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Irish Insights

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When It's More Than A Game

A year ago, during a television timeout at Michigan Stadium, Eric Olsen and John Ferrara glanced across the field at each other and started laughing.

They had reached this point, the two close friends from grade school in Staten Island, N.Y. on up -- to where Olsen, a Notre Dame offensive lineman, and Ferrara, then a Michigan defensive lineman, were actually playing against each other in one of college football's most storied rivalries.

The two actually hit each other once -- Ferrara rushed and briefly made contact with Olsen before Olsen went to pick up a linebacker -- but their spot on the field together was something remembered forever and immortalized in a photograph in the Olsen home.

Yet there is more meaning this day.

Notre Dame and Michigan play Saturday in South Bend and considering the week, it is in a way a tribute.

Olsen's father, Andy, was a New York City firefighter who was dispatched to Ground Zero on 9/11 and in the months after. Ferrara's father recently retired as a New York City cop who was stationed at Police Headquarters four blocks from the World Trade Center.

And when the Twin Towers fell seven years ago today, Ferrara and Olsen were actually in a middle school math class together.

"I remember we were just sitting there and hearing rumors left and right and didn't know what was going on," Ferrara said. "People were getting pulled out of school and really it was very chaotic at school. We had no clue what was going on.

"Eventually, my mom came and got me."

Olsen's dad ended up arriving at Ground Zero right after the towers collapsed. Ferrara's father was asked to stay and secure police headquarters in case terrorists attempted to attack the building.

"I didn't realize how grave the situation was," Ferrara said.

The lifelong friends will be reunited Saturday -- and so will their families. The Ferraras are staying with the Olsens this weekend in South Bend, reuiniting their families in the Midwest instead of in the small island south of Manhattan.

The world works in funny ways, and this seems more than a little coincidental.

"Yes," Olsen's father, Andy, said. "I don't know. I can't put my finger on it but it is like that. I don't know what to say about it."

"It doesn't come across our mind too much but it's kind of crazy that something like this falls on this weekend," Ferrara said. "...It was just a terrible thing and it's great we can commemorate it by playing this weekend."

One thing will be different than last year for the two, though.

In the off-season, Ferrara switched from defensive line to offensive line, so the two can't play against each other anymore. Ferrara wouldn't say who would have won a one-on-one matchup.

"We were two good opponents," Ferrara said. "I wish I could say we'll see this weekend, but now I'm on the offensive side of the ball."

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