Saturday afternoon, Adam Dulak, a 2009 Pitt graduate, brought his uncle and grandfather to Notre Dame Stadium to watch the Panthers play the Fighting Irish.
That is, speaking metaphorically. Steve Elias, Dulak’s grandfather, and Mark Elias, Dulak’s uncle, have both passed away, leaving him a football legacy that he brought with him to South Bend, Indiana in the form of a photograph.
Steve Elias, the family patriarch, grew up in Windber, a small town near Johnstown, and as a Catholic growing up in rural America during the 1920s and 1930, became a Notre Dame fan, as many others did.
As times changed, so did the allegiances of the family. Mark Elias was a Pitt fan and grew up on the halcyon days of Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino at Pitt Stadium. That was the tradition that was passed down to Dulak, who grew up a Pitt fan before attending the university.
Steve Elias continued to support Notre Dame, but became a staple in the trio’s ventures to Pitt Stadium, which came to a dramatic conclusion in 1999, when the three attended the final game at Pitt Stadium together.
“My grandpa was a Notre Dame fan, my Uncle Mark was a big Pitt fan,” Dulak explained. “My Uncle Mark was one of the reasons I went to Pitt. I became a Pitt fan because of him.”
It’s a night many still remember fondly. The Panthers defeated Notre Dame, 37-27, the students rushed the field and hauled down the goalposts, and Dulak, his uncle and grandfather were among the final people left in their seats as they took in the stadium’s final moments. Someone snapped a photograph.
Fast forward 19 years, and Dulak was preparing for a journey to watch the Panthers play at Notre Dame, something his grandfather and uncle had never been able to do. He thought, “why not take something of them with me?” and grabbed the photograph, some tape and formed a plan.
After locating his seat, Dulak used a piece of two-sided tape to secure the photograph to the underside of it, hoping to leave his family legacy at Notre Dame for longer than four hours on Saturday after noon.
That part didn’t work so well.
“I don’t exactly know what my plan was,” Dulak admitted. “I was pushing on that thing hard, making sure it didn’t come off. Apparently, I did a terrible job, because it only lasted like 48 hours. I guess it fell off and blew out onto the field.”
That’s exactly what happened, and it was found there by Notre Dame Director of Facilities Brian Fremeau. Maybe it was the obvious age of the photograph or the strange combination of Steve Elias’ Notre Dame jacket and Pitt hat, but Fremeau decided that this was more than another piece of stadium litter and that it warranted a follow-up.
Fremeau does not have a particularly large social media following, with just 723 people following him on Twitter. But he sent out a photo of the photo and hoped that it might find its way back to the Pitt/Notre Dame family that had left it behind.
Found this pic on the field post-Pitt. Long shot, but would love to get it back to the fan who dropped it. Go Twitter, do your thing. pic.twitter.com/sVqWATUhS8
— Brian Fremeau (@ndfremeau) October 16, 2018
Sure enough, it did.
Fremeau sent that tweet on Tuesday at 12:44 p.m., and just four hours later, Dulak had already been made aware of its presence.
“It was pretty remarkable,” Dulak said. “I was actually at work and I got a notification on my phone. I had met up with [fellow Pitt fan] Chris Gates at Notre Dame.”
Gates saw the photo after Fremeau’s original tweet had been shared by another Pitt fan and wrote, “I only just met him over the weekend, so I’m probably way off on this but the young kid looks like what I’d think @aed12pitt [Dulak] would look like as a young kid.”
Gates was right on.
“It’s crazy that it fell off, he found it and that someone didn’t just pitch it out and sort of realized the significance of it,” Dulak said.
When the two finally got in touch, Fremeau asked Dulak what he wanted him to do with the photo. Dulak told him the initial plan and asked if there was any way the photo of his uncle and grandfather could stay at Notre Dame for a little while longer.
Fremeau said he’d be glad to let them “hang around the place for a while.”
Not only that, the official Twitter account of the university sent Dulak and his family this message:
Our alumni, friends and fans are always in our prayers, but this candle is for you, Adam, and your grandfather and uncle. pic.twitter.com/2y8yQhQ4f8
— Notre Dame (@NotreDame) October 17, 2018
“It really is special,” Dulak said. “The people at Notre Dame were great. … This whole picture thing and all these people connecting just reinforced that. It’s a cool thing.”