The light that won't go out

by Mike Lupica

One of them, Terry Hanratty, was the Notre Dame quarterback out of the ’60s, part of the official legend of the place, one of the players who who helped put Notre Dame football back on the map. The other was Eamon McEneaney, the Hall of Fame lacrosse player from Cornell out of the ’70s, one of the great lacrosse stars in the history of that game.p. They both ended up living in New Canaan, Conn. They met at a cocktail party several years ago. McEneaney knew all about Hanratty. “He was Irish, he was Catholic, he was from Long Island,” Hanratty was saying the other night. “He knew more about Notre Dame than I did.” Hanratty knew absolutely nothing about lacrosse.

“I grew up in western Pennsylvania,” he said. “Butler, Pa. Hand us a stick when we were kids and we thought we were supposed to hit some SOB with it.”

Hanratty played pro football after Notre Dame, seven years with the Steelers, most of them behind Terry Bradshaw, then one season at the end with Tampa Bay. By the time he moved to Connecticut, he was working for a brokerage house, Sanford C. Bernstein. Eamon McEneaney worked downtown with Cantor Fitzgerald.

“The night we met, Eamon told me he’d played for Cornell, even got a tryout with the Jets as a wide receiver after he graduated,” Hanratty said. “That was it. Cornell lacrosse player. No big deal. I go to work on Monday, with all these young Wall Street hotshots, half of them lacrosse guys. But now I figure I’ve got a little bit of common language with them. So I say, ‘It turns out a neighbor of mine played college lacrosse at Cornell.’ One of them says, ‘What was his name?’ And I say, ‘Eamon McEneaney, you ever hear of him?’ And it was one of those deals where their mouths literally dropped open. They said, ‘You know Eamon McEneaney?’ It was like I’d said I knew Jim Brown in football. Like I’d been at a party with Babe Ruth.”

The two men became fast friends. The deal between them was this: Hanratty would teach McEneaney’s oldest son, Brendan, how to throw a football. McEneaney would teach Conor Hanratty how to do more with a lacrosse stick than hit some SOB over the head with it. And one of these days, they kept telling each other, boy, one of these days, they were all going to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play football.

“We’d get to talking about the trip, and there’d be a light about Eamon,” Hanratty said. “You’d look at his face and be able to see every bit of little boy still in him.”

McEneaney talked about retiring from Cantor Fitzgerald by January of 2002, devoting himself to writing, especially his poetry. The poetry was even more of a passion for him than lacrosse had been once, when he was the best in the world, when he carried Cornell to the national championship in 1977, scoring 25 points in three games, still a tournament record.

“I only saw footage of him playing later,” Hanratty said. “It was like watching Magic Johnson play basketball.”

Hanratty had been quarterback of Notre Dame and led the Irish to the title and finished third one year in the Heisman Trophy voting. He had his place in Fighting Irish history. Not like the place Eamon McEneaney, out of Sewanhaka High on the Island, had at Cornell. Even if he never talked about his career at all. McEneaney did not want to talk about the past, ever. He wanted to talk about his children, his writing, the future.

“At the end,” Terry Hanratty said, “he despised going to work every morning. He wanted to be with (wife) Bonnie and his kids. He wanted to write his poetry.”

Last fall, the fall of 2001, Hanratty and McEneaney finally decided to start making plans for a football weekend in South Bend. Maybe in October. Then came the morning of Sept.11. Hanratty was at his midtown office. He heard what had happened downtown the way we all heard, immediately turned on the television. As soon as he saw the north tower had been hit, Hanratty called his wife.

“That’s Eamon’s building,” he said. It was Eamon’s building. His office was on the 105th floor. When the building had been hit by a terrorist bomb in 1993, McEneaney had formed a human chain and led 65 other employees down to the street, and safety.

The old Notre Dame quarterback was the one who made it back to Connecticut that night one year ago. Ten days later, he and 3,000 other people attended a memorial service at the First Presbyterian Church in New Canaan to honor Eamon McEneaney.

“A month after that,” Hanratty said Sunday night, “I honored my promise to my friend about that trip to Notre Dame.”

Hanratty, his son Conor, Brendan McEneaney and Brendan’s uncle Patrick drove from New Canaan to South Bend for the Notre Dame-Southern Cal game. Hanratty spoke at the pep rally on Friday night, and told a Notre Dame football crowd that the weekend was being dedicated to a friend of his who played lacrosse for Cornell once.

Then Hanratty went to the grotto on the Notre Dame campus, the one that is a replica of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. He brought Brendan with him. When they got there, Hanratty explained that he would do what he always does when he came back to school, light candles for his parents, both of whom had passed away.

“Brendan asked why,” Hanratty said. “I told him that it always makes me feel like they’re with me.”

The old Notre Dame quarterback went through his private ritual that night, had his quiet moment, alone with his parents, his memories. When he turned around, he saw 12-year-old Brendan McEneaney lighting a candle for his own father. The boy’s face is the face of the father. In that moment, Terry Hanratty said, there was a light about both of them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

TopicID: 244