On Labor Day weekend, the new Sportsbook at Rivers Casino in Schenectady is offering legal betting on a slew of opening college football games, and fan anticipation is high. If you want to take a chance on some top games, like Baylor vs. Kalamazoo, this is your shot.
I won’t be going to Rivers for the games. Way back, as a teenager, I loved college football and had five or six favorite teams. But some interests are fleeting, and by my 20s I was on a fast fade from the game.
One fall weekend during my football fade, my older brother Tommy and his young family from Vermont were visiting Albany.
“Did you see Notre Dame last week?” said Tommy. “Beat Michigan on the last play – 40-yard touchdown pass!”
Later I thought, “Yeah, Tommy really likes that Notre Dame. Where’s that comin’ from?”
I tried to figure the connection. Notre Dame…that’s South Bend, Indiana -- Tommy’s never been there. It’s Catholic – no attraction there. He’s beyond lapsed.
The next day it hit me.
Irish!” I shouted, with a Homer Simpson head-slap. “And to top it off, they’re the Fighting Irish. Tommy’s a tough guy. It’s a perfect fit.”
As penalty for this lamebrained miss, I declared myself a dodo for a full week. When my penalty week was done, I thought, “Yeah, Tommy and I -- we really like that Notre Dame. It’s our brotherly bond. Gotta love the Irish!”
As I get older, I use this tack a lot. I miss something obvious, call myself a dodo for a week, then fashion a new and better reality that shows I’m right on top of things.
So how did Tommy get wrapped up with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame?
In the 1950s, there was little college football on TV. And, you probably didn’t have a TV. Back then, on fall Saturdays, oldest brothers Terry and Tommy would make a mad dash from our Walter Street home in mostly-Irish North Albany. They hopped on bikes and headed to the old Grand Theater on Clinton Avenue, just below the Palace. For 50 cents, the Grand presented a movie as well as the Greatest Show on Earth – the Notre Dame football game! All the crowd went wild rooting for the Fighting Irish. Afterwards, Terry and Tommy headed home with a bunch of friends and started a game of their own -- if, by miracle, somebody owned a football.
A few years later, Tommy started looking into history, especially Irish history. More than his five siblings, he understood and took to heart the long-time British oppression of the Irish people, with all its attendant cruelty. I can imagine, in Tommy’s younger days, if he ran into an Englishman, the conversation was heated.
As the youngest in the family, I missed out on the Grand Theater on Clinton and its raucous Saturdays of Fighting Irish football. I reached school age in the early 1960s. We now lived in the “new house” off New Scotland Avenue, and this new neighborhood, unlike North Albany, was mixed – about half Catholic (with Irish, Italian, and Polish families) and half Jewish.
Not a history buff, I took my cues about being Irish (no one said Irish-American back then) mostly from my parents. My Mom and Dad were certainly in favor of being Irish, but to say they were proud of it would be a stretch. Growing up, I knew I was Irish, but felt blithely neutral about it. Proponents of the Melting Pot idea cited me as proof – “Look at this guy. He’s totally blended at age 10.”
The only British people I knew were the Beatles. On the Ed Sullivan Show, their singing was good, but I loved hearing them talk – where did they get those great accents! I’ll get a discouraging word from Tommy on it, but since that time, I’ve never met a Brit I didn’t like.
So anyway, this weekend you won’t find much action at the Grand Theater, but bless our modern times, Rivers Casino is offering bets on 94 college games on 42 big screens.
Essayist Jim Crowe is an Albany Resident
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