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Elkhart man has seen it all in his 35 years as a Notre Dame usher

Notre Dame usher Doug Brown sits back in his chair and casually rattles off an impressive list of athletes, coaches and politicians he's encountered in his 35 years working in the stadium. He has a story for each of them, like the time he and O.J. Simpson were talking during a game against the University of Southern California, and Simpson got angry after a Notre Dame touchdown; or the time when LaPhonso Ellis, whom Brown calls "one of the most personable athletes that I've seen," offered him tickets to one


Posted on Nov. 13, 2010 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on July 5, 2012 at 4:13 p.m.

SOUTH BEND -- Notre Dame usher Doug Brown sits back in his chair and casually rattles off an impressive list of athletes, coaches and politicians he's encountered in his 35 years working in the stadium.

He has a story for each of them, like the time he and O.J. Simpson were talking during a game against the University of Southern California, and Simpson got angry after a Notre Dame touchdown; or the time when LaPhonso Ellis, whom Brown calls "one of the most personable athletes that I've seen," offered him tickets to one of his NBA games.

Brown even has a story with football legend Joe Montana.

"I still see him all the time now," Brown said. "I bought some shoes he advertises and said, 'Okay, Joe, I am going to hold it to you that these are good shoes.' And he laughed."

Though big-name encounters are part of the job for seasoned ushers, Brown seems more impressed with the school's tradition and atmosphere than the celebrities who come with it.

"Sometimes I'm still in awe because I'm here at Notre Dame doing this, and it's something I really like to do," he said. "And it's fun because you get to see great athletes, great games, great teams and great people."

Brown arrives at the stadium on game day four hours before fans fill the seats. He and the other supervisors review policies and procedures and address any issues that might have happened at an earlier game.

Workers relax in the stands or play catch on the field, enjoying the calm before the rambunctious storm of blue, gold and green.

"It's just the atmosphere," Brown said. "Notre Dame is a special place. It's really special, and people will tell you that. It's like one big family."

Brown, an Elkhart resident and member of the 1963 Elkhart High School state championship football team, was hired as a basketball and football usher sometime between 1974 and 1977 (his memory differs from Notre Dame's record) after Notre Dame worker Foots Fortino saw him at Volcano Pizza.

"He said, 'You're a Notre Dame fan, right?'" Brown recalled. "And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'Would you like to work at Notre Dame?' I said, 'Great!'"

Brown has risen through the ranks to supervisor of sections 29 and 30, which include the senior student area. He says the placement gives him a chance to see a new class every year and watch students migrate through the undergraduate ranks.

Supervising the student section has also given Brown the opportunity to witness a colorful variety of game-day traditions.

He is wary of the annual final home game "marshmallow throw" but remembers past unified hand gestures of "L" for Lou Holtz or "W" for Charlie Weis were sights to behold.

Although ushers once had to deflate hundreds of beach balls sneaked into the stadium, Brown admitted that they "probably looked pretty cool on TV." He's also confiscated his share of strange items over the years, from alcohol flasks to a large squid.

While some traditions come and go, Brown maintains the type of students and fan base stay the same.

"Notre Dame is one of the most storied football programs in the nation," he said. "It might have lost a little bit of that in the past few years, not playing for the national championship, but the people are still tried and true Notre Dame fans. If you're a Notre Dame fan, you love Notre Dame."

Being stationed in the student section also has its perks, such as being in the epicenter of celebration after big plays. Brown recalled when kicker Harry Oliver's 51-yard last-second field goal defeated Michigan in 1980.

"They just go crazy," he said. "When the chance presents itself, they get really pumped up. When he kicked it and scored, it was just insane."

Although Brown gets an opportunity to watch Notre Dame games for free, he says the ushers take their jobs seriously.

"The first words you should say to anybody should be, 'Welcome to Notre Dame' and 'How may I help you?'" he said. "The athletic director and Father (John) Jenkins get tons and tons of letters of visiting fans saying, 'It's unbelievable how we were treated, even after the game. We don't get treated that well at home.'"

Brown plans to continue his tenure with Notre Dame as long as he physically can.

"Another usher told me that he'd be pushing me around in a wheelchair," he laughed. "It's a great experience. People know me and say, 'Oh you work at Notre Dame.' It's a neat position."



By RENEE BRUCK The Madison Courier
Posted 8 minutes ago
By CHARLES D. WILSON Associated Press
Posted 23 minutes ago
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