Originally posted on August 27, 2009 on CBSSports.com
Notre Dame Fighting Irish football. These simple words incite intrigue and debate, sparking conversation both pro and con, inducing words of concurrence and disgust. What is considered by many as the greatest collegiate football program is undoubtedly the most storied. As with the New York Yankees, the Duke Blue Devils, and the Dallas Cowboys, people either love or hate the Irish; there is no middle ground.
I am a fan of Notre Dame.
As a Roman Catholic child being raised in the Pacific 10 infested area of the Greater Los Angeles basin, I learned from an early age what autumn and Saturday meant. My father, as his father before him, breathed Fighting Irish football (a fact cemented at my grandfathers’ funeral, for as his casket left St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, the Notre Dame fight song was played). No one in my family carries the distinction of being an alum, yet a diploma from the university is not needed to watch and admire the team. Being a nationally televised program, Notre Dame games were passionately voiced by Peter Jackson, and on Saturday mornings, the television was filled with golden domes and leprechauns.
I grew up watching players such as Tim Brown, Tony Rice, Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis, Rick Mirer, and every child’s favorite ‘Rocket’ Ismail. Reenacting game breaking plays on the asphalt fields of Southern California, as most children did, connected me further with the team from South Bend. My father taught me the tradition unmatched by no other school: The Four Horsemen, the 11 National Championships, the 7 Heisman trophy winners, and what it meant to be a fan of Notre Dame. My first memories of watching and understanding the great sport of football occurred during their epic matches, and I learned early on what disappointment felt like and how to be a humble fan. Humility is necessary for Irish follower. Unlike the pompous fans of USC, the prideful fans of Michigan, or the annoying fans of Michigan State, Notre Dame fans carry themselves in a different way. I say this more from a hopeful observational stance for I know very few Notre Dame fans. Living now in Phoenix, Arizona, I am the exception. No one here routes for Notre Dame success.
After a very brief (and extremely exciting) National Championship in 1988 at the age of 6, I have not had a season to celebrate since. I am known by all as an Irish supporter, yet I never am outspoken about the team and their exploits. Never too high, never too low (yes, even in 2007), for me a simple, “Go Irish” says all I need to say. There is no need to carry pride on my shoulder, for if I do, Notre Dame will put me in my place. Take for example 1993. After upsetting #1 ranked Florida State, newly crowned #1 Notre Dame loses on a last second field goal to Boston College. With the kick went the national title hopes. One week of being proud instantly flushed, by a fellow Catholic college no less. How about 2005? The “Bush push” leads USC over Notre Dame after a suspenseful fourth quarter. A 22 year old kid has his heart broken, and his friends are there to stomp it into the pavement.
One thing I’ve learned with the losses comes persecution. As stated earlier, I am not outspoken about Notre Dame, I am only straightforward in my support of the team. There is no ‘shit talking’ for a truly am pessimistic as each opponent is faced. Yet when Notre Dame does not gain victory, text messages and phone calls are aplenty. I almost am masochistic when dealing with the pain of defeat. I own scars from past gridiron battles lost, and I feel them in my soul. When the Victory March plays, it is the anthem of my spirit and the battle hymn of my team. It is what sets me apart from all other supporters of different teams. I know the band wagoners, chasing National Championships with their college football alliances. They know not what true defeat is for they have never truly cared for a football team. Seeing as how I am a dying breed, I find there is no one to help console my wounds.
Not a soul, expect dear old dad.
It is with great optimism every year that I welcome a new season. Each game represents another chance. With victory comes elation. With elation comes hope. The other beauty I find in winning is not making phone calls to my USC, Purdue, Navy, Michigan and Michigan State friends. When I see them I say nothing of the previous weekend and the match that occurred. They know.
Although most of the country dogs Notre Dame, not many have legit reasons why. Most my close acquaintances don’t like them due to the fact that I do. Perhaps the majority feel the Irish are allotted too much time in the media spotlight or that there is too much emphasis on a team that has done little in the past two decades. I can understand these points of view, and is most cases, I wish ESPN would lay off the constant Irish watching. Let us do our football do the talking. That way when we don’t perform up to our standard, I can sit through a telecast and observe what else is going on in the world of NCAA football. Because when Notre Dame plays poorly, the media lets you know.
Why do so many people love the sport? No paychecks, no crying, just passion. It represents (especially in scorching Phoenix) the end of summer and the beginning of heaven. We must all respect the opposition and have that hope for our team and their aspirations. All true fans of all teams have their stories of their love affairs with college football. This was mine. Go Irish.