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Calling The Shots - Edition #77

By Ryan Noonan
Thursday, September 26th, 2002
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A Return to Greatness

When you're good, people line up to love you. When you're great, they line up to hate you.

Welcome to the University of Notre Dame.

This past summer, I drove up to Omaha to see a few of the games played in the College World Series. It was one of the highlights of an otherwise boring three months. Three days of nothing but sun and baseball (no beer, though, no beer sales in the stadium.)

As it turns out, Notre Dame happened to be playing one of the days I attended. During the game, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman sitting behind me. He had three very young boys with him, none of whom looked like they were paying any attention. We got to talking about where he was from, why he comes to the games and why his kids were there. He told me that he was from Florida and that he has season tickets to the College World Series. He flies in every year, because most of the time, his Alma Matter, Miami, is playing.

Eventually, as the conversation was dying down, I asked him whom he liked to win the game (I think ND was playing Rice at the time.)

He responded, "I don't know about you, but I always root against the Irish. Doesn't matter who they're playing, or what sport, if Notre Dame is involved, I'm cheering for the other team."

Ouch. Seeing as that was such a harsh answer, I asked to him explain his problem with the Fighting Irish. He said it wasn't anything specific; he just got tired of watching them win as a kid and seeing them on television every week as an adult.

You know what, I'd say that's a pretty accurate statement. There is not a single sports program in the country that invokes as much passion, both positive and negative, as Notre Dame. The New York Yankees may come close, but the Irish bring out the most feeling across the nation.

Every Saturday, there are people all over the country who will clear their schedule, just for Notre Dame football. Kids who are too young to be college students and adults who have never set foot in South Bend will gather around their televisions and breath life and death with the Irish. And there are people who will sit and yell at the television until their voice is horse, but won't be happy unless ND loses.

But before this season, the passion was starting to fade away. During the Bob Davie era (also known as the "Bob Davie captains the Titanic" era) the Irish were beginning to slip away from the nation's attention. They were losing to everyone. Their student-athletes were getting kicked out of school. Allegations of recruitment violations were popping up yearly. Guys were getting arrested. Whatever luck or magic that resonated from those gold helmets seemed to be disappearing.

Even the ND haters were quiet. You can only beat up on a losing program so often before its just no fun anymore. Even people that love watching Notre Dame lose would tell you that it's more fun to watch a 10-1 ND team that is fighting for a national championship lose to Boston College, than it is a 4-7 team that was dead from the beginning.

The Irish mystique was quickly slipping away. Enter Tyrone Willingham.

As it turns out, there was just a little bit of luck left in those helmets after all. At the time George O'Leary announced he was resigning, after being head coach for all of 37 seconds, it seemed like another punishing blow to a program that had seen too many over the past five years. But it appears that it was the turning point in bringing back the Notre Dame winning tradition. I don't know if O'Leary could have done what Willingham has done for the team and the University, and I'm glad I didn't have to find out.

Willingham, in just four games, has brought back the winning tradition, the luck, the ND supporters, and the haters. All of a sudden, the Irish are trendy BCS bowl picks. In fact, just ask an Irish fan, all they need is an upset over Florida State, and the Irish faithful could be staring at an undefeated season. Press coverage is back way up, the NBC football ratings are the highest they've been in a long time, and people all over the country are once again proud to announce they're of Irish descent.

And even better for Willingham and his squad, the grumblers are back, too. It took him just four games to re-acquire the ND anti-fans, the Fighting Irish haters.

And they may be the best sign of all that Notre Dame is on its way back to greatness.

Random Shots

* Note to self: "Pushing" a police officer with my car is probably not the best way to get out of a ticket.

* Note to self (pt. 2): Drafting anyone to your fantasy team who would "push" a police officer with a car to get out of a ticket probably isn't a good idea either. Stupid Randy Moss.

* It looks like the truth has been exposed. It wasn't Kurt Warner or Marshall Faulk who should have been winning those MVPs. Apparently, Az-Zahir Hakim was the best player in a Rams uniform all along.

* A baseball player has to hit a ball moving at 95 mph with thousands of people around him cheering, a football player needs pinpoint accuracy to throw the ball 40 yards while 300-pound men are charging right at him, but you so much as sneeze while a golfer is swinging and they threaten to kick you off the course.

* Kurt Warner has thrown two more interceptions while you were reading this.

* A quick CTS moment of silence for Johnny Unitas, Bob Hayes, and Mike Webster; three players who were, at one time, the most dominant in the game at their respective positions.

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