Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

From the Beginning

February 28, 2019
6,886

People have often asked me about this, so I thought I’d take the time to write it down for everyone to read.  

How did a Nebraska boy grow up becoming a big ND fan, and start a business following Notre Dame sports?  

I was/am a huge ND fan from way back.  I remember watching the ’77 ND bowl game and watching my father go completely out of his mind about that game.  I had never seen him so excited about anything, other than maybe when I happened to get into trouble, which, sadly, happened to be quite a bit, and that was anything but joy, I can assure you.    

I remember thinking to myself: “ what could possibly be so exciting” and that’s where my love of football began, and my allegiance to Notre Dame was formed.  

I’m not going to lie and say that I watched every game, I certainly didn’t.  I was a kid, and kids back then went outside and played….all day…every chance they got, especially on Saturdays…yet another great tradition that is sadly dying off. 

So I didn’t watch every game when I was a kid, but I did watch a good number of them.  Mainly the ones I knew my Dad was getting excited about.  Otherwise, I was out playing football, or any other sport, as that’s what kids did in those days.  

My Dad LOVED football,  I don’t think anyone has any idea how much my Dad loved football.  It was like breathing for him.  He was a great football player in high school, but you could be 5-9 and 160-pound middle linebacker for a Catholic high school in those days and be great, and he was exactly that.  I was never as big as he was, and that next generation grew, so I wasn’t a great player.  

He loved any sport.  Anything with competition he loved, but mostly sports.  He’d almost always get kicked out of games as a spectator, even watching junior varsity girls basketball when nobody in his family or immediate friends were playing…and I’m not lying about that!  He just loved competition, and he LOVED to win, and HATED to lose….at anything, even if he wasn’t a playing.  He chose a side and then it was all out war!  If he couldn’t play, he’d cheer harder than anyone.    

For anyone who has watched a game with me, he is the reason I act the way I do.  I will blame it on him, although I can control my own actions, but he was my football watching mentor.  He was FAR worse than me, although that’s a very, very, very low bar to reach.  Regretfully, I’ve reached it more than a few times.  

It was hard to be a ND fan living in Nebraska.  You couldn’t just find a Notre Dame shirt anywhere.  You had to look deep and far.  It was a real commitment to the hunt to wear the blue and gold proudly.  I didn’t find many ND shirts in my quest along the way—mostly Sears catalog and their clothes were even worse then than they are today.  

I remember living in the middle of Nebraska and there was literally no way to find out about ND football.  There were no stories written about it in the local paper.  There was no updates given.  You couldn’t find out any information on the local radio shows.  You simply knew ND football by what you watched during those 11 and sometimes 12 games a year.  That is all you knew.  You knew who the head coach was because they’d show him on TV.  You knew some of the players as the commentators would talk about them, but you really only knew the starting 24, some reserves and maybe a coordinator’s name, but that was it.  

Living in Nebraska, I knew much more about the Husker team, depth chart, recruiting, than I had ever known about ND football.  I suppose that’s what drove the passion more and more for me.  I couldn’t find out anything about it, so my pursuit to find out drove my passion for ND football even deeper.  

As I grew in years, I started watching more and more football, in fact, it became a weekly, all day Saturday thing about the time I hit 16.  I just loved the violence, the art of watching a great play develop, and the chess game of football.  My Dad and I loved to watch it together.  Probably the only thing we agreed upon at that time.  I honestly think my actual calling in life was to be the head coach of Notre Dame football, but so far nobody has called me.  I certainly think I know best, as many of you know by now.    

When the time came to go to college, I knew I’d have a very difficult time watching ND games.  I knew I’d be the lone Irish fan in a sea of Husker fanatics.  A picture made much worse when you’re involved in a fraternity and you add alcohol to that fire.  

I didn’t have much money at all in college.  My Dad made me pay for everything but school (sincerely, thank you Dad), so I had to make difficult choices with the cash I earned slinging tacos at the local taco joint.  

One sacrifice that wasn’t going to be made was my only connection and lifeline to Notre Dame football.

About the time I got to college, I found some of the mailing periodicals that were out there covering ND football.  Man, what a goldmine that was.  I couldn’t wait for my next issue.  I could find out about the team.  I knew about the up-and-coming players.  I learned the names of some of the assistants and their thoughts on their position group.  I learned about “the stripe,” and how important that was back in the Holtz days.  I learned about their recruiting, and who was interested and visiting.  I just couldn’t get enough of it, but it was very costly, even back then, if you wanted first class mailing.  

In fact,I made it VERY clear to my employers that I absolutely would not work on a Saturday.  That was non-negotiable, and I even quit a job because they scheduled me on a Saturday.  Actually, I didn’t quit, I just didn’t show up.  I remember seeing the schedule early in that week, and I remember reminding the supervisor of our agreement.  She said “well, you’ll just have to come in as we need you.”  I assured her that I would not be attending work that day, and I chuckled when she called me to ask why I wasn’t there.  “Did you think I was kidding?”  

I was fortunate enough to experience greatness my 2nd year in college.  The Irish won the National Championship in 1988.  

I celebrated the day by goading my fraternity brothers mercilessly.  See, Nebraska sucked back then.  Well, they didn’t suck.  They’d beat the crap out of everyone, play Oklahoma the last game of the year as an undefeated team and the almost always lose to Oklahoma in that last game…a game I adored because it brought so much misery to Husker fans.  Long live the Switzer!  

This particular year, they did make it to the Orange Bowl, but they didn’t make it to the “big game,”  As a consolation prize, I kept rolling oranges down the stairs to the TV room to remind them which game they were playing in.  If memory serves, I’m pretty sure they lost, which brought me great joy.  They later gave me a prize of my own by putting my Honda Accord up on kegs so I couldn’t go anywhere.  That wasn’t my last prize of the day.  

As the Fiesta Bowl neared, I waltzed downstairs wearing a big sombrero, carrying two bags of Tostitos and some salsa.  I wanted them to “enjoy the Fiesta Bowl on me and see how a real football team played football.”  

It went ND’s way early, and of course, I was obnoxious the entire game.  As the final seconds ticked of, I got up, had a big stretch, and announced to the crowd I was going to get another beer to celebrate.  I walked up the stairs and I could tell I was being followed.  Someone had some plans for me, but I knew I was pretty fast and could get away.  And, I did, until I got to the very top of the stairs where another group of my brothers met me.

It’s cold in Nebraska, especially late in the evening in early January.  There was snow the ground, and an angry mob came to get their revenge, and they got it.  I was stripped to my underwear, tied to the median out front with a cardboard sign that read “Notre Dame sucks” strapped to my chest.

It didn’t take long before Johnny Law happened upon me.  As the officer got out of the car, my “brothers” were roaring with laughter from the front porch.  “Leave his *** out there.”  

“What the hell are you doing out here?”  I was asked.

“Well, you see, sir, I’m a Notre Dame fan, and they just won the National Championship.  All those #&&$^%@#@ over there are Nebraska fans, they lost and and they’re just jealous.

“I should just leave your dumb *** out here,” he said.  

I took one for the team, and I’m damn proud of it today.   They at least save med some dignity and I didn’t have to explain the Costanza “shrinkage” by leaving my underwear on.  

Even after finding all this great news about ND through these periodicals, the berth of cable TV and so much more information, I never dreamed I could go to a game.  Where would I find tickets?  I didn’t know a single ND fan other than my family, and certainly nobody with access to tickets.  How would I get there?  I’d never driven 12 hours anywhere before.  Where would I stay?  It all seemed so impossible.  

Then came the internet (thank you, Al Gore).  Holy moly, what a treasure trove of information.  I found ”Tom Schlidt’s Irish Recruiting Journal.”  Tom was a local student at ND running a ND football message board on the ND server.  He and others posted all the latest rumors about practice, the team, recruiting, etc.  I was in “Notre Dame Heaven.”   

I didn’t have to wait a week to find out.  I could even ask questions and people had answers for me.  What a great idea!  Thanks again, Al.  

I was bitten…hard…by the recruiting bug, and my pursuit to know everything about ND football was now the ultimate quest.    

I became the biggest recruiting junkie I’ve ever known—yes bigger than you.  I figured, recruiting is the lifeline to the program,.  You have to recruit well or your team is going to suck.  Clearly, Tom Lemming knows who the best players are because he has so much information in this book he puts out, and so does Allen Wallace and a few of the others.  They know, and I NEEDED to know where these amazing saviors of the program were going.

I became so obsessed I contacted Tom Lemming.  I contacted Allen Wallace.  I contacted everyone I could find in the industry to see if I could get involved.  Nobody wanted me.  

My big breakthrough happened in ESPN chat one night.  I was regurgitating all my “knowledge” about football and recruiting and I happened to notice this guy in chat who kept talking about recruiting, and all these recruits I had read about.  He had a handle named Gator something or another.  I just knew he was a Florida fan based on his handle.  

I started chatting with him, first in big ESPN chat, and then privately on the ESPN private chat.  I came to find out his name was Jamie Newberg.  He worked for an Atlanta TV station as the producer for a local TV show there called “Countdown to Signing Day,” and he also just started his own business named “Border Wars.”   Countdown showcased all the local talent in the Atlanta area, and also followed Southeast recruiting.  It was hugely popular down there, but we, up in the midwest, never got to see it.  Border Wars was a monthly publication that followed Florida and Georgia recruiting that was just starting to explode.    

I immediately went in hard and heavy with my pitch.  I thought I’d never get another chance so I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  “I will work for you for free.  I will even pay for my own calls.”   Back then, long distance was expensive.  I figured it was cheaper than Tom Lemming’s 900 line, however.  I was thrilled when I found a deal for 10 cents a minute for long distance, but still, my phone bills were $400 every month.  

Jamie couldn’t have been more receptive.  I worked for free for two plus years, and he became one of my best friends, and still is a great friend today.  He introduced me to Brent Eads and Greg Biggins and Student Sports.  I worked for them for free for the same two years.  And then they introduced me to Rick Kimbrell, and pretty much everyone else in the industry.  

Finally, after going broke, losing my first wife (it was doomed from the start, and she told me I was wasting my time with this), I decided I had to either go “all in” or just quit.

My friend created me a website, and Jamie and my friends at Student Sports helped me with phone numbers and the “Mike Frank Recruiting Report” was officially born.  I was officially the first person to run a premium website following one specific team and recruiting.  

I had 140 subscribers that first year at $40 a piece.  I could at least pay for my expenses!  

There are another 20 years of ups and downs I could go through, but I’m not sure anyone is interested in that.  They just want to know how it started, and so here is how it all began.  

People often say:  “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.”  

I call BS on that because what you love quickly becomes a job, but I do still love the job.  

I’ve often been asked if I regretted starting the business, and the answer is always no, but I have regretted that I moved to South Bend, but only because of family.  

The business would’ve never survived had I not, but I do regret moving because I lost so many opportunities to watch football with my Dad.  To see that crazed look on his face, the spit flowing from his lips as he cursed every play of every game.  Some of the very best times of my life were sitting in the chair opposite of him learning how to be a complete lunatic while watching this game we loved, and this thing that brought two very opposite people together.  

My Dad never did see a game in ND Stadium.  Like me, he wanted to watch it at home because we simply cannot stand to have to control ourselves while watching.

I used to kid him all the time that at least I had the excuse that I was losing thousands of dollars when they lost because people would get mad and cancel when they lost (and they do).  

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write something about this today, other than to say, sometimes ignorance is bliss!  As we get ready to figure out who is moving where with spring practice starting, and fret about how they will ever solve their problems in the middle of the Irish defense this season, sometimes I just wish it were my dad and I sitting in those old chairs.  He could talk down to me because he was a great football player and I wasn’t and didn’t know what I was talking about, and I’d just listen.  

I’d give about anything to go back there right now.  

Keep your family close, and remember to enjoy the great times with ND football.  It’s what brings people together and has made so many fond memories for many of us!  

 

 

 

 
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