Calling The Shots - Edition #77
Thursday, September 26th, 2002
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,
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
And they may be the best sign of all that Notre Dame is on its way back to
* 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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