Leftovers & Links: Louis Nix’s missing Jordans, a Notre Dame Christmas story

Louis Nix Notre Dame
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Who was Louis Nix?

Yes, a former Under Armour All-American, the fulcrum of Notre Dame’s dominant 2012 defense, a three-year starter at defensive tackle.
An outsized personality intent on bringing joy to others, be it publicly as “Irish Chocolate” or privately when he saw a friend trying to stop the bleeding of a broken nose.
And a Florida native who committed to a school in northwestern Indiana when it did not even have a football coach, he was so intent on challenging and bettering himself.

But he was much more than that. To understand the depth of Nix, found dead over the weekend at 29, the only person to turn to is the man himself.

Background: Some dorms at Notre Dame collect clothing to donate to the Salvation Army each Christmas. The cardboard collection boxes are usually placed next to the dorm’s mailboxes. During Lou’s years in Alumni Hall, a few pairs of sweats size XXL or XXXL or XXXXL would end up in the box. Everyone immediately knew who donated them, but that was not all Lou gave, something that no one knew until he felt forced to speak up, bare some of his background, to encourage others to “Do the right thing.”

The following is an email quoted in its entirety, from Nix to his dorm his sophomore year, an email that still circulates among some of his dormmates as a reminder to “Do the right thing.” The only edit applied to this email is a few paragraph breaks.

From: Louis Nix
To: DAWGMAIL LISTSERV
Date: Mon, Dec. 12, 2011, at 7:11 PM
Subject: Missing Shoes

Hey Dawgs,

I have been feeling really disappointed these last couple days to the point where I’m compelled to send an email to all of you. A few days ago I was trying to get into the Christmas spirit and went through a lot of my belongings to see what I could donate.

Growing up I never had a lot…I know a lot of you have never had that experience before. I wanted to donate my things to make someone’s Christmas a little better who barely has anything. It is so difficult living like that, I know first-hand.

Among some of the things I donated were 5 pairs of my Jordans. I walked past the donation box today and none of my shoes are there anymore…but all the rest of the donated belongings are still there. Only my shoes were missing.

I worked hard to earn money for those shoes; they are among some of my most prized possessions. That was why it was a difficult decision for me to decide to donate them…but I don’t wear them as much anymore, and I told myself I was doing a really great thing for someone in need.

To walk past a few days later and see my shoes are gone is a horrible feeling. It is a slap in my face and the values that this University stands for. I really hope that whoever took my donated shoes can find it in their heart to bring them back–this really means a lot to me.

Merry Christmas, guys. Do the right thing.

Louis Nix III

Louis Nix Brian Kelly
Louis Nix with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly after the 2014 season opener, an Irish victory against Rice. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune-Imagn Content Services, LLC)

No one seems to remember if the shoes were returned, but half a dozen different guys from that dorm remember donating to the box because of Lou’s email. With or without his Jordans, he had made “someone’s Christmas a little better who barely has anything.”

When you reread Lou’s email nearly a decade later — even outside the mournful shadow of this last week — the vulnerability and openness, the sincerity and urgency, the writing all jump out.

A private person revealed an uncomfortable personal truth and gave up some of his tangible proof that he was moving forward in order to encourage his peers to step up and “Do the right thing.”

That’s who Louis Nix was.

REMEMBERING LOUIS NIX:

Former Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix, 29, found dead

The Lou I knew: Notre Dame and the world lost joy and laughter

INSIDE THE IRISH:
Notre Dame’s defense too good for Marcus Freeman to change too much
Four-star Texas RB Jadarian Price commits to Notre Dame
30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: In Review

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC:
Ian Book’s last-minute scamper ‘silences’ critics, sparks 16-game winning streak
Jeff Samardzija’s iconic stagger to the end zone against UCLA
No. 1 Nebraska’s “Sea of Red” in 2000
The Snow Bowl

OUTSIDE READING:
On Tyler Buchner’s lack of high school snaps
Top 10 tight ends for 2021 NFL draft
2021 NFL draft QB rankings
Ranking college football’s top 60 quarterbacks of the 2000s
Tracking COVID-19 at Notre Dame
When the party moves off campus: A new set of COVID challenges for Notre Dame

The Lou I knew: Notre Dame and the world lost joy and laughter with Louis Nix’s death

Louis Nix Notre Dame
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I do not often spend time in this space reminiscing about my college days; rarely do I even reference that I went to Notre Dame. That is not an attempt to “remain professional” or “appear unbiased.” I have been clear my Irish fandom ended in the Notre Dame Stadium concourse during the second lightning delay of the 2011 South Florida sitcom. Rather, the personal moments of my college experience are so rarely applicable to the Irish in the 2020s, but after the tragic death of Louis Nix III this week, I cannot keep my personal reflections to myself.

I knew Lou a bit, and not just as a student-journalist. My junior and senior years overlapped with his freshman and sophomore years, living only doors apart in Alumni Hall those two years. My memory says our rooms were quite literally 20 feet apart in 2011-12.

We never buddied up, partly because of the natural differences between a senior and a sophomore and partly out of my intentions to not put a young student-athlete in a bad position of navigating a friendship with a reporter. He knew he was free to act as he wished in the dorm, and I would do so as well, both just being college students, not a football player and a reporter. He absolutely saw me in more “college” moments than vice versa.

That mutual respect is how I got to see Lou spend many Friday nights playing video games because he enjoyed his roommates, how I comically pinned myself against a hallway wall so Lou and Stephon Tuitt could walk by me shoulder-to-shoulder, how I got to know Lou the person a bit.

He enjoyed those roommates because it was a change for him. Lou did not go into his upbringing much, but the shift from the rougher parts of Jacksonville to northwestern Indiana was a significant concern for many in his recruitment. Yet he knew he wanted to move away from Jacksonville, not flinching when Notre Dame fired Charlie Weis, committing before Brian Kelly was even hired. Nix wanted to go to Notre Dame just as much as he wanted to spend time with the guys in the dorm, a change from every other hangout he had known.

He spent so much time with Tuitt because he wanted to see another Florida guy make it. Already by his sophomore year, Lou was taking on a quiet leadership role like that, endearing himself to so many whenever he had the chance.

That was who Lou was, fully committing to everything. He could not comprehend doing anything less than entirely.

When Kelly privately criticized Nix’s weight during his freshman season, Lou owned it and committed to becoming a force. He proved himself to such an extent that Kelly had no choice but to lean into Lou’s persistent exuberance heading into his senior year, not only giving him the absurdity of the No. 1 jersey on his wide torso, but also letting Lou take a snap at quarterback in his final spring practice.

When Lou wanted to laugh, he found reason to. That happiness led to so many of you knowing him as “Irish Chocolate,” but the lie of that alternate persona was that it was not an alternate at all.

Lou did not go trick-or-treating or to a prototypical college party on Halloween. He donned a mask, grabbed a rubber knife prop and went to the dorm next door to scare the living daylights out of the unsuspecting. He hid in bathroom stalls until he heard someone washing their hands, and he stood behind them, loomed over them in the mirror until they noticed.

When that dorm staff chased him back to the friendly confines of Alumni Hall, we learned of his treachery as a dormmate’s screams echoed through the building, accompanied by Lou’s laughter. His trick worked only once among those who knew that 6-foot-3 house was obviously Lou. The neighboring dorm asked Alumni Hall staff to discipline Lou, a request met with only understanding smirks. If you knew Lou, you loved him for his mischief, even when it toed across the line.

When I broke my nose my senior year, rather than cover my dorm room carpet as I tried to stanch the bleeding, I held a shirt to my nose and stumbled to the handicap stall in the bathroom. The expected blood flow combined with my attempts to blow my nose clear led to a pretty ugly scene across those tiles. Walking by, without hesitation, Lou asked me, “Who’d you kill?” with his smile spreading wide. If I had responded with more than a smile through blood and tears, he was undoubtedly ready to ask where I wanted to bury the body.

Two years later, as a defensive leader in his senior season, Lou would gladly sidetrack interview sessions with TV conversations. I believe it was Pete Sampson who (understandably) asked Lou for an update on how far he was into “Breaking Bad,” and when Lou said he was into season four and really enjoying the character of Gustavo Fring, Pete responded something to the extent of, “Ohhhhh–,” at which point Lou cut him off lest Pete slip into a spoiler.

Lou fully committed to everything — bettering himself on and off the field, hijinx, television binges — that would elicit some joy in him or others, almost always both.

I last spent time with Lou at a South Bend bar in the spring of 2014. Not intentionally, we just happened to be at the same establishment and he sidled up next to me to place a drink order. I vaguely asked him about his knee, the one with a torn meniscus that had needed surgery and thus cut short his senior season. He gave a non-answer. Perhaps I should have known then that his full commitment to the 2013 season had already adversely affected his professional career, eventually needing two more knee surgeries by the end of the September of his rookie season.

Instead, I kept the conversation moving and learned Lou had spent that afternoon signing memorabilia for his agent to sell. A common pre-draft moment — part of an agent fronting a client money so he can focus on working out and improving his draft stock instead of on that month’s rent — Lou expressed great relief.

“It’s just great. I know how I’m paying for this drink.”

Lou had never been able to sit down socially with his friends and know that night would not lead to financial stress. He was thoroughly and genuinely relieved. What he had worked for had come to be reality, even if so much still hung in the balance in the future.

That is how I knew Lou, and how I will remember Lou. “Who’d you kill?” has brought me a few chuckles even this week as we worried about his well-being. It is not the first time Lou made me smile through my tears.

Former Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix, 29, found dead

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After being reported missing on Wednesday, former Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III was found dead on Saturday. Nix was 29.

Nix had been missing in the Jacksonville area since Wednesday, last seen Tuesday. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office pulled a car from a pond near Nix’s apartment that matched his vehicle’s description on Saturday night.

Nix was shot in December during an attempted armed robbery at a gas station in Jacksonville, his hometown, as he put air into his car tire. The bullet to his chest left Nix in the hospital for nearly two weeks, and some of its fragments remained in his sternum and his left lung.

“I know it sounds cliché, but more than anything, I’m happy to be alive,” Nix said in mid-December to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has not indicated the shooting is in any way related to Nix’s death.

Nix was the defensive fulcrum for Notre Dame’s unbeaten 2012 regular season. Then a junior, he started 11 games and led all Irish defensive linemen with 50 tackles and made a team-high five pass breakups. As that defense allowed 10.3 points per game in the regular season, it was Nix holding the point of attack and as often as not, penetrating past it.

When No. 17 Stanford had first-and-goal from the 4-yard line in overtime that October, it was Nix who stood up to keep Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor from reaching the goal line. On first down, Nix absorbed the lead blocker’s helmet to his chest, as Taylor gained only one yard. Slow to get up from the blow, Nix missed second down, when Taylor pushed from the 3 to the 1.

The ensuing goal-line stand is remembered for Manti Te’o’s tackles, for cornerback Bennett Jackson sweeping around the edge and hitting Taylor before he even got to the line, for safety Zeke Motta’s wrap-up, but it was Nix who bounced from the middle and collapsed the line on third down and then absorbed two blockers on fourth down.

Taylor’s reach for the end zone on the final play remains a point of contention, but if not for Nix, Taylor would have crossed the goal line with no problem, if not even on an earlier snap.

The Notre Dame defense knew as much, Te’o taking time out of his locker room celebration to find Nix.

“Hey Lou, they can’t block you,” Te’o said, emphasizing each syllable. “You’re the best nose guard in the whole country.” (Jump to the 3:44 mark in this video.)

That would be the theme of Nix’s career, active for the Irish from 2011 to 2013, finishing with 122 career tackles including 14 for loss along with eight pass breakups.

Louis Nix was a beast,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in 2013 after a defeat at Michigan in which Nix had only four tackles with one for loss and the Irish lost 41-30. “They couldn’t block him. (He) played as well as he’s played for us. (Michigan) just had no answers for him inside.”

That is the underrated, anonymous duty of most quality defensive tackles. They absorb double teams without yielding an inch to propel a Te’o to superstardom.

Nix’s 2013 ended prematurely after he was sidelined by a knee injury. In an attempt to give him time to rehab and to protect from further injury, the Irish intentionally held Nix out against the triple-option offenses of Air Force and Navy, but Nix appeared only once more for Notre Dame before season-ending knee surgery.

He had done what he could to play through a torn meniscus to help the Irish defense — a 7-2 season fell to an 8-4 finish as Nix missed the year’s conclusion — and the long-term damage done to his knee impacted his NFL career. Drafted in 2014’s third round by the Houston Texans, he needed a second knee surgery before his first training camp and a third knee surgery ended his rookie year before he appeared in a game.

Nix would play in four games for the New York Giants in 2015 before bouncing from their practice squad to the Washington practice squad to the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: In Review

NCAA Football - USC vs Notre Dame - October 15, 2005
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Editor’s Note: The original intention of the “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC” series was to set the stage for the 30th year of the partnership. But then 2020 intervened with a fury, and the season did not grant the time to publish the last half dozen entries. As 2020’s reach lengthens 2021’s winter doldrums, there is no reason not to walk down those memory lanes now.

So ends our trip through 30 years of “Notre Dame on NBC.” It took longer than expected, concluded with the No. 3 moment instead of the No. 1 and somehow missed the only tie in 196 games broadcast by the Peacock.

But all in all, hopefully it fit the bill initially promised, if on a delayed timeline: “The intent is to add some variety to the next seven months, walk you down memory lane a few times and maybe even laugh once or twice.”

There certainly was variety, perhaps even instructive variety. College football has hardly changed since Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles described the “ND on NBC” contract as “greed, and ultimate greed.” Former Irish star Paul Hornung’s response to that sentiment also remains just as true now as it did 30 years ago.

“Money is the name of the game, and people want to see Notre Dame,” Hornung said. “That’s the bottom line.

“But there’s plenty of room out there for football on TV, and I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.”

If only Hornung knew the Irish would someday appear not only on something called “NBC Sports Network” — and not just in broadcasts of iconic games during a pandemic, a thought that may or may not have been partially inspired by this very series — but also on the USA Network during the president-elect’s acceptance speech.

The walk down memory lane included a reminder of Ian Book’s silencing, Jarious Jackson’s costly safety and Gary Godsey’s cameo, not to mention a bevy of Michigan appearances, two strikes of lightning and a few snowballs. There was a four-overtime embarrassment, a three-overtime shock and a two-overtime tenure-ender. Notre Dame has gone 6-7 in overtime on NBC these last 30 years, lowlighted by the 44-41 loss to Michigan State in 2005 and Bob Davie’s tepid decision to play for overtime against No. 1 Nebraska in 2000, highlighted by the goal-line stand against Stanford in 2012 and the upset of No. 1 Clemson in 2020.

Four coaches’ endings, four coaches’ beginnings, two coaches reaching 100 wins.
A loss to Michigan State in the return after 9/11, a victory against Duke in the return from the pandemic, a season that somehow included all six scheduled home games.

Of course, winning all six of those, including that double-overtime upset of the Tigers, ran the current Irish home winning streak to 24 games, a modern program record. Of the six years Notre Dame has not lost on NBC, five of them have come during Brian Kelly’s tenure, the other being Davie’s second season, sparked by an upset of No. 5 Michigan in the opener.

The rises and falls of those coaches often elicited the laughs on their own; losing to a coach-less Syracuse will do that, as will the South Florida comedy, Allen Rossum’s tackle at the 1-yard line and intercepting five consecutive Wolverines’ pass attempts.

Lou Holtz won 27 games on NBC, Davie won 24, Ty Willingham won 11, Charlie Weis won 20 and Kelly has 64 victories and counting, all part of a 146-49-1 record since the Indiana broadcast on Sept. 7, 1991.

So that five-month furlough and pandemic-riddled season may have stretched a 30-week project into 54 weeks, but that allowed the dramatics of Nov. 7 to be included in the series. It would have joined the top 3 in hindsight if the games had been rattled off in the planned order, but placing the Game of the Century the week of the 2020 Florida State game made too much sense, as did slotting the Bush Push just before Clemson’s arrival and that 2012 Stanford victory as the anchor to Kelly’s 100 wins.

The order of those four can be debated, yet somehow none of them fit a piece of Notre Dame trivia realized in working through the last few entries. So in the interest of learning something besides the Snow Bowl wasn’t actually very snowy …

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Extra time, review and crowds make for a very 2020 upset as Notre Dame tops Clemson
Notre Dame’s most unorthodox season opens with conventional win against Duke
The Snow Bowl
No. 1 Nebraska’s “Sea of Red” in 2000
Jeff Samardzija’s iconic stagger to the end zone against UCLA
Ian Book’s last-minute scamper ‘silences’ critics, sparks 16-game winning streak
The 1997 Navy save and the triple-overtime debacle a decade later
Lou Holtz’s farewell
Syracuse and snowballs, a 2008 comedy with a long-term payoff
Kelly’s 100 Notre Dame wins, marked by 2012 Stanford & 2020 Clemson
100 wins later, Brian Kelly’s debut following Charlie Weis’ end
The Bush Push
Offensive high against Pittsburgh brings ironic end to Willingham’s tenure
Darius Walker’s 2004 debut powers upset of No. 8 Michigan
The Game of the Century: No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
Irish timeout gifts Michigan a last-second field goal in 1994
Irish wave goodbye to Michigan, 31-0, in 2014
Lightning strikes twice in South Florida’s first visit
Three overtimes, two No. 2s, one goal-line fumble
Te’o’s emotions & interceptions overwhelm No. 18 Michigan
Night games return, ‘Crazy Train’ debuts
Blowing out USC completes Irish return
Tommy Rees’ first career start, an upset exaggerated
The Irish fell, but more importantly, football returned after 9/11
Godsey heroics provide Davie hope
Last-minute Golson-to-Koyack TD beats No. 14 Stanford in the rain
A dramatic, Pyrrhic victory over LSU in 1998
Beginning with ‘ultimate greed’ in 1990 and Indiana in 1991
Honorable Mentions

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: The Snow Bowl

Penn State Nittany Lions vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Editor’s Note: The original intention of the “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC” series was to set the stage for the 30th year of the partnership. But then 2020 intervened with a fury, and the season did not grant the time to publish the last half dozen entries. As 2020’s reach lengthens 2021’s winter doldrums, there is no reason not to walk down those memory lanes now.

Reggie Brooks was never supposed to be near the action, never supposed to be considered by Rick Mirer, never supposed to be the target of a game-winning pass.

Maybe the knocks on Brooks’ catching abilities in the post-game of Notre Dame’s win against Penn State in 1992 were tongue-in-cheek — the applicable evidence would certainly indicate as much — but the play design was indeed designed to go away from him. The senior running back was nothing but a decoy, in theory.

The Irish had just marched 64 yards in 12 plays and a shade less than four minutes to give themselves a chance to tie the Nittany Lions. After second-and-goal and third-and-goal netted all of one yard, senior quarterback Mirer had found junior running back Jerome Bettis underneath the coverage for a three-yard touchdown to come within 16-15 of Penn State in a turnover-marred afternoon. That touchdown had, in fact, been Notre Dame’s best two-point conversion play.

So kick the PAT and go to overtime, right? The home team should have the momentum in overtime.
Except overtime did not yet exist in college football in 1992.

So kick the PAT and take the tie, right? A come-from-behind, last-minute tie would have some narrative value for the then 7-1-1, No. 8 Irish.
Not as much as a win against the No. 22 Lions, and not after Notre Dame already suffered a tie against Michigan in September. Also not in a game in which Penn State’s only touchdowns came off Irish turnovers, the kind of self-imposed tie that tastes more like a loss.

And not when this would be the last game (for 14 years) against what was then a rival. The two independents met every year from 1981 to 1992, Penn State winning 8 of the first 11 games including the last two, and now the Lions were ending the rivalry to join the Big Ten.

Irish head coach Lou Holtz had no intentions of kicking for a tie, even if Craig Hentrich had knocked in three field goals already.

Instead, he called an offensive standby. Apocryphally, Holtz drew up the two-point conversion on the sideline, but the reality is Mirer knew the play well. Three receivers to his left, Brooks coming across left-to-right, the idea was for Brooks to bring one safety with him, leaving someone on the left open. Of course, that idea depends on pressure not forcing Mirer quickly out of the pocket and to his right.

“The conversion play is one we have run 100 times,” Mirer said. “But it never went far enough to get to Reggie all the way in the corner. Reggie sometimes does not catch well on weekdays.”

Harsh, though supported by Holtz.

“I’m going to tell you what, you won’t believe this, Reggie Brooks has bad hands,” Holtz said. “Reggie Brooks is not the first guy I’d throw it to.”

Those barbs were only fair after Brooks had indeed caught Mirer’s heave in the corner of the end zone, a fully-extended dive for the ball that holds up now as both a clear catch and a highlight-worthy one. With the dive, Brooks also seemingly increased the snowfall on the occasion, somehow a light dusting giving the day the “Snow Bowl” moniker. (The iconic image of Penn State running back Richie Anderson meeting a Notre Dame linebacker at the goal line, both leaping above the line of scrimmage, helps that misnomer, as the snowflakes stand out throughout the image, albeit the grass is also visibly green.)

“I just eased out and put on a burst to get by everybody else and Rick saw me,” Brooks said. “… I’m like this, I’m going to catch it when it counts.”

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
No. 1 Nebraska’s “Sea of Red” in 2000
Jeff Samardzija’s iconic stagger to the end zone against UCLA
Ian Book’s last-minute scamper ‘silences’ critics, sparks 16-game winning streak
The 1997 Navy save and the triple-overtime debacle a decade later
Lou Holtz’s farewell
Syracuse and snowballs, a 2008 comedy with a long-term payoff
Kelly’s 100 Notre Dame wins, marked by 2012 Stanford & 2020 Clemson
100 wins later, Brian Kelly’s debut following Charlie Weis’ end
The Bush Push
Offensive high against Pittsburgh brings ironic end to Willingham’s tenure
Darius Walker’s 2004 debut powers upset of No. 8 Michigan
The Game of the Century: No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
Irish timeout gifts Michigan a last-second field goal in 1994
Irish wave goodbye to Michigan, 31-0, in 2014
Lightning strikes twice in South Florida’s first visit
Three overtimes, two No. 2s, one goal-line fumble
Te’o’s emotions & interceptions overwhelm No. 18 Michigan
Night games return, ‘Crazy Train’ debuts
Blowing out USC completes Irish return
Tommy Rees’ first career start, an upset exaggerated
The Irish fell, but more importantly, football returned after 9/11
Godsey heroics provide Davie hope
Last-minute Golson-to-Koyack TD beats No. 14 Stanford in the rain
A dramatic, Pyrrhic victory over LSU in 1998
Beginning with ‘ultimate greed’ in 1990 and Indiana in 1991
Honorable Mentions