She was a kind of Mean Joe Greene—lovable and full of fun, except when it came to the serious business of football. Fumbles—and there were plenty—were sure to trigger a gentle scolding, and the scores, while always something-to-nothing, were never impressive.
Although her actual playing was limited, as a spectator she was unsurpassed. Her football passion focused on two teams—the boys who cavorted on the side lawn and the ones who played for Notre Dame. We understood that her Fighting Irish came first.
Abby had little use for most of the marvels of the modern age. She wouldn't drive and she scorned the telephone. Television and radio, though, she found to be most useful. They brought her Saturday afternoon Notre Dame football games. Her understanding of the fine points of both TV and radio was based on simple, if flawed, logic. If you could see and hear the action in South Bend, then the players could see and hear you in Waterville. It was as much fun watching Abby watch football as it was watching the game itself. She cheered. She scolded. If the Irish won, she was elated. If they lost, she emphatically predicted victory the next week.
Even if her boys at Notre Dame could not hear or see Abby on Saturday afternoons, they were well aware of her loyalty. When she turned 100 in 1953, coach Frank Leahy sent her a personal birthday greeting, considerably more significant in Abby's mind than the letter she received from President Eisenhower. The next year, not to be outdone, new head coach Terry Brennan sent her a ball that had been autographed by the entire Irish squad, including the likes of Dan Shannon, John McMullan and Dick Fitzgerald. Paul Hornung's name was also on the ball, but for the lack of an Irish connection, his name was never included in her recitation. The ball was kept atop the TV for inspiration on fall Saturdays and for year-round bragging.
Abby died on a Sunday morning, Nov. 10, 1957, the same year that most of her Roosevelt Avenue football team was graduating from high school. Her funeral was held on the day she would have been 104. Notre Dame was slated to play Oklahoma the following Saturday. The Sooners were riding two incredible records—47 consecutive wins and 123 consecutive scoring games—and had not lost a game in nearly five seasons. The Irish were the clear underdogs, having lost the two previous games to Navy (20-6) and Michigan State (34-6).
Some 63,000 fans jammed the stands in Norman, and millions more watched on television. The game was a stalemate for three periods. Late in the fourth, with the ball on the Sooner three, Notre Dame quarterback Bob Williams pitched to Dick Lynch, who ran into the end zone for the game's only touchdown. The Irish defense held for the remaining four minutes, protecting a stunning 7-0 victory. Oklahoma's amazing winning and scoring streaks had ended.