The first time Danny Etling remembers watching an LSU game, he was not cheering on the Tigers.
Growing up in a Catholic family in Indiana, the future LSU quarterback spent every Saturday watching the most prominent team in the region — Notre Dame.
Etling still has a Joe Montana green jersey hanging in his closet back home, and tucked away in some corner of his childhood room are the ticket stubs to Irish games he attended with his father.
He remembers vividly rushing home in October 2005 to catch the end of the Notre Dame-USC game known for the infamous “Bush Push,” in which Trojans running back Reggie Bush shoved quarterback Matt Leinart across the goal line to win in the closing seconds.
Then there’s the image of the Irish losing 41-14 to LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl that has been seared into his mind ever since as his introduction to the Bayou Bengals.
In many ways, Etling’s football career began in South Bend.
On Jan. 1, his collegiate career comes to an end in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. It seems almost fitting his final game at LSU (9-3) is against Notre Dame (9-3).
“It’s a Catholic school, so as a Catholic kid growing up in Indiana, that’s obviously a team you like,” Etling said. “My mom’s side is the one that loves Notre Dame, and my mom grew up going to all the games. She would always tell me about it. She was at all the Joe Montana games where he would come in and kind of take over the situation and have to bring the team back, and the Cotton Bowls and everything.”
Can't see video below? Click here.
Etling said he didn’t have a specific team he followed growing up, but his family, especially his mother’s side, were all diehard Irish fans.
His childhood was well-rooted in South Bend. Several family members went to Notre Dame and several more, including his mother, attended college across the street at St. Mary’s or Holy Cross.
Notre Dame never offered Etling a scholarship, mainly, he suspects, because he didn’t fit the offensive system.
He did go to several camps and take visits, though.
“Notre Dame is huge in Indiana,” he said. “Up in the Midwest it’s really big. That’s where a lot of top recruits in Indiana go, and that’s why you see Purdue and (Indiana) have to go outside the state to recruit. If you're a top kid from Indiana, you’re usually going to Notre Dame. If you’re a top kid in Illinois, you’re usually going to Notre Dame. It’s a great program.”
Then there’s the games he used to go to as a child.
Etling recalled hating the experience of sitting in the wooden bleachers of Notre Dame Stadium the first time he went to a game in elementary school, begging his father to let him go back to the car to play video games.
It wasn’t until he started playing football a few years later that he truly appreciated the experience.
“I grew up watching the Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen eras with Charlie Weis at the helm,” Etling said. “So that’s where I grew up watching football and what I watched when I was a kid.
“We went and saw Brady Quinn play, and that was like the coolest thing, getting to see the guys you watch on TV and you get to see them play live."
In a few weeks, Etling will be the Brady Quinn for this generation’s young football players when he and LSU make the trip to Florida.
He’s been on teams that played Notre Dame twice before in his career, both when he was still at Purdue.
A 2014 loss was the only time he saw action against the Irish. He threw for 234 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions on 27-of-40 passing.
This will also be the second consecutive year LSU and Etling ended their season in Orlando.
“It’s pretty cool (I) get to play Notre Dame in your last game,” Etling said. “A team (I) grew up watching and, I guess in a way, introduced me to LSU in the Sugar Bowl in the era I first started watching football and college football, especially. LSU came in and waxed Notre Dame and I was cheering for the other side, but it’s interesting how things play out.”