(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
Notre Dame fans everywhere were in disbelief Saturday when the Irish began their first series of the game against Washington by calling a pass play from their own one-yard line.
Many Irish supporters were wondering if Head Coach Charlie Weis was buying into his own hype as an offensive genius, until the improbable pass play gained 13-yards and sparked a 75-yard drive.
The Irish didn’t score on that series, but they beat Washington and former coach Tyrone Willingham 36-17. Although he deserves recognition for righting the Irish ship, credit can’t be given to him for the gutsy call on first down.
Instead, credit should go to 10-year-old Montana Mazurkiewicz from South Bend, Indiana. See, Montana (named after Joe, who else) loved football and in particular the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
So, when doctors told Montana there was nothing more they could do to curtail the spreading of his inoperable brain tumor, one of his only desires was to meet the head coach who led his favorite team.
Weis could’ve said no. He’s very busy trying to restore the Golden Dome back to its rightful place atop college football. But he didn’t. Maybe part of it is because Weis has a 12-year-old son, and a daughter with global development delay – a disorder similar to autism.
Or maybe he just couldn’t say no to a sick little boy. He visited Montana last week, sharing stories of Joe (who Weis roomed with and pulled pranks on while they were college classmates at Notre Dame) and listened while Montana ribbed him about the loss to Michigan State.
Montana told Weis he just wanted to make it through this past weekend and watch one last Notre Dame game. The boy knew he wasn’t going to live much longer and tried to conceal his horrible pain while visiting with Weis.
Weis gave Montana a signed football that told the boy to live for each day, and when he was too weak to throw it to his mother, Weis climbed into the boy’s chair with him and helped him make the throw.
Afterwards Weis asked Montana if there was anything else he could do before he left, and that’s when the little boy called ‘Pass Right’. Weis made his reputation by being the one and only offensive play caller for the New England Patriots, who won three of the last four Super Bowls while he was on staff. He doesn’t like to share play-calling duties but told Montana he would make an exception this time.
The Irish defense forced a fumble on Washington’s first drive and recovered it on the Notre Dame one-yard line. Weis had told his team before the game that he was going to use Montana’s play, but considering they were backed up against their own goal line, quarterback Brady Quinn asked his coach what they were going to do.
”We have no choice. We’re throwing it to the right,” replied Weiss. He called a play where all of the Irish ran left except for tight end Anthony Fasano, who ran right. Quinn dumped it to the Fasano, who made the catch and leaped over a defender to pick up a 13-yard gain.
Montana Mazurkiewicz, who dreamed of that pass, never got to see it completed. He died at his home Friday night before the game.
Weis called Montana’s family after the game and said he was sending a game ball signed by the team and would bring it to the family on Sunday.
In the box score it was recorded as ‘Brady Quinn pass complete to Anthony Fasano for 13 yards to the NDame 14 for a 1ST down out-of-bounds’. But Charlie Weis and the Irish know it was much more than that.
And somewhere, Montana Mazurkiewicz is beaming with pride over his play call, and playing catch with the rest of the Notre Dame legends.