Noie: Saturday was special for Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell for more than just basketball
Four years ago next week, on the eve of Notre Dame’s first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game, a New Jersey high school senior point guard called coach Mike Brey and offered a verbal commitment.
Nobody around the Irish program knew much about Matt Farrell. That was fine. Farrell knew plenty about Notre Dame thanks to his paternal grandfather.
Robert “Bo” Farrell graduated from Notre Dame in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree. In the decades that followed, he shared so many stories about his time on campus with two of his grandsons, Matt, and his older brother, Robert, who, like his grandfather, also goes by Bo. Their grandparents’ home back in New Jersey is filled with Notre Dame memorabilia.
Weekend visits with the grandparents often aren’t complete without a big meal, a lot of laughs and love. That was true at the Farrells, where big family dinners often meant aunts and uncles and cousins and shrimp scampi. And stories. Those gatherings were way too big for everyone to sit at the same table, so they’d scatter to different parts of the home.
Nursing a bottle of Coors Light or maybe a glass of Dewar’s scotch, the family patriarch eventually would pull out some of his old video tapes. On them were movies and documentaries about Knute Rockne. He’d pop them into the VCR before dinner. During dinner. After dinner. Everyone would watch. They had no choice.
At the Farrell house, it was all Notre Dame all the time.
So when Farrell had the chance coming out of Point Pleasant Beach High School to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and attend Notre Dame, he was going to do it. He had to do it. On that March, 2014 night he committed, Farrell talked about what it meant to have the opportunity. What it meant to his grandfather.
In a lot of ways, it was for him.
“For me, to play here and wear that last name on the back of the jersey and not only represent him but represent my family, it’s been a blessing,” Farrell said Monday.
Hours after one of his greatest moments on the basketball court in Winston-Salem, N.C., Farrell’s grandfather died Sunday in a New Jersey nursing home. He was 82.
“He meant a lot to me and my entire family,” Farrell said.
Farrell’s grandfather loved his grandmother. A lot. The two would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this year. But he also loved Notre Dame. A lot.
“He lived and breathed Notre Dame,” Bo Farrell said of his grandfather Monday morning.
The last few years were rough health-wise for Farrell’s grandfather. He suffered from lung and prostrate cancer. He recently had his left leg amputated from vascular disease, subsequently contracted pneumonia and, as a result, respiratory failure. Pain was a constant companion. But he always managed to watch his grandson on TV. It was appointment viewing. It was again Saturday afternoon with a host of family at his bedside. And what a game they watched.
With his parents, Robert Jr. and Michelle, in the Joel Coliseum stands — they’re regulars at home and on the road — Farrell became the 62nd player in school history to score at least 1,000 points in his career. Farrell saved his best for last. He connected on a 3-pointer with the shot clock set to expire in the closing seconds of a tie game. The Irish won it, 76-71.
It was the ultimate final gift for his grandfather.
“It’s awesome,” Farrell said of his grandfather seeing both memorable moments. “It’s powerful stuff. It’s something I’ll never forget and something our family will never forget.”
Farrell also never will forget the stories. So many stories. Like the time his grandfather rewired Dillon Hall and almost burned it to the ground. Farrell heard that one a lot. One of the other go-to tales was about how his grandfather had a car on campus – even though he wasn’t allowed to have a car on campus.
The Rev. Rudy Carchidi, who also lived in Dillon Hall, knew about the car, so he struck a deal. Farrell’s grandfather could keep the car on one condition. Come every Friday at 5 p.m., he would have to park it near the library. And leave the keys.
He also had to leave a six-pack of beer in the backseat.
Every. Single. Friday.
The car. The keys. The six-pack.
When Farrell’s grandfather would return to the parking spot the next day, the car would be there, but the six-pack would be gone. He eventually learned that the priests would take the car – and the six-pack – to a nearby drive-in movie theater.
Farrell will play Wednesday, then leave that night by car for New Jersey with his parents and his brother. His grandfather’s viewing is Thursday, the funeral Friday. He’ll meet up Friday night with Notre Dame in Charlottesville, Va., for Saturday’s season finale against No. 1 Virginia. He may be running on fumes and pure emotion for that one, but when Farrell gets focused to win a game for somebody, watch out.
Ten days ago, Notre Dame visited Boston College without the services of its leading scorer and rebounder Bonzie Colson. It was Colson’s final trip back to his native Massachusetts and back to the campus and the program where his father once served as an assistant coach. Colson vowed never to lose to Boston College during his four seasons.
With Colson on the sideline, and knowing how much a win meant to his roommate, Farrell tied the school record with 10 3-pointers and scored a career-high 37 points in an 84-67 victory. The Irish went 8-0 against the Eagles during Colson’s collegiate career.
That game was for Farrell’s best friend. The rest will be for his grandfather. He’’ll be watching somewhere.
And he’ll be plenty proud.