Ghost of Notre Dame’s modern-day ‘Rudy’

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Is the pope Catholic?

Wait. That’s not what I wanted to know. Here’s my real question: Is Grant Patton Catholic?

“Grant who?” you ask.

Patton is a Notre Dame football player featured this week in an inspirational sports column in The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.:

If there wasn’t already a movie about an unlikely Notre Dame football walk-on, defensive lineman Grant Patton might have scripts to browse. When he was a senior at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, he did not play football. During his first two years of college, he did not even attend Notre Dame. When he was finally accepted to the university as a junior, he played for his dormitory’s intramural football team. But on Jan. 7 the senior will put on his gold helmet and run through the tunnel with the Fighting Irish as they face Alabama for the national championship. He’s “Rudy” with a cellphone and a Twitter account, and he’s as astonished by his journey as anyone.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” Patton said by phone from South Bend, Ind., perhaps while pinching himself. “To be on the field, with that jersey, with that helmet, it’s like a Disney moment.”

Keep reading, and the writer tells of Patton’s “lifelong devotion to the Fighting Irish.” But what inspires that devotion?

Later, we learn that Patton enrolled at Holy Cross College in South Bend, which often serves as a feeder school for Notre Dame.

Let’s pick up the story after Patton receives his gold helmet:

“It’s just a great story for kids to know that if you have a dream and you follow it, you can do anything,” St. X coach Mike Glaser said.

Patton picked the perfect time to become a Notre Dame football player. The No. 1 Irish blitzed through a 12-0 season, including victories over Michigan, Stanford and Oklahoma. Although Patton has not played, the experience has been indelible.

He said the first time he ran out of the locker room under the iconic, hand-painted “Play Like a Champion Today” sign, he felt numb. He knelt on the grass and gathered himself.

He knelt on the grass and gathered himself. Is that a fancy way of saying he prayed?

The story ends this way:

“It’s crazy after games when you see 200 people outside wanting his autograph,” said his mother, Alison. “He’s not Manti T’eo or the quarterback, but they don’t care. He’s someone who plays for Notre Dame, and that’s all he ever wanted.”

All he ever wanted. But why?

Is this purely a sports story? Did Patton grow up adoring the Fighting Irish simply because he loved football? Or do I sense a deeper calling? (Patton has a private Twitter account, but his public profile includes a Scriptural reference.)

I’ll ask again: Is Grant Patton Catholic? And if so, shouldn’t that important detail make its way into the story?

Gold-and-blue ghost, anyone?

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Julia

    Since he graduated from St. Xaviar high school and spent two years at Holy Cross College, perhaps the writer didn’t think it was necessary.

    • Patrick

      Obviously a lapsed Catholic.

      *zing!*

  • Alan

    Who cares if he was Catholic? Why would that be an important detail? What would it add to the story?

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Alan,

      Perceptive readers care. It would be an important detail because it would answer a key journalistic question (“Why?”).

      • Alan

        It’s a universal human interest story – they why is the same reason boys grow up dreaming of playing on any team they were a fan of. Perceptive readers understand that, narrow-minded readers care if it is Notre Dame because he is Catholic instead of BYU because he is Mormon.

        • Bobby Ross Jr.

          Narrow-mindedness has nothing to do with it. It’s a journalistic question.

          In an awkward way, you do make a good point, however: If the story involved a football player who grew up devoted to playing for BYU, it would seem strange not to reference his Mormon faith (or lack thereof).

          • Alan

            No, it wouldn’t seem strange at all to not mention it – it may be a journalistic question, but the answer isn’t particularly interesting. Religion isn’t an important part of every story and this one is about passion for a sports team – there is no need to introduce religion into it at all if anything it only narrows the impact of the story.

  • A Patton

    He is not Catholic. His passion for Notre Dame started when he spent the first years of his life in SB. His parents have a business in SB that works with ND, students and athletics, especially. He went to a Christian school 1-8 grades and St X was the best choice academically for him for high school. After turning down his track scholarships he wanted to follow his dream of attending Notre Dame so…the article explains the rest. So there’s your answer. And FYI there are many football players at St X that aren’t Catholic AND we have some Mormons on the team.


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