway would love to play host to a Boston Celtics NBA game at some point down the road.
-- There will be a pregame moment of silence Saturday night in memory of the parents of Doug Flutie (former Boston College quarterback and current NBC Sports color announcer on Irish home games), who both died Wednesday morning in Florida.
-- A pregame check presentation will feature University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, City Year CEO Michael Brown and members of the Joe and Kris Trustey family. In honor of Notre Dame family members Joe, AJ and Anna Trustey, and Jake Scanlan, Father Jenkins will present a gift of $100,000 to City Year in recognition of the organization's belief that education has the power to help every child reach his or her potential.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.
Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for UND.com titled "Sunday Brunch," along with a Thursday football preview piece. He is editor of the award-winning "Strong of Heart" series. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:
-- Top 10 Things Learned About the Irish So Far in 2015:
-- Brey's Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner--and Moves On
-- Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers:
-- Men's Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation:
-- Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices: http://www.und.com/genrel/092215aae.html
-- Bud Schmitt Doesn't Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium: http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092315aag.html
-- Sunday Brunch: Nobody Better at Home
-- Remembering Bob Kemp: Notre Dame Lacrosse Family Honors Devoted Father
-- Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15: