John Habib's City Sports: City's biggest ND fan hopes for history to repeat
Manchester's biggest Notre Dame football fan was there the last time the Fighting Irish won a national championship. As the years went past and Notre Dame slipped into mediocrity, Mickey Hanagan accepted that he'd never get see the Irish win another.
"I was in Tempe (Arizona) in 1988 to see Notre Dame win its last championship," Hanagan said this week. "After two decades since that game, I told myself I won't be around to see their next championship. Now I'm just happy that isn't the case."
Excuse Hanagan - also known locally as a youth baseball coach of more than six decades - if he's getting a bit ahead of himself. To claim the title, No. 1 ranked Notre Dame still has to beat second-ranked Alabama in the BCS Championship Monday night.
But if the Irish do pull the upset - yes, Alabama, the defending national champion, is favored, the teams' rankings notwithstanding - Hanagan once again will be able to say he was there.
A lifelong fan who has attended at least one Notre Dame home game every season since 1976, Hanagan is in Florida, tickets in hand for the title game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
"Tickets weren't hard to get because I've been going to Notre Dame games since 1976," he said. "I'd say over the last six or seven years, I've been to three home games a year in South Bend (Ind.). I still enjoy going."
The face value of Hanagan's game ticket for Monday's national game is $350.
"I don't exactly know where my seat is, but when I went to the national championship game in 1988, the face value of that ticket was only $30," Hanagan said. "The other day, I got a call from a friend from Massachusetts who is a graduate of Notre Dame. He told me he bought two tickets for $5,800 to take his son to the game.
"I'm sure tickets on the streets for this game are in the thousands. They're not easy to get. I understand that each school was guaranteed 17,000 tickets, and there were over 100,000 ticket applications from Notre Dame alone for this game."
In 1988, Hanagan went to the game with the late Min Valavane, a beloved Manchester youth baseball coach who also was a high school official for many years in the Granite State. This year, Hanagan and fellow Manchester resident Brad Duffy plan to visit former Manchester Memorial basketball coach Peter Poirier and former local politician and Golden Gloves boxing great Robert Rivard in Florida before Monday's game.
The '88 Irish, coached by Lou Holtz, completed a 12-0 campaign with a 34-21 victory over No. 3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, wrapping up their 11th national title. That came as no surprise to Hanagan, who earlier had seen Notre Dame beat Miami and Southern Cal, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the time they faced the Irish.
"They snapped Miami's long (36-game) winning streak that year," Hanagan said. "You kind of knew, if they could beat Miami, then they could handle West Virginia."
This year is different, with some point spreads favoring Alabama by as many as 10 points.
Hanagan called Alabama a "tough, talented team" but said he's happy the Fighting Irish are facing the Crimson Tide instead of Georgia or Oregon.
"It would have been nice to face (former Manchester Central High and University of New Hampshire player and coach, now Oregon head coach) Chip Kelly and his team, but Oregon with its speed would have been scary to defend (against)," Hanagan said.
"Georgia has a terrific passing game, which is just hard to stop. Alabama's main weapon is its running game, and I believe Notre Dame's front seven is more than capable of stopping the run."
Hanagan said regular-season wins against Oklahoma and Stanford showed the Irish can meet and conquer the challenge when few pick them to win.
"I like Notre Dame coming in as the underdog," he said. "They've played well when people have picked them to lose. There's no question (Notre Dame quarterback Everett) Golson will have to play well for Notre Dame to win. There's no getting around it."
Hanagan said he'll attend the Notre Dame pep rally over the weekend and collect souvenir items to bring to his home, a veritable shrine to the fighting Irish.
The entrance to his basement has a replica of the sign outside the Notre Dame locker room that reads "Play Like a Champion Today," the last thing the Irish see as they enter the tunnel leading out to the field at Notre Dame Stadium.
"Anyone who heads down my cellar has to hit the sign above them just like the players do when they run down the stairs into the tunnel," said Hanagan, who entertained former Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty in his home in 1995
Also adorning a wall is an autograph of former Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger, inspiration for the eponymous film.
Hanagan's large memorabilia collection also includes jerseys of Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winners Paul Hornung, John Huarte, Johnny Lujack, Tim Brown, as well as one of All-American Tony Rice.
"To be honest, I don't really have much room left in the house to add many more things," Hanagan laughed. "I'm pretty much at capacity right now,"
As for a prediction for Monday's score, Hanagan said, "It will be close: Notre Dame 21, Alabama 17. Notre Dame has a tough front seven to hold Alabama below 20 points. We're bringing the national championship back to South Bend."
"City Sports" appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at email@example.com.