Wednesday, September 01, 2021 1:00 am
Lifelong love of team leads to 25 years on airwaves
BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette
Growing up in South Bend two blocks from Ara Parseghian’s home, a young Phil Houk always stopped by the coach’s place whenever it was Halloween or he was selling something for fundraising.
“Katie,” Parseghian would yell to his wife, “Do we want to buy doughnuts from Pack 584? OK, I’ll buy two.”
And 7-year-old Houk would just stand there looking up in awe. That’s how big a Notre Dame football fan Houk was then, and there’s even more passion today, 53 years later.
On Saturday, Houk will start the 25th season of his “Fighting Irish Preview” radio show at 10 a.m. on 1380 AM. That’s show No. 355 for the Superior Court judicial officer, the county’s longest-serving judicial officer at 35 years.
That’s a lot of numbers, but they can’t measure Houk’s love of Notre Dame football. He believes he attended his first game at age 8 in 1969 vs. Northwestern, but he was hooked before that.
His wife also puts up with a lot because of this obsession, especially as a Purdue grad. The first time she met Phil’s parents was after the Boilermakers had upset Notre Dame. She was delighted, and though his dad was charmed and grew to love her, he almost chucked her out of the house that night.
When Phil married Lynda on Nov. 29, 1986, the USC game was on TV in a corner of the reception hall as Steve Beuerlein led the Fighting Irish to a 17-point rally and a 38-37 win in Los Angeles. Phil once had a streak of 49 consecutive home games attended gladly broken by the birth of his daughter Tori, and the Houks on purpose named their second son Nicholas David – or N.D.
“Notre Dame Football means a lot to me and I consider the decades of autumns colored by the glory of the Fighting Irish that I’ve witnessed, to be ‘the soundtrack to my life,’ ” Houk says on his blog FightingIrishPreview.com.
But as he aged and the show has matured, so has Houk’s objectivity. He used to always predict Notre Dame wins but now goes with his intellect as much as his heart when making picks. There have been only five losing seasons in those 24 years, but eight of at least 10 wins.
He spends hours each week preparing for each show and loves observing from the press box when he can get credentials. It’s a different attitude and altitude from that vantage, and it’s more fun now to figure out why things are happening on the field rather than cheering.
He gets help in that regard from Mishawaka Marian High School buddy Tim Prister, senior editor of Irish Illustrated.com. Prister was best friends with Houk’s brother Pat, who passed away from cancer in 2006. They always say they are doing the show in memory of Pat, who might have been a bigger Notre Dame fan than either of them.
Things started in 1997 with Houk interviewing Prister by phone in the press box before local high school games. They expanded to 20 minutes, moved to 1380 AM in 1999 thanks to help from Art Saltsberg and now go 30 minutes.
The interviews are prerecorded Thursday nights in Adam Schenkel’s studio and then he edits the files before sending them in.
The original idea was to give Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger fans something to listen to and pull them into the prep broadcasts, but it became a way for Houk to have a great hobby, have legitimate access as a media member and share his encyclopedic knowledge. Now, he’s writing features on the blog, often looking back at former players and stories that touched him.
“It’s not just a show now,” Houk said. “I’ve been writing a lot more, which I love to do. At one time, maybe 10 years ago, I thought I might do one more year of this, but now I’m 60 and maybe I just want to do this forever. When I retire, this is what I want to immerse myself into. This is what I have a passion for.”
The odd thing is, Houk never attended Notre Dame, though he tried. He went to Indiana University for his undergrad degree before attending Valparaiso University for law school. His son Nick recently started attending Notre Dame to pursue a master’s in accounting, and Houk couldn’t be prouder.
Maybe the only thing he’s prouder of is having one of his statements be displayed in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. In the rivalries section, Houk is quoted as saying, “Everyone who is a lifelong Notre Dame fan remembers USC ripping their hearts out a time or two. And we remember doing the same to them.”
“They don’t even know how it got there, and I don’t even remember saying it, but it sounds like something I’d say,” Houk said.
So now he and Prister refer to it as a “College Football Hall of Fame Show,” very much with tongue in cheek.
But actually he’d rather tell you the story about Ara Parseghian.