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By Weston Phippen
During a weekend road trip to Tucson a few weeks ago, Kai Murphy begged his dad to tell the "bear story."
Murphy settled into the tale for the umpteenth time.
"Okay, son," he said.
"Me and Kai like to lay down before he goes to sleep, and I tell him stories about made-up stuff, animals, stuff like that. One night I was in the middle of telling him about these bears and their magical powers. I guess I started fading out, falling asleep."
"So what did I do, Daddy?"
"Next thing I know, Kai wakes me up. He tells me I was mad at myself for not trying to hit-and-run with Ike [Davis] in a game. I went from bears to baseball, right?"
"Yeah, dad," Kai said. "You were goofy!"
The small anecdote reveals a few relevant things about the coach.
One is the tight relationship between the father and son.
Another is how seriously Pat Murphy takes his job.
"Losing isn't death anymore to me, but it still hurts," he says. "It's a physical hurt, a physical thing. But that's what sports always has meant to me."
For Murphy, who grew up as the youngest of five siblings in Syracuse, New York, sports also provided a refuge from what was not an idyllic childhood.
The coach is reticent to go into much detail about the negative side of his upbringing. But he will allow that his late father -- a marginally successful businessman who was 50 when Murphy was born -- was an alcoholic whose parenting skills left something to be desired.
Murphy says he loved both of his parents dearly, but concedes that his mother often was overwhelmed by her husband's illness.
As a youngster, Murphy spent an inordinate amount of time outside his home, playing baseball in sandlots and fighting anyone who looked at him sideways.
"I became what you'd call a tough street kid," he says. "I'd always take the fight. I had a lot of anger in me."
His three older brothers channeled some of that anger in organized basement boxing brawls that included role play.
Quarry was a popular Irish-American heavyweight who had the misfortune of not being good enough to beat the best of his era. He took many beatings, later became demented, and died at the age of 53.
"I related to Quarry because he'd fight anyone and feared no one," says Murphy, who later fought a ton of amateur fights in the Northeast. "But that doesn't mean we didn't get pounded on now and then."
He describes his family life "as dysfunctional, though we didn't know the word at that time." But the Murphys did have a common ground -- Notre Dame football -- not so surprising in an Irish-Catholic household.
For as far back as Pat Murphy can remember, he was a Fighting Irish fanatic, listening to games on the radio, memorizing statistics, living and dying with the team, and always dreaming of someday being part of the mythical South Bend experience.
(Murphy bears an interesting resemblance to Knute Rockne, the iconic Notre Dame football coach of 1918 to 1930 said to have composed the famed "Win One for the Gipper" speech.)
Murphy was the last of the siblings at home as he hit his teens. He describes himself as a wild child, mad at the world.
"I had this girlfriend who lived eight miles from us," he says, "and I'd sneak out at night and get my ass over there. I'd walk back at dawn or whenever, and I made sure I'd walk right through a bad part of town, slow as could be. What made me want to walk so slow? It was always, 'What's that white boy doing? He's gotta be crazy.'"
Murphy attended Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse. He lettered in three sports, and won a reputation that has stuck.
"Toughest guy I've ever met, bar none, physically and mentally, and also the most loyal person I know," says Greg Dunn, who played high school baseball with Murphy and still lives in upstate New York.
"We'd play these contests -- who could hit the ball the hardest and the farthest -- and Murph always won. His shoulder used to pop out when he played first base if you threw wild to him. He'd drop his glove and come at you. He was and is a piece of work."
Dunn adds that "Pat Murphy was born to be at Notre Dame. It just took him a while to get there."
One reason was that Murphy lacked academic discipline. He says Notre Dame rejected him for admission as a student four times before he finally gave up.
Instead, he first went to Le Moyne College in upstate New York. He stayed there a year, transferred to Bowling Green University for another year, then moved in 1981 to Florida Atlantic University, which was just starting its own baseball program with just 12 players.
Murphy played there for two years under Steve Traylor, whom he cites as a mentor. Last year, Murphy invited Traylor to be his guest in Omaha at the College World Series.