Roger Valdiserri: A champion of all things Notre Dame
Roger Valdiserri was the gatekeeper of information for the Notre Dame football and basketball programs for nearly 30 years. Valdiserri is considered one of the best known sports public relations people of his time.
He was innovative in the days before the internet-and a self proclaimed maverick, but more importantly he was a champion of all things Notre Dame.
Flipping through the pages of his scrapbook is a walk through time - national championships, countless Heisman campaigns, Hall of Fames and Final Fours - a lifetime of memories
Valdiserri first stepped foot on Notre Dame's campus in 1951. He was a kid from a small town in Pennsylvania and fell in love.
"My parents had driven me there and they were in the car about to go home and I stuck my head in the window and said 'I don't think I ever want to leave here.' So 67 years later, I'm still here," Valdiserri said.
He began his incredible career working as an intern for legendary Irish football coach Frank Leahy.
After graduation, Valdiserri took a job with the great Hank Stram with the Kansas City Chiefs, a former Irish coach and friend.
After one season he got the call and followed his heart back to South Bend.
"We would have walked back. I was so excited about coming back to Notre Dame," Valdiserri said.
During Valdiserri's first season as public relations director, he worked for up and coming coach Ara Parseghian.
"I brought with me the National Championship in 1966. Yeah right, but I used to tell him that 'If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have a National Championship,'" Valdiserri said.
A second national title followed in 1972 and another in 1977.
Valdiserri worked with Parseghian, Dan Devine, Digger Phelps - pretty much every major player in Irish sports history.
Valdiserri even worked closely with Father Ted Hesburgh. He says it was a surreal moment in his career.
"The first person I met was Father Hesburgh. And 47 years later, I ended up working for him for 9 years which was the best thing that ever happened to me really. He was such an icon," Valdiserri said.
Valdiserri says through all of the championships and awards, one thing stands out.
"Working with the athletes. That's the only thing I miss. I really do miss the relationship with student athletes," Valdiserri said.
What he may be best known for was something that happened by chance while chatting with a local reporter.
"I said 'Joe Theismann' as in Heisman so it was, that's the way it ended up," Valdiserri said.
Theismann didn't win the Heisman but he came close.
"He came second. He lost it to Plunket. But it was close, neck and neck until the last week," Valdiserri said.
Later in his career, he was promoted to Associate Athletic Director.
A Heisman trophy winner in Tim Brown and another national title under Lou Holtz would follow.
Valdiserri is 90 now and appreciates more than ever the relationships he made while at Notre Dame, especially with his dear friend Ara Parseghian.
"I think he responded to me as I responded to him. I think that's what real friends do. You feel what they feel, you go through what they go through. He was a good friend," Valdiserri said.
They were both members of the ROMEOs Retired Men who Eat Out and met for lunch every week for 8 years.
"We would needle each other about different things, about politics, about football. I would take the opposite side on football, he would stick up for everybody and everything football. Big Notre Dame fan," Valdiserri said.
Sadly, the seats at the table have changed over the years.
"There's just myself and Art Decio left. We've tried to keep it up, our hearts aren't really in it. We're forcing ourselves to do it to keep Ara's name alive," Valdiserri said.
While he is away from Notre Dame football now, he will always be a part of the Notre Dame family.
He finds ways to keep challenging himself. He took up painting at the age of 86. He still golfs and he has traveled the world. He even speaks 4 languages.
But what the father of 5 enjoys most is sitting down to watch the Irish with his kids.
"I sit right in front of my TV. I usually have one or two of my children with me and I have my oldest son Rick here with me this week, so we will watch the North Carolina game. He's a big football fan, so what I miss, he will catch," Valdiserri said.
Does he have any regrets?
"None at all. No regrets. I'd do it all over again. It's been a happy life. And having 5 children go through Notre Dame? The ultimate," Valdiserri said.
Valdiserri worked 22 straight Final Fours, three Olympic games- in LA, Barcelona and Atlanta and the World Cup in Chicago.
Three of his children won National Championships on the Notre Dame fencing team and one of his sons followed in his footsteps and worked in public relations for the Chicago Bears.