The first time I ever saw Lou Somogyi’s name, I was in high school. My dad had received a Blue & Gold subscription for Christmas, and given my nascent interest in attending Notre Dame, I started paging through them as well (when Dad was done, naturally).
Since his name seemed to be on a lot of the basketball bylines, Lou’s articles naturally caught my eye. As I read more and more of them, the free- and fast-flowing facts always amazed me. These were the days long before search engines, so Lou obviously had experienced a lot of Notre Dame athletics to be as well-versed as he was.
These were also the days before columnist headshots, so in my imagination, Lou was a grizzled veteran of the Stadium press box — the graying hair and gravelly voice of experience, always willing to recount the games gone by, tossing profanity-laced anecdotes around the smoky haze with typewriter clacking.
Years later when I finally met him, I realized how incredibly inapt that description was. Even this week when he left us at 58, though, it wasn’t any closer to being true. The rough-edged implication simply didn’t fit who Lou was.
Joe Theisman once said if the Notre Dame spirit could be bottled, it would light up the universe. While you can’t pick up that bottle at the Hammes, I think Lou Somogyi is as close as we’ve come to it in a human being.
It wasn’t so much Lou’s knowledge of Notre Dame history, which certainly was par excellence and there has been no shortage of reminisces on that front. Mike Brey called Lou his “Notre Dame historian”, Tommy Rees cited Lou’s “gift of storytelling”. A friend quoted Bob Davie at press conferences, saying, “Look, if you want to know all about the history of ND Football, don’t ask me. Ask Lou Somogyi.” Lou had instant recall of so many facts and figures for Irish football and basketball, a lot of the time it was quicker to ask Lou than to check Google, and there was a much better hit rate with Lou.
But much more important was Lou’s gentle nature and default mode of kindness. As cliched as it may sound, when you spoke to him, Lou had that rare ability to make you feel like you were the only person on the planet at that moment. The attention to detail so obvious in his articles followed him off the page. He spoke as he wrote, with respect and without agenda, and was always willing to see the good side of anybody in the Notre Dame orbit.
There aren’t a lot of topics that would unite the vast majority of Notre Dame fans these days, and probably even fewer ND people who command almost universal respect. Lou Somogyi’s residence near the top of both lists, however, is unquestioned.
I can’t claim to know him well enough to be able to say how hard he had to work to be that kind of person … heck, I consider myself fortunate to have known him at all … but from my vantage point, it looked effortless. When I started covering the men’s basketball team in the early 2000’s, Lou made sure to introduce himself, and always was ready to answer a question, no matter how silly. He was a tremendous help on the days when my book project seemed to have stalled and I was having trouble writing my way out of it. When I was exchanging DM’s with him on his last birthday, he made sure to tell me how he always checked in on NDN in the mornings to “see what was going on”.
I’m sure he had bad days as we all do, but either he never had one on the days I encountered him or he realized it was more important for your interactions with him to be about you and acted accordingly. I know which one I’m leaning towards.
I called Lou my “Notre Dame friend” above because unlike “grizzled veteran”, that description fit him whether you knew him personally or not. No matter how he came into your Notre Dame life, via a class, a newsletter, a television, or a computer screen, you felt he was a friend. And you would be correct.
Lou was one of those people who fit so easily into your world that you felt he somehow always had been a part of it and always would be. It’s easy to realize and accept the logical impossibility of the former, but we’re being bludgeoned right now with the sudden reminder the latter wasn’t going to happen either, and we’re looking for ways to cope.
In a world where the nice people seem to be in shorter supply, it is all the more terrible when one leaves long before he should, and all the more important his life be remembered tangibly. For my part, in addition to giving to the Lou Somogyi memorial scholarship being sponsored by BGI, I’m resolving to smooth down some of my more rough edges to a more Lou-like equilibrium. It seems the most useful way to keep a part of him with us.
Have any memories of Lou? Share them in the comments below.