From 1,000 Possibilities, He’s Made His Life Sing

Peter Schivarelli ’71, former Irish walk-on, has never forgotten the value of his Notre Dame degree

As members of the Notre Dame class of 2009 head out into an uncertain world, buoyed by their experiences of the past four years, it may be helpful to look at how another ND grad, from nearly four decades ago, made his mark after leaving campus.

The story of Peter Schivarelli ’71 is ample proof that, indeed, anything is possible.

Peter Schivarelli ’71

Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s, Schivarelli had some similarities to another young man in the Windy City more than a half-century before him.

Just as Knute Rockne had surveyed his options coming out of high school, and opted to enter the workaday world for the next four years, so did Peter Schivarelli. And like Rockne, Peter came from a family not entirely sold on higher education – and not in a position to pay for it.

What Schivarelli had, though, was an intense desire to somehow, some day be one of the Fighting Irish.

At Chicago’s St. Ignatius High, despite playing on a 0-10 team in 1965, Schivarelli had done well enough to attract offers to play football at a handful of colleges, including Purdue and Indiana. But it was that other school in the Hoosier state that was his one and only choice.

So he went the employment route, working in the Asphalt Department of the City of Chicago, as well as opening a fast-food hot dog stand. He made it to South Bend when he could, watching as the 1966 Irish captured the national championship in Coach Ara Parseghian’s third season.

Hanging around with some of the players he knew led to one of them suggesting, “If you enjoy Notre Dame football so much, you should come here and walk on.”

“Playing football at Notre Dame was my dream,” Peter said. “So I made the decision to give it a shot and apply for admission.

“That meant I had to tell my parents of my decision to go to college – four years after high school and with a successful career in city government and a business that was thriving. My father’s reaction was, ‘why go back to school when you are making more money than the ‘teachers’ (as he called the professors).’  He didn’t offer much support, and absolutely no money. I knew I had to focus on paying my Notre Dame tuition.”

Schivarelli had good enough test scores and was admitted to ND for the fall of 1967.  He arrived at the Administration Building and paid his first semester’s tuition – in cash. All $1,250 of it. Over the next four years, he took odd jobs to pay tuition, and eventually received a partial scholarship.

Football tryouts for walk-ons were held the first week of classes at the old Field House, and Schivarelli was among several walks-ons picked by Coach Parseghian and his staff.

“My dream was beginning to unfold,” he recalls.

“My junior year at Notre Dame was one I will never forget,” says Schivarelli. “I got to play in my first game as a defensive tackle…and I almost made the Dean’s List! Pretty good for a first-generation college student.

“But then I realized how fast everything was happening, and that in just one year I’d be back in the ‘real world.’”

For direction on his future, Peter went to a Notre Dame counselor for advice. “He assured me that 70% of students never go into their major field, and that I should start writing down any job that I would enjoy after graduation.”

The eager Schivarelli took the assignment seriously. With pen and a pad of notebook paper, he began writing.  Job after job, idea after idea.  Everything he felt qualified to do, or just was interested in doing.

“I stopped just short of 1,000 job-ideas.  I made up my mind to enjoy everything about Notre Dame in my senior year, and to let my degree take its course.”

The Irish were again very strong in 1970, and Schivarelli got into several games once ND had an ample lead. His parents finally made it to a game to see for themselves what this football obsession was all about.

At graduation in spring of 1971, the Schivarellis were among other proud parents when they asked their son what his plans were.

“I gave them my answer: ‘I have a list of 1,000 jobs that I am reviewing!’ In reality, I was totally unsure of what to do with my life after Notre Dame.”

When Schivarelli headed off to South Bend in 1967, several of his buddies from Chicago had gone to Los Angeles, where they formed a band they called CTA – for Chicago Transit Authority. He reconnected with them, and was invited to a recording session in Colorado at the Caribou Ranch. There, he met Howard Kaufman, the band’s business manager.

“I was so impressed with him and his knowledge of show business,” Peter recalls, “I just found the business fascinating, and asked a lot of questions. And he was just as impressed with my attending Notre Dame, and making the football team as a walk-on, and of course receiving my degree.”

Schivarelli and Kaufman became close friends, and Peter started working in the music industry. For nearly 40 years now, he has managed the band that became legendary as simply “Chicago.” Through personnel changes, countless concerts and recording sessions, and enough gold and platinum records to fill a good-sized room, Schivarelli has been part of it all.

“And, by the way, about the only job not on my list of 1,000 was working in the music business!”

Schivarelli has never forgotten the role Notre Dame played in his life.

His generosity can be seen around campus. He played a major role in honoring Coach Parseghian with the sculpture at the Stadium.  (Take a close look at No. 68, one of the players depicted in the sculpture – yes, he’s a certain walk-on from 1967-71.)

And last fall, his gift of the Football Reception Room off the north tunnel was realized. It’s a place for former Irish coaches and players to gather on game weekends, for recruits to be hosted, and for post-game media interviews.

Peter is a huge supporter of the Notre Dame Band, and was instrumental in arranging for Chicago to perform at the 2006 ND-North Carolina game – the first time another musical group has performed with the ND Band during a Notre Dame home football game.

(The band Chicago was also connected to Notre Dame via the late Rev. George Wiskirchen, C.S.C., who mentored several of Chicago’s original members at Notre Dame High School in Niles, Ill., before he became assistant director of bands at the University.)

Schivarelli and Chicago arrived on campus on Thursday afternoon, meeting with Dr. Ken Dye, director of the ND Band, and his staff.

“We started rehearsing, and we were amazed at how well the Notre Dame Band had the songs down.  After the session, we all went back to Loftus and played the songs over and over, and the Band marched and formed our Chicago logo, and the “25 or 6 to 4” routine. We were very impressed with their precision.”

Said Schivarelli:  “No athletes on this campus work as hard, week in and week out, as members of the Notre Dame Marching Band!”

There was an immediate bond between the two bands – Chicago and ND.

“There was mutual respect,” said Peter, “and I could tell the (ND) kids loved it…but not as much as we did.”

Game day came, and the performance was spectacular. The crowd at Notre Dame Stadium roared its approval. And the Irish went to 8-1 on the season with a 45-26 drubbing of the Tar Heels.

Oh, yes, and a captain of that team, junior safety Tom Zbikowski now of the Baltimore Ravens, is the godson of one Peter Schivarelli.

Don’t blame the entire Notre Dame Band, though, for feeling like Peter Schivarelli is their godfather.

To graduating seniors, Schivarelli offers this:

“First and foremost, because they have given you a chance for the best college degree possible, always be thankful to your parents.

“I know from experience that after graduation you will miss Notre Dame more each year. But I can assure you that Notre Dame will always be in your life, and sometimes when you least expect it.”