On the Sunday before the Rose Bowl, let’s hear from the executive pastor of Pasadena’s First Church of the Nazarene.
“Go, Oregon State,” says pastor Dick Pritchard.
You’re right. Oregon State isn’t playing in the Rose Bowl.
But many of the staff and even some of the churchgoers at the First Church of the Nazarene have had their attention diverted from that meaningless bowl game down the road.
They are, instead, scrounging for tickets for or making bets on the Fiesta Bowl matchup between Oregon State and Notre Dame. (Ignore that part about the bets. They’re just little bets anyway. Nothing a good Christian couldn’t excuse. Really.)
For working in Pastor Pritchard’s office is the brother of Oregon State quarterback Jonathan Smith and the grandmother of Notre Dame offensive lineman Kurt Vollers.
Josh Smith, Jonathan’s brother, and Pat Todd, Vollers’ grandmother, have a lot riding on the big game. The loser has to wear the winning school’s sweatshirt for a whole day. To the office. The loser also has to buy the winner an In ‘N Out burger with all the trimmings. You know, fries, a shake.
Blame this football frenzy on Grandma.
Todd has been talking big all year about Notre Dame. She has been bragging all season about Vollers, who is from Whittier and who played high school football at Anaheim Servite. She is relentless, her co-workers say. You know how annoying those Notre Dame people can be. Acting as if the whole world cares about Notre Dame football.
But who dares to tell a grandmother to keep quiet?
A brother, that’s who.
Josh and Jonathan Smith grew up at the church. They were always playing sports there or attending services there. When Jonathan went to Oregon State as a walk-on, an unwanted quarterback who had to prove himself, the entire congregation followed Jonathan’s progress. Josh, three years older and not so athletically inclined, can be no prouder of a younger brother. Can anyone be prouder of a relative?
“It was Pat who first said, gosh, practically a month before the bids came out, that Notre Dame and Oregon State would play each other,” Josh says.
“I just had a feeling,” Todd says.
Todd has already earned football bragging rights in her home. Her husband, Jerry, is a USC graduate who has a plaque up in Heritage Hall because he was a national champion gymnast for USC in 1949. This didn’t stop Pat from rooting for Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish beat the Trojans at the Coliseum in November.
“I am just so proud of Kurt,” Todd says. “I’m proud of what Notre Dame is about too, so I try and get everybody on my side. I’m not sure it’s working with Josh, though.”
It’s hard for Todd to gain recruits at the church. Jonathan’s has been the kind of heartwarming success story that makes anyone who knows him proud. And the Smith family is even trying to scavenge Fiesta Bowl tickets for Todd and her husband. The Todds have so far been unsuccessful in getting any. That’s how it is when Notre Dame plays Oregon State, right?
“I don’t know about that,” Smith says. “It might have something to do with Notre Dame.”
Pritchard says, “I had an inkling we were building to something this exciting,” as Todd and Smith both became more and more enthusiastic about their respective rooting interests.
“Normally,” Pritchard says, “we are only talking about the Rose Bowl. The parade ends right down the street. We have the biggest parking lot around, so people are coming here for that. We have lots of people in the church involved in various committees, trying to get tickets, trying to get other people tickets.
“But this year it’s all Fiesta Bowl talk. It’s a little ironic. We all would have loved for Oregon State to be in the Rose Bowl but it didn’t happen. So we’ve got our own little bowl party going.”
The NFL playoffs are starting this weekend too, not that it matters to anyone at the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena. The NFL might as well not exist.
“It’s hard,” Todd says, “to get this sort of spirit going about pro football. What we have are two great kids who have become part of a family at this church. We can all brag on them because both Kurt and Jon are great success stories. I think college sports ties us all together in a way pro sports doesn’t.”
It was always that way in the Smith household, college sports dominating the debates between brothers. Jonathan grew up a USC fan; Josh always rooted for UCLA. “We were always giving it to each other,” Josh says. “So I can hold my own in the office here. Besides, I’ve got the majority on my side. Everybody here saw Jon and I growing up.”
Not so fast, says Todd. “I’ve got some people on my side,” Todd says. “Notre Dame has fans everywhere.”
On Tuesday, when everybody comes back to work, one person will be wearing a sweatshirt. Will it be Todd wearing an Oregon State logo? Or Smith wearing a Notre Dame logo?
“Do I have to be neutral?” Pritchard asks. “Because it’s hard. I have to root for Jon. So I think Oregon State will win.”
And who’s going to win the Rose Bowl, you know, that little game around the corner? “I don’t really know,” Pritchard says. “And for this one time, I’m not paying much attention.”
Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.