NEW CANAAN -- The football field was a place of solace for Terry Hanratty. It was the easel where he painted his greatest masterpieces, the stage from which he commanded and earned his loudest applause.
"I never got nervous for games," Hanratty said. "Never once. In the locker room I would be making jokes. The hard part of the job was Monday through Friday. The fun part was Saturday. I was as loose as can be."
Perhaps it was such carefree abandon that allowed Hanratty to enjoy a stellar high school career as a quarterback in Pennsylvania, help lead Notre Dame to the national championship in 1966 and play for seven years in the NFL, including on two Super Bowl winners with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hanratty admitted, however, that when he takes his seat Monday night at Sun Life Stadium in Miami to watch his alma mater in the BCS title game, his stomach will be churning, the same as when he was sitting in the stands at Dunning Field on Friday nights.
Hanratty's son, Conor, is a red-shirt freshman who plays regularly on the punt team and is a backup guard for the Fighting Irish. Monday night, Conor gets the same opportunity to be a part of what his father was 47 years ago.
"I'll be a bundle of nerves," Hanratty said. "When Conor played for New Canaan, I would be the first person in the stadium for every game. I'd sit with my cup of coffee on the 40-yard line, where I always sat, waiting for the game to start. Watching a game now, like then, is excruciating. I'm miserable until the game is over."
Those few hours are the only ones these days filled with tension for the 64-year-old Hanratty, whose alma mater and son are great sources of pride these days, though not in that order.
Hanratty is seldom seen in public without a Notre Dame hat or sweatshirt, as he was last week while sipping a cup of coffee and laughing when reminded how skeptics once said Conor was overreaching by following his father's path to South Bend.
"The same thing happened to me when I came out of high school and said I was going to Notre Dame," Hanratty said. "There is a certain percentage of people in everyday life who want to see people fail for some reason. I remember my high school coach telling me that a lot of people think you are going in over your head, but not me. Go out there and give them hell. It is the same with Conor. I told him the same thing. I told him to go out there and prove them wrong, and he did."
Conor, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound right tackle at New Canaan, had scholarship offers from 12 schools and interest from dozens more. He had spent a good part of his childhood accompanying his father to Notre Dame and was impressed by Brian Kelly, who had just been hired as coach at the time.
"I've loved Notre Dame for so long," Conor said after making his decision known. "I met a bunch of players and the coaches, and everything was just perfect. It was impossible to say no."
Conor is one of the players that Notre Dame does not make available to the media, so updates are provided by his father.
"When they finished their last game they had about 10 days off for finals, and when they got back on the field they were a little sluggish," Hanratty said. "They had five days of practice before getting five days off for Christmas, and Conor said they were brutal. There was a lot of hitting."
Hanratty is staying at the same hotel as the Fighting Irish this weekend, but did not expect to have much quality time with his son.
"Kelly said it's a business trip," Hanratty said. "The four days there, I will probably see him maybe for two hours total."
If the progress continues, Conor should be in contention for a starting job next season.
"If he keeps working like he has, he's right on course," Hanratty said. "From everything I hear from the powers that be, he is doing very well."
Right now Conor is sort of an umbilical cord, linking his father's past to the present.
"He's doing a lot better than us," said Hanratty, who was a three-year starter for the Irish and a consensus All-American pick in 1968, when he finished third in the Heisman voting. "He's 12-0 and we were 9-0-1. The good thing about having a son on the team is you get to meet the other guys. They are very high quality kids. We tailgate with the other parents. They are really nice people to be around."
Hanratty was present for all but two games this season. He admitted all things being equal, he prefers watching football on television. But things are far from equal right now, which is why he recently bought a house just a few miles from the Notre Dame campus he is currently revamping.
"The first time Conor jogged onto the field, there was a tear in my eye," Hanratty admitted. "There was something about him coming out of the tunnel, it was really neat to see. It was a great flashback to when I was there."
It would be hard not to imagine Hanratty shedding another tear or two Monday night, especially if Conor gets to follow in his father's footsteps one more time.
"To have a father and son win a national championship, that doesn't happen too often," Hanratty said. "Nineteen sixty-six and this year. That would be just great."