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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Sometimes, the Right Call Makes All the Difference

October 09, 2005|Dave Kindred | The Sporting News

You write this story because we all have known a little boy 10 years old. You write it because a little boy died after a year and a half's suffering with cancer in his brain. His parents did everything they could to make their son happy, and what they did had some football in it. So you write about the little boy named Montana M. Mazurkiewicz.

First thing you say is, "Montana?"

Yes, Joe Montana is in this.

It's what you name your second son if your first is named Rockne. The father, Michael, was neither a football player nor a student at Notre Dame. But he grew up within sight of the Golden Dome and stayed there in Mishawaka, Ind., next door to South Bend.

To quote his stepdaughter Katrin: "For generations, the Mazurkiewiczes have been Notre Dame fans. It's more than football. It's a lifestyle."

Joe Montana left Notre Dame in 1978. When he retired from the NFL in 1994, Cathy Mazurkiewicz was pregnant. Maybe the mother and father had the name in mind all along, maybe not. But how sweet the confluence of events. The best quarterback ever, a Notre Dame hero, passes into legend just as the Mazurkiewiczes need another great man's name.

So, Montana.

Perfect.

You write the story not to god up Notre Dame. There has been too much of that. You're worn out by the whole Touchdown Jesus drill. It's big-time college football, no more, no less.

You write it because Montana Mazurkiewicz was 10 years old and you read his obituary in the South Bend Tribune: "Montana loved fishing and football. He wanted to join the Army when he grew up and was made an Honorary Two Star General by the Indiana National Guard. He loved watching NASCAR, and animals, especially dogs. Montana always lit up a room when he came in with his smile. He could make people laugh and was such a prankster.

"Even though he had a funny side, Montana also was very kind, caring and helpful, especially to senior citizens. He liked the Denver Broncos and Notre Dame."

In the obituary, Montana's parents thanked pediatric oncologists, nurses, radiation technicians, doctors, teachers and a school principal who said, "Montana is just an angel, an absolute angel." They thanked Charlie Weis, too.

Weis is a husband and father who did what any of us would have done without being noticed, except he also is the Notre Dame football coach and a story of his own. He almost died in 2002 after gastric bypass surgery and believes he willed himself to live rather than leave his wife, Maura, his son, Charles, now 12 years old, and daughter, Hannah, who is 10 and afflicted with a disorder similar to autism.

When Weis came to visit Montana, he brought a football and T-shirts and caps.

"He told me about his love for Notre Dame football," the coach said at his weekly meeting with reporters, "how he just wanted to make it through this game this week."

It was Wednesday.

"He knew he was going," Weis said. "He had lost feeling in his lower body. While I'm sitting there, he has pains in his shoulders, asking his mother to rub him down. He's trying not to be a wimp."

That Saturday, Notre Dame would play at Washington. So Weis asked Montana Mazurkiewicz, "What can I do for you?"

"I don't know," the boy said.

"I'll tell you what," the coach said. "What do you want me to do on the first play of the game? Run or pass?"

A kid's gonna throw it, especially a Montana, so Weis promised a pass, a pass to the right.

Only he didn't expect Notre Dame's first possession to come on its own 1-yard line. Quarterback Brady Quinn knew the deal. The coach had told his players about the boy, not in a Gipper speech, just as a reminder that people notice what they do.

Now, backed into his own end zone, Quinn asked, "What are we going to do?"

"I got no choice," Weis said, "we're throwing it to the right."

In Mishawaka, only Cathy Mazurkiewicz knew. She was ready to forgive the coach if he ran the ball. He'd done enough. She closed her eyes. When she opened them, Quinn had run a bootleg right and passed for 13 yards.

Montana didn't see it. He had died the day before. His 16-year-old brother, Rockne, says, "I talked to Coach that day, and the only thing I asked is if they would play the game in my brother's memory."

On the Sunday after Notre Dame's 36-17 victory, Charlie Weis brought to the grieving Mazurkiewiczes a football signed by his players.

"It's in our living room," Rockne says.

"In a place of honor," Katrin says.

You write this story for Montana.

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