Hanratty a perfect fit with Irish

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 10:43 p.m.

Conor Hanratty was introduced to Notre Dame football while nestled in his father's lap.

“He was 2 years old,” Terry Hanratty said, recalling the 1996 game against Navy at Croke Park in Ireland. “He was sleeping in my arms. He'd wake up and see the goats (Navy's mascots) and say, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Look at the goats! Look at the goats!' ”

“I said, ‘Look at the game! Look at the game!' ”

Eventually, Conor, a three-sport standout in New Canaan, Conn., looked at nothing but the game, rising among the best players in the state and accepting a scholarship to play on the offensive line at Notre Dame. He was, proudly, following in the footsteps of his father — a Notre Dame national champion and All-American before winning Super Bowls with the Steelers.

“It's a dream come true, really,” Conor said. “I always wanted to play there.”

Terry Hanratty said the decision to go to Notre Dame and turn down scholarship offers from many top schools was his son's alone.

“I kept telling him, ‘Notre Dame was great for me,' ” he said. “ ‘I don't know if it is going to be the best place for you. You have to decide that for yourself.' ”

Conor, a 6-foot-5, 309-pound junior guard, made his first start Saturday against Navy, the same opponent he ignored 17 years before as a toddler. He could start again Saturday at Heinz Field against Pitt if senior Chris Watt's knee injury isn't sufficiently healed.

“Saturday was really special to see him run onto the field,” his father said.

Conor said he was nervous. “But I calmed my nerves with a good combination block with me and (tackle) Zach Martin. That was a good feeling.”

Conor was practicing with the first team in summer camp before a neck injury derailed his progress, his father said.

“They (Notre Dame doctors) let it heal the right way,” Terry said. “That's another reason you go to Notre Dame. They are going to do the right thing for you.”

Hanratty said his son picked Notre Dame because he was impressed with the coach.

“He really liked Brian Kelly,” he said.

Ara Parseghian had the same effect on Terry, a Butler native, when they dined at the Hilton Hotel in Pittsburgh.

“He turned out to be the second-most influential male in my life after my father,” Terry said.

Terry said Michigan State wanted him to play wide receiver, but by his sophomore season he was the Notre Dame starting quarterback and helped the team win a national championship in 1966.

He started the famous 10-10 tie against Michigan State but was knocked out of the game in the first quarter by Bubba Smith. Two years later he was an All-American, and in 1969, the Steelers drafted him in the second round — first-year coach Chuck Noll's second selection after Joe Greene.

After he retired, Hanratty spent 30 years on Wall Street before starting his own business.

Hanratty said he learned many lessons from Noll, especially how to put the game in its proper perspective.

“Chuck was the ultimate teacher,” he said. “You never heard Chuck raise his voice. Some people have to scream. Ara was never a screamer.

“After it's all said and done, it's a game played by a lot of young kids.”

Note: Pitt coach Paul Chryst said he expects no injury issues Saturday. Offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty (back), guard Cory King (back) and middle linebacker Shane Gordon (collarbone) have been practicing this week and are expected to play.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reached him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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