Irish American News Column December 2013

1960 City Champions Coaching Staff Back row: Howie Fagan,Van Snyder, John Mc Donnell kneeling: Rocco Principe. Far right, Head Coach Tom Carey

1960 City Champions Coaching Staff
Back row: Howie Fagan,Van Snyder, John Mc Donnell
kneeling: Rocco Principe. Far right, Head Coach Tom Carey



Mike Houlihan

If you hang around long enough, sooner or later somebody will give you an award. I seem to remember some showbiz hotshot saying this as he accepted his “Irving Thalberg” Award at the Oscars.

This month I will turn 65 and it’s finally happened to me. And just like that guy in Hollywood, I’m very proud of the honor but mystified why I was chosen.

On Saturday, December 14th at Hawthorne Racecourse the MC Foundation will honor me with the “Man in the Arena” Award “honoring coaches, players, and past heroes” of Mt. Carmel High School at their annual “Salute To The Champions”. I’m thrilled to be in the company of 16 others being inducted that day, particularly since I am a very proud alumnus of Mt. Carmel, the most legendary school in Chicago history. On the gridiron and splashed across the sports page of America, the Caravan has electrified our nation with heroic exploits of athleticism, courage, and fortitude for more than a century.

So how in the hell did Houli get in?

Yeah I asked myself the same question when I realized I’d be sharing the stage with the likes of boxing legend Marty McGarry, NBA All-Star Antoine Walker, and Heisman contender Jordan Lynch.

Back in 1960 I went to a football game at Soldier Field to watch Carmel defeat Taft 27-0 for the City Championship. I was in sixth grade and became entranced by the legendary tradition of Mt. Carmel: the brown and white, the tough guys on the team, the Carmelites in their brown robes running up and down the sidelines. The spirit of the school was infectious. Even the cheerleaders were hot, and some were even rumored to be slutty.

I decided I wanted to go to Carmel.

And so in 1963 I was a freshman trying out for the football team. I had been a starter at CK but the guys at Carmel were bigger, tougher, and meaner than the kids I’d played with in 8th grade. I played football all four years at Carmel but never broke that starting lineup. I didn’t care, I was wearin’ the brown and white, I was part of the tradition, and I got to play at Soldier Field just like the legends had.

I was a tight end in senior year and earned the sobriquet of “Hands” Houlihan due to my uncanny ability to drop every pass thrown in my direction.

I used to spray that tacky stuff all over my hands before practice to insure my catches, but then I’d forget and go to fish out a booger during practice and spend the rest of the afternoon with my finger stuck to my nose. “Hey hands, go long!”

My “dobber” on the sidelines was infamous as I exhorted my teammates with cries of “Way to be!”

In senior year I proudly wore my letter sweater everywhere, including mass on Sundays. Maybe I never started, but altar boys feared me.

I recovered a fumble against Hales Franciscan in 1966 when we were beating them 57-0 and my pal Skinny Sheahan tells me they’ve erected a statue at Hales commemorating my singular play that day.

Thirty years later I sent my sons to Mt. Carmel and relived high school, watching them win the state football championship in 1996.

I wrote a column on my class of 1967 for years in the Alumni quarterly but soon grew bored with stories of “our classmate Bob who lives in Schaumburg with his lovely wife Trudy and three kids”. I started making up imaginary classmates in the column and amusing myself with their exploits. Tight asses objected and I quit.

I wrote “An Ode to the Ol’ Brown ‘n White” and was a celebrated after dinner speaker at the annual “Big Event” fundraiser, but wasn’t asked back after giving my speech with a jockstrap on my head.

I had pretty much resigned myself to the dustbin of old Carmel guys until Coach Howie Fagan asked me to perform my “Ode” at the 50th Anniversary of the 1960 City Championship team. Suddenly I was back among the heroes and legends who had started it all for me in sixth grade, champions like Tony Carey and Buddy Ruel and coaches like Tom Carey and JJ McDonnell.

These were the guys I idolized as a youth and here I was, honored to be in their midst, having a beer and swapping stories of the glory days. And now it looks like I’ll get another shot at standing with champions on December 14th at Hawthorne Racecourse. I’ve been around the block in my travels: as an actor on Broadway and films, as a newspaper columnist, and radio host; but the thing I’m most proud of is being a Carmel guy.

So please join me that Saturday afternoon when we “Salute The Champions”. It’s for a good cause and we might even win some dough at the track. Call Howie Fagan for tickets at 708-780-3679.

Many thanks to my old pal and another legend, Coach Howie Fagan, for making it happen.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!