- Wright Thompson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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FLOSSMOOR, Ill. -- On a cold, sunny Friday, five days ago, they said goodbye to a man named Joe Guthrie. During his 87 years, he'd lived many lives: a Private First Class in Patton's Army, a faithful caretaker to his wife Elizabeth, a great-grandfather, a dedicated fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Not the school, which he did not attend. The football team. An hour before the service, a Chief Warrant Officer with a chest full of medals and a Ranger tab parked in the quiet lot across the street from the Flossmoor Community Church. He opened his trunk and took out clean white gloves. Birds chirped. A bagpiper wrapped a kilt around his waist and tied his tie using the side window of a Ford Explorer as a mirror. His job was to play "Amazing Grace."
Everyone thought Joe would like the bagpipes. He took great pride in his Scotch-Irish heritage. He was born poor, just before the Depression; as an adult, he'd save fast-food cups and wash them out, or refuse to throw away empty bread bags. He beat the odds in the first few days of his life, a two-pound preemie in a makeshift incubator -- a shoebox next to a wood-burning stove. Shoebox Joe, his mother Pearl called him. A survivor. Nobody knows how exactly he became a Notre Dame fan, but his family suspects it's the Irish roots. He felt a connection.
For years, he bought season tickets, letting them go after he retired and couldn't afford the cost. During those years, he'd take his children sometimes, and they'd walk through campus to the stadium, the air smelling like bratwurst. During the 1970s he carried a prank phone to the games -- his children joke that he lacked a "sense of serious" -- and he'd make it ring, startling everyone around him. Once he answered it, then handed it to the guy next to him, saying, "It's for you. It's the Pope."
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