Notre Dame Football
The Captain Stephen J. Chaney story reads like a Hollywood script, one starring the likes of John Wayne. However Steve Chaney was a real person who grew up in Marion, Ohio and was killed in action in September of 1969 on a secret mission during the Vietnam War. The Green Beret soldier was only 23. On May 3, 2013 in a ceremony at the Ohio State House, Lt Governor Mary Taylor and a host of military officials posthumously inducted Steve and nineteen other Ohioans into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame.
Chaney was born in 1946 and graduated from Marion Catholic High School in 1964. A stellar athlete he was heavily recruited by most college football powers. His father was a career army man and sharing the love of the military, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Steve would attend West Point. However, a visit to Notre Dame woke up the echoes for Steve. At South Bend he saw the traditions of his Faith combined with that of the gridiron. Upon returning to Marion his parents were stunned with his desire to attend Notre Dame.
As Steve arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which sparked the United States’ heightened involvement in the conflict had just occurred. Before there was Pat Tilman (the football star who left the NFL to join the army and was killed in action in Afghanistan,) there was Steve Chaney. After one year at Notre Dame, Steve against the advice of fellow freshman and future Vietnam vet and Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier, would leave South Bend and a disappointed new Coach Ara Parseghian to enter the US Army. At that point the small anti-war movement only helped to push Chaney further toward doing what he could for the burgeoning war effort. Chaney entered the Army as an enlisted man and left as a Captain.
After one tour of duty he could have left the army, but Chaney saw the deterioration of the command structure and felt a younger leader like himself might help buttress morale. Because he led from the front, Chaney was popular with his men and the man from Marion felt he knew what it took to lead in those critical times. More than once Chaney had to pull aside a fellow officer and remind him of setting a moral example and living with what he was doing in the field, and the consequences a much Higher Power might inflict upon him at a yet undetermined date.
Chaney even confided in his parents, shortly before his second tour of Vietnam, that he secretly longed to return to Notre Dame and get back on the football team. Sadly that possibility never occurred as Captain Chaney was killed in action during a secret mission to Laos in September 1969. Caught in an ambush and a failed air assault, a critically injured Captain Chaney called in more air support all the while trying to locate all of his men. When helped arrived, he clung to life but only for a short time, he died before the helicopter landed at the nearby field hospital. Continue reading
After the college football national championship game, faith filled fans of Notre Dame Football need something positive on which to dwell, so how about a miraculous story surrounding Knute Rockne? Many readers may be aware of legendary Notre Dame Football Coach Knute Rockne’s winning prowess on the football field. However, he was also a budding scientist and man of faith. Before becoming a coach, then promising student Knute Rockne worked with famed Notre Dame Priest and scientist Father Julius Nieuwland who helped invent synthetic rubber and is the only priest in the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. Father Nieuwland CSC believed that a bright future lie ahead for his promising Chemistry student named Rockne. Both Father Nieuwland and the future Notre Dame Coach were immigrants, Father Nieuwland from Belgium and Knute Rockne from Norway. However, the labratory was not to be for Rockne, for it was the college gridiron where he would earn his lore.
While Rockne was surrounded by Catholicism, he was a Norwegian Lutheran. However, it was Coach Rockne’s players that helped convert him to Catholicism. What was it about Catholicism that did it? The Eucharist. During the early 1920’s when the Four Horseman strode the gridiron in South Bend, Coach Rockne was worried that all of the new found fame might make his players stray from the straight and narrow. The late George Gipp was known to do just that and a slightly older 30something Coach Rockne didn’t want that to happen again, so the coach would often keep a close eye on his players.
One morning Coach Rockne noticed several of his players leaving their dorms in the wee hours of the morning. He followed them to early morning Mass. Before practice that day he asked them about their movements in the wee hours. They informed him that they had early classes and couldn’t get to Mass any other time. “It’s that important to you,” Coach Rockne asked?”They told him that the Eucharist was just that important.
Coach Rockne then discussed the matter with several priests who gave him books to read about the Faith. In 1923, Knute Rockne was received into the Church, thanks in great part to the personal witness of his own players.
Knute Rockne is hardly alone in being a faithful example of Catholic leadership on the gridiron at Notre Dame. While Coach Gerry Faust will hardly be remembered for his record, no coach stands taller as a faith leader than Coach Faust who would tell anyone who would listen about the Catholic Church and “Our Lady.” Coach Faust was certainly helpful to me with regard to my first book and went out of his way to help me promote it. Keep in mind he didn’t know me from Adam only from meeting me at a high school football game, talking on the phone and reading the book’s manuscript. He spends many days a year at small Catholic school fundraisers that help those schools keep their doors open.
He is much beloved by his former Notre Dame players as well as those at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati where Coach Faust garnered his fame. While some have gone on to become college and NFL stars, others have achieved success in many different venues. In the late 1960s, one overachieving young man who played for Coach Faust at Archbishop Moeller High school came from a large working class Catholic family. He would go on to become the current Speaker of the House. Speaker John Boehner and Coach Faust remain in contact to this day and speak highly of of another.
I would be remiss in not mentioning former Coach Lou Holtz who also does his fair share of fundraisers for worthy Catholic charities. He can rattle of the names of every grade school nun who taught him back in East Liverpool, Ohio. Obviously there is so much more I could write, but I go into much more detail about this and many other matters in my book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn. I hope this helps paint the picture of Knute Rockne and two other coaches at Notre Dame who were leaders of men and personal examples of faith.