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Posted on Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 6:15 a.m.

It's a family thing, a Staten Island family thing for Notre Dame's Eric Olsen and Michigan's John Ferrara

By Michael Rothstein

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Two years ago, Notre Dame center Eric Olsen walked out of the Notre Dame locker room at Michigan Stadium, his team 0-3 on the season and in the midst of one of the worst stretches in Notre Dame history.

Waiting for him that day was Tony Ferrara, the father of Michigan offensive lineman John Ferrara. In that moment, blood and Staten Island trumped competitive boundaries.

“I gave him a big hug, and we beat him up pretty bad that game,” Tony Ferrara said. “I said ‘Eric, what you’re part of is history, what you’re part of is something people will never get a shot at again, will never get a shot at, so no matter what happens, it’s all good.’

“So the next year, when we didn’t do too good, I told the same thing to John, you know. It’s all good.”

The two reached out to each other during their 3-9 seasons, Ferrara offering encouragement in 2007 and Olsen returning the favor a year later.

But in that 2007 game, the last time the teams played in Michigan Stadium, was a pure Staten Island, N.Y., moment. On one side was Olsen on offense. On the other was Ferrara, then playing defense for the Wolverines in the final moments of a 38-0 Michigan win over Notre Dame.

Both families have a picture of when they lined up against each other, and the two will likely face each other as opponents for the final time Saturday.

“It’s something special,” Olsen said. “It’s something we’ll share for plenty of years and tell our kids about down the road. You know, it’s just a good experience, it’s a great experience for both of us.

“It’s been fun, you know, for both of us at different times. But hopefully it will be fun for me at the end of this one.”

The two started as friends in I.S. 24, where they both stood a head taller than the rest of their classmates. They had been nicknamed ‘The Twin Towers,’ a moniker that disappeared after 9/11, with Tony being a patrolman in the NYPD and Eric’s father, Andy, being a firefighter with the New York Fire Department.

Through the years the families became close, too. Last year, the Ferraras stayed with the Olsens in South Bend and Andy took Tony to a Notre Dame pep rally.

On Saturday, the families will tailgate together and Ferrara’s mom, Linda, will bring Kleenex. And a bunch of Italian food she started cooking Tuesday as “comfort food” as well as enough to bring John a bit of home cooking. This is Olsen’s senior year. Ferrara, due to a redshirt, has one year left.

“It’s like the three years went by so fast,” Andy said. “The season is here upon us. It went by in a flash. Knowing that now that this is the last game they’ll ever play against each other on the field, that’s great.

“And it’s a little sad. You think about it and it’s almost over.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow me on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 6:45 a.m.

Great story! John play yer heart out saturday and make us all proud!