O'Donnell: Notre Dame had no greater lucky charm than Regis Philbin

  • In this May 15, 1992, file photo, talk show host and huge Notre Dame fan Regis Philbin gets a hug from Fighting Irish football coach Lou Holtz during a live broadcast of ABC's "Live With Regis and Kathy Lee," in New York. Notre Dame coaches Brian Kelly, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis had also been guests of Philbin's on the show.

    In this May 15, 1992, file photo, talk show host and huge Notre Dame fan Regis Philbin gets a hug from Fighting Irish football coach Lou Holtz during a live broadcast of ABC's "Live With Regis and Kathy Lee," in New York. Notre Dame coaches Brian Kelly, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis had also been guests of Philbin's on the show. Associated Press

  • Regis Philbin, a Notre Dame graduate, waves to the crowd after receiving an honorary degree during Notre Dame's 154th commencement exercises Sunday, May 16, 1999 in South Bend, Ind.

    Regis Philbin, a Notre Dame graduate, waves to the crowd after receiving an honorary degree during Notre Dame's 154th commencement exercises Sunday, May 16, 1999 in South Bend, Ind. Associated Press

  • Notre Dame football coach Bob Davie, left, and talk show host Regis Philbin, a Notre Dame grad, talk at practice, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 1999, in South Bend, Ind.

    Notre Dame football coach Bob Davie, left, and talk show host Regis Philbin, a Notre Dame grad, talk at practice, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 1999, in South Bend, Ind. Associated Press

 
Updated 7/29/2020 6:45 PM

OUTLINED AGAINST A CLEMENT OCTOBER SKY, there was no need for any further juice in the press box at Notre Dame Stadium.

Not even a sudden appearance by Regis Philbin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In approximately 90 minutes, No. 1 ranked Pete Carroll, Reggie Bush and USC would be laying 14½ points against Charmin' Charlie Weis and his upstart band of Ty Willingham holdovers.

Even by the standards of an autumn in South Bend, crackle was in the air.

Well-founded rumor was that at least one member of The Fourth Estate had 10 large on Brady Quinn, Tommy Zbikowski and 'mates as the Irish dreamed yet another impossible dream.

(The actual number was $10,400 -- $9,900 to win $9K on Notre Dame and another $500 in travel expenses for a trusted brother to take "the yo-yo" to Las Vegas the evening before.)

The media milled.

Suddenly, Philbin's voice hovered over the front row:

"Here they are! The ultimate image makers! The people who are going to write their stories tonight about another historic Irish victory, a game that will put the name of Charlie Weis right up there with Rockne and Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz!"

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Philbin was oh so close.

Only an impossible closing sequence, including a miracle lob by Matt Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett on a fourth-and-9 and the decisive "Bush Push" enabled Carroll and Co. to skulk off with a 34-31 win.

Philbin was just visiting the press box. He was surrounded by a coterie of priests, friends and skywriting boosters en route to wherever the most Golden Domers get to sit for a green daze like that.

He died this week at age 88. He sold likableness, and as Eddie Cantor long ago said, "Likability is 90 percent of the game."

His love for ND, in all its dimensions, was a forever thing. That passion began when his father returned from World War II after having served in the Marine Corps with Moose Krause, a Chicago-bred star in the final recruiting class of Rockne.

"At night Krause would regale the other officers with stories about Rockne and George Gipp and The Four Horsemen," Philbin told media. "My father was very impressed and his impression impressed me."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Philbin graduated from ND in 1953. That meant he arrived to catch the fifth of six unbeaten seasons by Frank Leahy -- 10-0 in 1949.

He reveled in his status as "Notre Dame's No. 1 fan."

His prediction on that October afternoon was so very close.

And even more fulfilling if you had the Irish with the 14½.

STREET-BEATIN': Jeremy "Gabby" Colliton and the Blackhawks are only +140 'dogs to advance from their first-round series vs. tumbleweed host Edmonton; 66-1 to win the Stanley C. Bubbler (Game One, Saturday, 2 p.m.; NBC-5, AM-720). Losers get to spend an August weekday in Medicine Hat. ...

Mike Mulligan and David Haugh will never be mistaken for Penn and Teller. But the sustained listlessness and ice-capade enthusiasm of their a.m. drive show on WSCR-AM (670) are far too representative of the general torpor enveloping the local Entercom house of monotonia. ...

The Alex Trebek autobiography "The Answer is ..." (Simon & Schuster, $26) greatly benefits from chapters even shorter than a templated James Patterson novel. (Trebek played varsity basketball for a very poor University of Ottawa team; even 36 years later, hardest-core "Jeopardy!" classicists still haven't accepted him as a worthy successor to Art Fleming.) ...

Less than two weeks into "Apee's Death Valley 2020" at Arlington Park, racing staff struggled Wednesday to fill Saturday's card. Roughest part of that report is the fact Frank Calabrese's brilliantly pedigreed Big Dreaming was targeted for his local debut in a turf allowance. ...

In a sharp change of place, The Chicago Tribune slipped erudite theater critic Chris Jones into its sports section for a one-off on the dystopian aspects of those cardboard cutouts in the stands at MLB games. (Jones is a terrific essayist; there's nothing clever about those cutouts, unless some team acquires the rights to the album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.) ...

Cheryl Raye-Stout is gratefully on the mend after a scary car accident on her way home from Wrigley Field. The WBEZ-FM (91.5) stalwart was T-boned by a distracted policeman less than seven blocks from her Northwest suburban driveway. (Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz is certain to be monitoring the aftermath.) ...

And faithful reader Scott Thomson -- on the sudden Comcast debut of the Cubs' Marquee Network: "I haven't been this excited about anything since village crews removed storm debris from my parkway."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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