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?


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