Minutes after his No. 3 Notre Dame team beat No. 6 Butler in an overtime thriller, head coach Mike Brey announced that his mother, Betty, had died early on Saturday morning.
Betty Brey died of a heart attack. She was 84 years old.
The news puts into context just how important sports truly are. The win was arguably the most important of Brey’s career. This may be the best team that he’s ever had at Notre Dame, a program that has developed a reputation for struggling in the NCAA tournament under his watch. For the first time since 2003, Brey will lead the Irish into the Sweet 16, and it comes on the same day that his mother passes away.
Betty Brey lived quite a life. She was a world class swimmer, qualifying for the Olympic trials at 15 and competing in the 1956 Olympics. At one point, she held a world record in the butterfly.
“It was kind of a tribute to her, it was really a special night,” Brey said of Saturday. “She was an unbelievable woman, a woman ahead of her time.”
“I think she was definitely with us down the stretch.”
I want to share a quick story about Brey. Back in 2008, when I was still bartending full time while trying to launch a website, Brey and his wife actually came into the bar on a random day during the week for lunch. We knew some of the same people — he recruited a player, Tim Abromaitis, from the same AAU program that I played for — and we ended up chatting for about 30 minutes, much of which was about the career I was trying to pursue.
Fast forward three years and I’m covering a Notre Dame game for NBC. I go to introduce myself again, assuming he had no recollection of our chat, but Brey remembered who I was and asked about my website, my job, whatever. Not that I’m someone important now, but back then I was freelancing for NBC and running a site that maxed out at 75,000 uniques per month. That day at the bar I was nothing but another random kid trying to find his way, and Brey not only took the time to talk with me then, but remembered it three years later.
Brey told reporters on Saturday night that he’ll spend Sunday with his family celebrating his mother’s life.