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Even Fatherly Advice Can’t Save Notre Dame

Thirty-six years ago I left the high school seminary on the campus of Notre Dame. Bill Seetch remained behind, and Thursday afternoon Father Seetch, my old high school classmate, took his place on the end of the Irish bench at the Arrowhead Pond with the charge of inspiring the basketball team.

Nice job, pal.

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I WONDER what would have happened had things gone differently and I had been the one sitting on the bench.

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I know, I’d have had to give up the wife because of that vow of doing nothing as opposed to having the wife always accuse me of doing nothing. Some sacrifice.

And I’d have never met the Grocery Store Bagger, although by now I might have heard the confession of USC President Steven Sample.

I don’t know if I could be irreverent anymore, but I do know this: After Irish guard Matt Carroll had thrown up his third straight air ball against Arizona, I’d have at least walked to midcourt and taken a look at the Wildcat bench to see if I was working against two priests on the other side.

Instead Father Seetch just sat there as if he were meditating or something, and while I imagine he chalked it up as a miracle when Carroll managed to finally draw iron, by that time I’d have been a holy terror on the sideline.

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“The last Holy Cross priest to get a technical sitting on the Notre Dame bench was Father Tom Brennan in the mid-'60s in a game with Evansville,” Seetch said. And people wonder why the Notre Dame basketball program has never won a national championship.

You think about things like this when the game seems to be lasting an eternity, Notre Dame is getting pounded by 20 points and the good father sitting on the end of Notre Dame’s bench isn’t getting the job done.

“Let me guess,” I said, after making my way to the Notre Dame locker room at halftime to talk with Seetch. “You were also in charge of inspiration along the Notre Dame sideline for the football game with USC this past season?”

“How did you know?” he said.

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I WAS pretty excited when the game began. Benjamin Salvaty, a 1962 Notre Dame grad, had an extra ticket and sold it to the Notre Dame daughter, who is still looking for a husband.

(As soon as I get her e-mail address, I will provide it for potential suitors; I would also look for billboards along the 405 Freeway in the next few weeks.)

The Notre Dame band played the Victory March just before the teams came out, and the Leprechaun and Sports Editor Bill Dwyre danced all around the court. (Just seeing if you’re paying attention.)

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By the way, did you ever notice the uncanny resemblance the Leprechaun has to Max Kellerman, the host of ESPN’s “Around the Horn”? Same sideburn-to-sideburn beard, choice of clothes and so darn annoying you’d just like to stick him head first into a tuba.

Anyway, the initial seven minutes of the game promised a classic, and when the band struck up the Victory March again, it was Notre Dame 26, Arizona 25, and at this pace the Irish were going to win, 118-115.

But then Notre Dame stopped scoring, there was no stopping Arizona, and at the half the Wildcats were up by 13. That’s when I went to the locker room to find out if Seetch was calling in any markers.

“I gave a medal to each player before the game,” he said, while handing a guardian angel silver medallion to me.

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I remembered enough from my seminary days to know he should’ve handed out St. Jude medals with Notre Dame playing the No. 1 team in the nation.

“They have so much longer arms than we do,” Seetch said, and the problem with having 20-minute breaks between halves of an NCAA tournament game is, it doesn’t allow for a quick trip to Lourdes.

“I told the players at halftime,” Seetch said, “slow and steady wins the race.” How would you like to sit through one of his sermons?

Well, I don’t remember much about the second half other than the stretch pants the Arizona cheerleaders were wearing and trying to guess what the nuns at Notre Dame would’ve said about that. There was also a Rick Anderson slam -- picture USC pouring it on poor Notre Dame -- and that only added to the Irish humiliation.

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“I guess the guardian angels had the night off,” the good father said.

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THERE WAS no crying in one’s beer after Notre Dame’s failure, because the NCAA prohibits the sale of beer at tournament games, which surprised an attendant preparing “The Sandwich Co.” concession stand in the Pond before the game.

“I thought college kids were into beer, sex and sports,” she said, and I wish I had remembered to ask her what year she had graduated from USC.

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IF EVERYTHING I’ve read in the media is true, UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero will now try to hire Pittsburgh’s Ben Howland. Can’t wait to hear how Guerrero spins it if he hires Howland, who took a team ranked No. 4 at season’s end and seeded No. 2 and couldn’t get past the Sweet 16. Remind you of anyone else we know?

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TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Jeffrey S. Curtis:

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“It is so typical of you to come the day before the Kings are eliminated and try to be a sarcastic supporter of a team you really know nothing about. Personally, I could care less what you think. Andy Murray should have taken your disrespectful comments and just punched you in the face and knocked your teeth out.”

All he wanted to do was talk about “Around the Horn,” and I’m pleased to report he’ll have plenty of time now to watch.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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