Football underdog hopes to play in Notre Dame`s last game

Modern day `Rudy:` Football underdog hopes to play in Notre Dame`s last game

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

For four years, Joe Romano, number 35, has taken his licks on the Notre Dame practice field. At 5' 9'' and 180 pounds, he's the smallest player on the team.

He has paid his dues, but has never once played on a Saturday, in front of the crowds. Now, he has one more chance, this Saturday in Yankee Stadium, as Notre Dame takes on Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

"I'd cry. I would cry," Joe's mother Peggy said, thinking about the prospect of her son playing. "That would be the icing on the cake."

At Joe's home in River Forest Monday night, his mother Peggy talked about Joe's lifelong connection with the Fighting Irish. His grandfather Buddy Romano played for the 1949 national champions. Joe's father, also attended Notre Dame, as have two of his sisters and numerous cousins.

Joe sleeps under a Notre Dame comforter, on Notre Dame pillows, and over his bed, a photo of himself running out of the tunnel last year with his Notre Dame teammates.

Responding to a question about how frustrating it has been for her son not to play in a game, Peggy said: "You know, a football player just wants to get out there and play, that's, that's what it's all about. And I know he's at some level probably disappointed, but all in all he's lived a dream."

And dreams like his have had happy endings. Just remember Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, whose story was told in the movie "Rudy." Ruettiger was a walk-on at Notre Dame, standing 5-feet 6-inches tall and weighing just 185 and never played until Notre Dame's final home game of his senior year, in 1974. He was carried off the field after the game.

The real life Rudy told FOX 32 from his home in Las Vegas that it's quite a moment, finally getting into that first game.

"It would be very exhilarating, a very proud moment for him, that's for sure," Ruettiger says. "That's for sure. He's going to be very proud that all his hard work paid off."

Joe's mom and about 20 relatives will be watching from the stands for that Rudy moment. But no matter what happens, they know Joe's years of hard work have been appreciated.

"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen, and if it doesn't, he's just has the respect and the experience he's had helping these guys win games," Peggy told FOX 32.

Just to show how popular Joe is with his teammates, typically, the walk-ons don't get to travel to road games. But several teammates who were making the trip to Stanford several weeks ago lobbied the coach asking for Joe to make the trip, and he went along.

FOX 32 tried to reach Joe for an interview Monday night, but he was on board Notre Dame's flight to New York. The walk-ons do get to go to the bowl games.

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