De Arrieta returns to Golden Dome | NevadaAppeal.com

De Arrieta returns to Golden Dome

Dave Price

To any true college football fan, watching a game played at Notre Dame Stadium is a special experience. Indescribable might be more accurate if you’re talking about a true fan of the Fighting Irish.

Just ask Jim de Arrieta, who also happens to be among the select few who can say they’ve played on the field at Notre Dame.

“It still chokes me up when I hear the band come into the stadium playing the fight song,” said the long-time Carson City resident was Notre Dame’s punter and multi-purpose player during the 1968-69 seasons.

De Arrieta, who sells insurance in Carson City these days, has even found a way to regain contact with the Notre Dame tradition by traveling back to South Bend to serve as an usher at home games the last two seasons. It’s not the same as playing, but it’s pretty hard to beat his view from the stands.

“I’m on field level, about 10 yards behind the end zone at the north end of the stadium, right about the tunnel where both teams and the band come out,” he said.

De Arrieta placed a telephone call to Notre Dame’s athletic department, discovered he was still remembered, and landed a weekend job as usher for the 2003 season and again this fall.

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Yes, he’s glad to be back.

“I hadn’t been back in the 30 years since I graduated,” he said. “I had coached (kickers at Carson High) for 20 years, which always tied up my Friday nights and pretty much made it impossible to get back there for a Saturday game.

“I finally got back there four years ago and that got me all fired up again. I remember telling my wife at the time, ‘I need to be a part of this again, even if it’s just picking up papers at the quad.”

There must be flashbacks to a road that led from Humboldt County High School in Winnemucca, where he played quarterback. His senior year at Notre Dame featured a visit to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1970, when the Irish made their first bowl game appearance in 45 years. Notre Dame – 8-1-1, with Joe Theismann at quarterback and Ara Parseghian as head coach – faced the then No. 1 ranked Texas Longhorns, who came from behind to win 21-17 and secure the national championship. A year later, the Irish won a rematch in the Cotton Bowl 24-11, ending the Longhorns’ 30-game win streak.

Notre Dame football has no win streaks at the moment. In fact, the Fighting Irish are reeling from a 41-10 defeat against No. 1 USC on Saturday night, extending a streak in which they’ve lost to the Trojans each of the last three years. By respective scores of 41-10, 45-14 and 44-13.

And on Tuesday, the university announced that Tyrone Willingham will not be retained as head coach. Though somewhat surprised, de Arrieta said the announcement wasn’t completely unexpected.

“It’s a sad thing because the guy is a first class individual,” de Arrieta said of Willingham. “It kind of took me by surprise because they usually honor a coach’s contract, and he still had something like two years left on his contract. But I feel they were getting a lot of pressure from a lot of different areas to get someone in there to fire the kids up.

“Losing to USC by 31 points three years in a row was probably a factor. It probably came down to, enough is enough.”

Willingham’s record was 21-15 at Notre Dame, 6-5 this season, including an invitation to play in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., on Dec. 28.

“There have been a lot of heart breakers,” de Arrieta said. “BYU was a three-point loss, Boston College a one-point loss and Pitt a three-point loss.

“I think you have to look at the tough schedule, too,” he added. “They beat Michigan and Tennessee, and even though they lost to Boston College and Pitt, those are both good teams. And everyone always wants to beat Notre Dame, especially in South Bend. Other teams want to go in and win in their house.”

So, even for the fiercest of rivals, Notre Dame is a special place to play.

There’s more than the playing of the games on Saturday afternoon, de Arrieta pointed out. There’s the tradition of fans following the band as it marches across campus to the pep rally on Friday night. Then on Saturday before the game, the band plays for about 45 minutes at Bond Hall before proceeding across the campus to the front gates of the stadium.

“It’s just awesome,” he said. “Once you’ve been there and experienced the entire football weekend, then you understand what it all means. It becomes part of your soul.”

Contact Dave Price at dprice@nevadaappeal or call 881-1220.