FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In a surreal video preview of the BCS national title game posted last week on UND.com, former Notre Dame All-America guard Mirko Jurkovic identified his alma mater’s ability to handle the Alabama offensive line as the key. “Can we get off blocks and make plays?” asked Jurkovic, 42, wearing a navy Notre Dame polo shirt and a goatee. “I believe we will.” As he enters his final days, losing a 28-month fight against colon cancer, Jurkovic still believes life’s too short to be anything but positive. The postgame radio host booked a hotel room in Miami and planned to attend Monday’s game at Sun Life Stadium. He even tried finagling a sideline pass for his teenage son, Mirko Jr., because that is what dads who live for their children do. He never talked about dying because he was too busy living, such as when Jurkovic privately asked to shoot the video breakdown of the big game in early December just in case something unexpected happened. Sadly, something has. Mirko has taken a turn for the worse.
“Mirko never complained or pitied himself,” said Jack Nolan, the director of media productions at Notre Dame who worked with Jurkovic. “He lost weight. He didn’t lose Mirko. One of the bravest men I’ve ever known.” In the five-minute video, Jurkovic’s voice sounded weaker and his body resembled a shell of the 289-pound frame he carried as a Notre Dame captain, but his mind was as sharp as ever. He reminisced about hoisting upperclassmen on his shoulders as a freshman on the 1988 Notre Dame national-championship team that beat West Virginia. He kidded that Notre Dame needed to end its 24-year title drought because embarrassed former teammates “don’t want to be like the ’85 Bears anymore … and I’m a Chicago Bears fan.” Indeed, Jurkovic rooted for the Bears growing up in Calumet City and starring at Thornton Fractional North. On the day the Bears drafted the guard in the ninth round of the 1992 NFL draft, Jurkovic said, “This is hard to put into words.”
Those who know Jurkovic understand how rare that is. Older brother John, — “Jurko” — has talked sports on WMVP-AM 1000 since 2001, but Mirko always made it hard to remember which member of their Croatian family expressed his opinion for a living. In a somber tone Chicago seldom hears during afternoon-drive time, John Jurkovic explained how doctors took Mirko off antibiotics over the weekend to slowly, mercifully shut his system down. “The doctor said, ‘The good news is his heart and lungs are strong. The bad news is his heart and lungs are strong,’ ” John said. “Classic him. Getting every ounce out of his body.” That attitude was apparent on the last golf trip the Jurkovic brothers took in September to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Mirko finished playing 18 holes in the heat on the challenging TPC Sawgrass course and by the end of the round, according to Knapp, “he could barely stand.” “But Mirko didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and kept smiling, talking to people,” Knapp said. “The last thing he said was, ‘Where are we going to do this next year?’ Always positive. “It’s just not going to be the same without him.”
I don’t normally like to post shit like this. The world is a depressing place, Barstool exists to take people’s mind off real world problems. But god damn this story hit me hard. I read it last night and I instantly decided I have to root for Notre Dame tonight. Hometown guy. Notre Dame legend. Chicago Bear. Literally counting down the hours of his life, knowing that tonight’s game may very well be the last memory he’ll have with his family and loved ones. So the least everyone can do is root for Notre Dame, if only for Mirko.
Jurko CARRIES the Carmen, Jurko and Harry show. Carries it. He’s one of those guys where funny comes completely natural to him.