SOUTH BEND – Right now its that field down there, unlined and green as Galway. Thats what John Goodman will miss most when the last snap is done. Thats what will linger for him when winter crowds in, and all that remains are echoes of echoes.
Right here, right now? he says on media day on Aug. 16, looking out from the Notre Dame Stadium press box.
He nods vaguely toward the grass and the goalposts and the tunnel down at the north end, and Touchdown Jesus peering over the stadium rim above that.
Yeah, Id think the stadium.
And not, of course. You come to Notre Dame from a Catholic high school that dressed the part in gold helmets and navy jerseys, see, you buy the whole package. Even though they redshirt you and you play for two head coaches and three position coaches – even though you never become the star every kid who comes here aches to be – the place gets inside of you anyway. You wouldnt be the kind of kid who came here if it didnt.
And so here we are at the start of John Goodmans last autumn at Notre Dame, and what hes going to miss most, he ultimately says, is everything. It all depends where he happens to be at a given time.
If I was over at the Gug, Id think This place, and how every single day made me better, Goodman says. Or if Im over in a classroom, Id think this classroom with all these people. Or if Im walking on campus and I look over and see the Dome. Theres so many different things I will miss about this place.
And, sure, thats true of any kid on any campus that has the weight of history behind it, because tradition, for college football, is the most valuable coin in the realm. To say its any less valuable for, say, an Alabama kid at Alabama, is to devalue the entire business.
And still: That tradition, that sense of place, doesnt come any dearer than it does for a John Goodman, who came here with certain hopes and saw hardly any of them realized, except for the experience itself.
I came in thinking OK, Im going to have coach (Charlie) Weis for my four years, Goodman says. But once you get here and you realize how it goes, you begin to adapt.
Its just something youve got to get used to and something youve got to adapt to, and if you dont youre going to get left behind.
And so he adapted. A star quarterback and receiver at Bishop Dwenger, Goodmans mostly been a return man at Notre Dame. In four years, hes played in 35 games and started five. Hes caught 28 passes and scored one touchdown.
And you know what?
He wouldnt trade it for anything. And the program wouldnt trade him.
Within the program, John Goodman has an unbelievable respect among his teammates, says his position coach, Mike Denbrock. They want to be like him.
Id love to see him catch 75 passes and 15 touchdowns and quiet his critics that are out there. Hes a quality young man and a good football player.
And, because of that, he was never going to not come back for a fifth year.
Football, Goodman says, is something I live to do. Its something I want to do for as long as I can. This is a special place. Its a place you want to come back to. I was in here the summer before people got here, and Ive been here a semester after people left. So Ive been here a long time, and its a place that I love.
And a place that, in ways he never could have figured, has earned his love.