I stand before the sporting public -- proud as a peacock, sober as a scarecrow -- to declare my devotion to Notre Dame football.

Whereas I once hated Notre Dame, I now hail Notre Dame.

And how did this stunning reversal of fandom occur? Through the magic of the movies. You heard me right. Tinseltown, the big screen, hurray for Hollywood.

Like the rest of you, I grew up rooting against Notre Dame. As a kid, I watched that Notre Dame highlights show Lindsey Nelson narrated and -- even though I knew the Fighting Irish had won -- I'd sit there and hope that if I cheered hard enough, the final score would change.

As an adult, I was equally adolescent in my emotions toward Touchdown Jesus and Golden Domers. I would root for bacterial fungus before I would root for Notre Dame.

And I hated the fact that Notre Dame had its own television network.

(Every autumn Saturday afternoon, wherever you were in America, your TV set would beam Notre Dame and "Soul Train.") Then, in one fateful week several years ago, I saw "Knute Rockne: All American" and "Rudy." As each film's closing credits ran, I realized that if any of my ex-wives had let me even touch them, I would've sent my would-be sons to Notre Dame.

In "Knute Rockne," you hear Knute's father, Lars, tell Knute about America: "It's big enough for anything, son, or for anybody. That's why we're going there." He made me want to immigrate here all over again; in fact, I'm taking the next Acela to Ellis Island.

You hear Knute's girl, Bonnie, tell him, "I can cook and sew and you'll get a job." Those were the days, my friends.

You hear Father Newland imploring Knute to be a chemist; everyone else -- including ESPN -- wanted Knute to be a football coach. Tough choice for the young man: synthetic rubber or split formations. Fortunately, he chose the gridiron.

You see Knute Rockne invent the forward pass, coach the Four Horsemen and make that famous halftime speech. By movie's end, I sprinted all the way to South Bend to apply for admission. Sadly, I was told that the University of Maryland was more my speed.

Rudy Ruettiger was stopped at those same gates. By the time he busted through them in "Rudy," I was writing a check to the Notre Dame Athletic Foundation.

"You're five feet nothing, a hundred and nothing," Charles S. Dutton tells Rudy, when he talks him out of quitting. "And you've got hardly a speck of athletic ability. . . . In this lifetime, you don't have to prove nothing to nobody but yourself." Who among us hasn't heard that? Following Rudy's inspirational lead, I am now a respected journeyman in four athletic pursuits -- bowling, poker, billiards and miniature golf.

And how can the end of "Rudy" not move you to tears? It even tugged at my heart, and I bought my heart at Kmart.

When they start chanting, "Rudy! Rudy!" I get a little choked up. When he charges onto the field, I get misty-eyed. And when he makes a tackle, I go positively Dick Vermeil.

You think we're ever going to see these types of movies about Florida State, Florida or Miami?

So on Saturday, when my guys converted an audacious fourth-and-15 play in the first quarter against Michigan State, I started hugging my Charlie Weis bobblehead doll. And when Notre Dame rallied from a 38-17 deficit to tie the game late, I mounted my coffee table and, like Jack in "Titanic," declared, "I'm the king of the world!" Or words to that effect.

"Drive, drive, drive!" Weis implored his team on the sideline, or so I thought. "Get 'em, get 'em, get 'em!"

Then some Michigan State "student-athlete" running back, just off suspension, ran for a touchdown in overtime, giving the Spartans the 44-41 victory; I collapsed between the coffee table and the couch. Maybe Coach Weis should follow Knute Rockne's lead -- he once took his entire team to a Rockettes show, and even diagrammed a play while watching the chorus line. Either that, or offer Rudy a scholarship.

Ask The Slouch

Q. How can there be eight Russians ranked in the top 20 of women's tennis? (Marc Feingold; Seattle)

A. There's been a nice run of weather over there the last several years.

Q. Since you picked the Cardinals as your Team of Destiny two years in a row, does that give any of your ex-wives hope that you will pick them again? (Brian Howarth; Bay Village, Ohio)

A. Hope? No. Fear? Yes.

Q. How would you respond if your readers unionized and demanded $1.75 per published question? Would you obtain replacement scab writers? (Jay Roseman; Lyndhurst, Ohio)

A. I respect the labor movement too much. If such a scenario developed, Ask The Slouch would shut down.

Q. Is it true the new Tennessee state prison will be built in Knoxville so the Vols can walk to practice? (Chris Erdman; Hainesville, Ill.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

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