Jan 20, 2014, 10:17 PM EST
Mike Franz, the official 2013-14 men’s basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at Holy Cross College. Over the course of the year Mike will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Mike (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBlogger.
Sunday night Notre Dame Basketball played the Virginia Tech Hokies. This was Notre Dame’s third ACC home game and the first home game since school was back in session for students. During the past three games the Irish have lost some tough matchups. If the team would win out the rest of the schedule, their record would improve to 24-7. With their 70-63 win tonight, Notre Dame has begun that journey.
The main selling point for the 8,800 plus fans in attendance to go to the game was not the action on the court itself. Rather, it was the honoring of former head coach and Notre Dame legend, Digger Phelps through his introduction into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor. The introduction’s date was fitting because it was 40 years to the date that Digger’s Irish squad upset #1 ranked UCLA back on January 19th, 1974, breaking the Bruins 88-game winning streak.
Sunday’s game was all about Phelps. It started with fans receiving their commemorative Digger Phelps glow sticks for the night when they walked in the door. Then it was made even more special whenever a timeout was called.
During each of these stoppages of play, a different person that was close to Digger would come up on the jumbotron to congratulate Digger on his introduction into the Ring of Honor. These began with Bobby Knight and then continued with appearances from Jay Bilas, Rece Davis, Laphonso Ellis, Ara Parseghian and even Bill Walton, who played on the 1973-74 UCLA team that lost in the historic matchup against Phelps 40 years prior.
“I wish I was there personally to put the ring around Digger’s neck,” Walton jokingly said while congratulating Phelps.
Along with these congratulatory videos, the jumbotron also showed video montages showcasing Phelps’ highlighted career at Notre Dame capped with highlights of the UCLA/Notre Dame game with “Don’t Stop Believing” playing in the background. That video in particular gave me goosebumps.
Many of Phelps’ former players returned for tonight’s ceremony at halftime including members of the 1973-1974 squad who upset UCLA. The ’73-74 team came out onto the court and was honored during the under-12 minute media timeout in the first half.
Needless to say it was a very emotional night for Digger. The night reached its pinnacle at halftime when the actual ceremony took place. While waiting for the go-ahead to walk out onto the court, I could see from my vantage point tears beginning to billow up in Phelps’ eyes.
I believe it was at this moment that the entire essence of what was going on finally hit him. When first on the court, a spotlight was put onto Phelps that made him look like an angel on Earth.
Phelps then, alongside his former teammates and fellow coaching staff, watched as his banner was revealed along side of the other Ring of Honor inductees.
Following the banner reveal, Digger went on to give a great speech which he is accustomed to doing. He began with thanking everyone, from the players who returned tonight to members of his family, as well as the fans and student body. He also went on and told fans in attendance how Ara Parseghian was like his big brother when he first arrived on campus at Notre Dame.
“I went up to Ara and told him what you have done with the football program, I want to do with the basketball program,” Phelps explained.
He also spoke highly of Father Hesburgh, as well, who was a role model to him. “What Mother Teresa did as a nun, Father Hesburgh did as a priest,” he said. “Father Hesburgh is a living saint.”
Phelps then concluded his speech with how he started it… saying thank you. “And I want to thank you today for another Notre Dame moment. God bless. I love you”
Phelps really does love Notre Dame. It showed Sunday night with the pure joy and happiness that exuded from his face. Digger Phelps is a coach, a father, a role model and now, with the Ring of Honor ceremony, a Notre Dame legend.
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