Sunday, November 23, 2008

I'm going to pretend like that didn't happen

Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 23

I don't even know if I can make myself do this. I've been trying as hard as I can to block this entire thing from my memory.

I've witnessed a lot of awful and wonderful things in Notre Dame Stadium. Yesterday, my Senior Day, was by far the worst. This probably wouldn't be so if it hadn't been Senior Day.

This was not the way I wanted things to end.

I'm not sure if I even have words. Possibly the only way to express my emotions about this game is with a large handle of vodka and some uncontrollable sobbing. (And no, that is not a summary of my evening after the game. Although to some extent I wish it were.)

I haven't really processed yet that it's over. No more games inside Notre Dame Stadium with the band, ever. I will never again for the rest of my existence be able to put on that band uniform and trot out of the tunnel. I will never have my seat on the sidelines again. I will never perform another Concert on the Steps or march out from the Dome or wake up ridiculously early to suffer through a Saturday morning marchout. Never.

It is over.

It's strange how even writing the words doesn't make it hit home.

Those poor effing seniors

As awful as I feel about all this, I feel even worse for the seniors on the football team. This was their day. This was supposed to be the day when all those guys who have never gotten to dress before--who have never gotten to take the field before, who have worked their asses off for the last four years to be a part of this team even though the 80,000 people in the stands never see them--get to strap on that gold helmet, hit the Play Like a Champion Today sign, run out of that tunnel, and take the field.

I don't think any of them got to play yesterday. None of them.

Of all the people who were disappointed in Notre Dame Stadium yesterday, those are the people my heart bleeds for most of all.

As terrible as it is to feel the blow of the loss as a fan--as a student--a band member--a Senior--I think it would be incomparably worse to be standing on the sidelines, wearing a football uniform, waiting and waiting for your chance to play--your very last chance to play in Notre Dame Stadium--wanting more than anything to go out there and hit some people, make a difference (not to mention have everyone you know see you on national TV), help the Irish win their last game at home...and in the end be able to contribute nothing. Your chance never comes.

It just seems so bleak it could almost be its own Greek tragedy. (Well, maybe not. To be a good Greek tragedy it probably needs a little more death and incest. But never mind the details.)

Syracuse. Syracuse? Syracuse. SYRACUSE??? SYRACUSE!!!!!

In case you were wondering, Irish fans, that actually happened.

And no--no, that wasn't anything remotely related to basketball (a sport where it's at least acceptable to lose to Syracuse every once in a while--except at home).

And in case you missed it, their team (and approximately 0 of their 3 stalwart fans left in the stadium at the end of the game) rushed the field and just stood there while the band played through postgame...and when we struck up the Victory March they pumped their helmets in the air in time with its rhythm. That was almost worse to see than Michigan State planting their flag on our thirty-yard line (can't read! can't write! good job losers), almost worse than BC players picking up bits of our field as if to say "we own this place" (good luck if you'd tried to do that on a day like yesterday, effers), almost worse than the Bush Push (must feel good knowing you beat us fair and square).

I don't know if I even feel humiliated at this point. I kind of just feel numb.

Even Michigan being 3-9 this season doesn't help.

Nothing quite helps when you remember that we were nineteen-and-a-half point favorites going into this game, and that every other game we've played this season--including our heart-wrenching losses--indicated that we should have wiped them off the face of the earth.

Or when you remember that last year's abominable 3-9 squad still managed to kick the shit out of Duke. Watching Zibby play quarterback was one of the few highlights from last season. It was a vindication, almost, for everything the seniors last year had had to suffer through.

We got no such vindication yesterday.


This game should never have come down to a field goal. It wasn't your fault.

I would give you a big hug and everything, you know...if I knew you.

Soooooo coooold

So I'm going to take a long shot here and guess that Jimmy Clausen has never played in weather that cold before. (You may have noticed he was the first person off the field before halftime.) I'm going to take another long shot and guess that the players from upstate New York have probably experienced a few degrees of chill in their day.

Granted, it was not the sort of cold most teams experience during college football season--even teams from northern climes. We've had games with snow before (the 1992 "Snow Bowl" obviously comes to mind), but I don't know that we've ever had so much snow accumulated on the ground before. Especially for a game before Thanksgiving. (Though if I'm wrong, by all means correct me.)

I'm not giving the weather as some sort of excuse or explanation (because frankly I don't want to hear any excuses--it's Syracuse and there are none), I'm just pointing it out. I would imagine that Jimmy would have had a more comfortable game in fifty-degree weather than twenty. I would also imagine that Brandon Walker's leg would have been slightly more limber, have gotten slightly more distance, if it were slightly less frigid.

But imagination doesn't win football games, so it's really a moot point.

The real point is--Syracuse came out hungrier than I expected (than most people expected, I would imagine), and they never let up. I don't know if our team was looking past them or they just had frostbite, but it was really frightening to watch our offensive line crumble, whip itself back into shape, and then crumble again. It seemed, in the second quarter, as though we'd gotten over the initial shock of Syracuse's aggressiveness and we were going to take the game in hand.

But then we didn't. So what the hell.

Not sure I really want to get into the gritty details right now

This whole memory-blockage thing may be working. I don't really have any desire to think about what actually happened on the field as far as specific plays go, so I'm just going to talk about the things surrounding the event that stick out in my mind.

I was talking to someone--oh, who was it? my dad's girlfriend, I think--after the game about how young these football players are. She was saying that when we get caught up in the game and start yelling and hollering and chewing people out, it's easy to forget that most of them (especially on our team) are only like...nineteen years old. Eighteen. Twenty. They're still just kids in a lot of ways, and we expect so much out of them.

I'm not saying we shouldn't expect excellence. I'm not saying they're not working toward it, or that they don't expect it out of themselves.

I'm just saying, from a fan standpoint, that she made a really good point.

That's why, as a fan--especially a Notre Dame fan--unless it's clear that you're yelling at the refs or something, you should never ever "boo" at our team. There was a lot of booing going on yesterday. I'm not sure any of it was really directed at our players--a lot of it was probably intended for the coach. But even so. I'm not a big fan of boo-ing in general, unless it's at a really bad play call. (The refs can take the heat, and besides that it's a sort of backwards way of supporting your team. It lets your players know that you're totally behind them, and you think they made the right play, at least. It's kind of an odd form of solidarity.)

Anyway, I just don't see how you can call yourself a fan and still "boo" your own team. It makes me furious when people say things like, "well if they're not going to try I'm not going to cheer for them."

Because what the hell of course they're trying. Just because they don't always succeed doesn't mean they don't try. You think the coaches would let them run out there in those gold helmets if they weren't trying? I don't care what your opinion is on the coaching staff at the moment. I'm just saying I don't think the word "try" really encompasses the problem.

And besides all that, the football players try a heck of a lot harder than the 68,000 people who come into our stadium and sit on their butts for most of the game. (The student body's pretty solid. You can usually count on them for an appropriate response. And if all else fails, you know, look at the band. We try to keep things as classy as possible.) So the next time you think about booing anybody, you might want to think about what exactly it is you've done to help the team. Have you cheered as loud as you possibly can for every play on defense? Probably not. Have you stood the entire game? I'm sure you haven't. Have you been at practice every day with the players, worked on the game plan week in, week out, devoted your whole life to trying to make this team better, to turn this program around, to get us to a bowl game and that coveted bowl win so we can break our NCAA-record nine straight bowl losses?

No, I don't think you have. So unless you've got something useful to say, you can just shut your mouth up with those "boos" and focus on creating some positive energy in that stadium. Because how the hell is the team going to benefit from your presence if you're not willing to stand up and cheer for them? How are they going to feed from the crowd if the crowd's not going to give them anything? You can't always wait for them to do something miraculous so you can cheer in appreciation. Sometimes you just need to cheer because it's your job as a fan to support your team. And if you're not doing that (people sitting behind me), I don't see where you get off flinging any "Boo"s anywhere.

I'm just saying.

Other fan things that make me angry

Okay, look. I appreciate the support of the band. I really do. I thoroughly enjoy every compliment we get, every "good job band!" that gets yelled at us during postgame marchout--for every kind thing anyone has directed toward the band, I feel immense gratitude.

But the next time anyone tries to tell me "you guys played well--better than the football team" I swear I'm going to break every rule in the band manual while simultaneously beating the hell out of someone.

I'm glad you think the band played well. I am. I'm glad you appreciate our efforts.

But I would just like to point out that, for as hard as we work, what we do isn't shit compared to what the football team goes through. Yes, we have practice every day and march our asses off for game weekends and do everything we can to uphold the traditions of America's first university band--but putting together a good halftime show is approximately five million times easier than playing four good quarters of football.

As a unit, we always try to execute to our highest level what we've practiced on the field all week--only when we perform, there aren't any 300-pound lineman running at us full speed trying to screw us up. There aren't any defenders trying to knock us over or running backs trying to run us over or quarterbacks calling audibles at the last minute. If marching bands tried to do what the football team tries to do every week, halftime shows would be a lot more terrifying.

Can you imagine taking the field to play "Carry on My Wayward Son" and out of nowhere see some opposing band's tuba section running at you, full force, snorting like bulls with their instruments' bells tilted straight at you like battering rams? Or piccolos running around jabbing people in the stomach? Bass drums knocking people over with one solid whack? Dear God. No one would ever put on a marching band uniform again.

So I'm sorry for refuting your backhanded compliments, but it is never appropriate to compare the band with the football team.

And on top of all that--when the team loses, we lose too. It doesn't matter if our halftime show clearly kicked the crap out of the other band's halftime show; we're there to support the team, and if the team loses, we don't go home happy.

So the future then. Impending doom...or redemption?

This is almost more painful to think about than yesterday's game. (Though you may have noticed that I'm avoiding the pain by hardly speaking of it.)

It would truly be the upset of the season if we managed to beat the Trojans by even a point. Even a controversial point. Even a point that was ruled later to be an illegal point. (Vindication, dammit.) I want to beat USC, of course. Beating USC would wipe away all the pain of the last two seasons. Of the last nine bowl losses, even.

It's a crazy dream.

But hell, so was Syracuse beating Notre Dame.

So was Appalachian State beating Michigan. (HAHAHAHA. It's still funny.)

....okay, I'm going to lay it out cold: I don't think we're going to beat USC. I think the entire band is going to travel to the Coliseum for the first time in the history of the band and be bitterly disappointed. I think we're going to win the battle of the bands and show up those Trojan (so-and-so's) in their own stadium, but I find it incredibly and extremely unlikely and also impossible for our team to pull this one out.

It sounds like I'm giving up. I'm not. I'm hoping for a miracle. I will cheer as loud as I possibly can on every single play, and I will not be distracted by picture-taking opportunities or post-halftime apples (if we even get apples) or obscene fans. I cannot tell you how much I would love to upset the Trojans in LA. My entire life as a Notre Dame fan (up to this point) would be complete. (There are still other things to consider, like imminent bowl games, but I would almost rather beat the Trojans and lose another bowl game than the other way around.)

And yes, even after that abominable performance against Syracuse, bowl games are still interested in us. Say good-bye to the Cotton and Gator Bowls for sure, but the Sun Bowl said recently that they'd still be very interested in a 6-6 Notre Dame team. (Effing hell. I do not want to spend my New Year's Eve playing the YMCA with the Village People. Though I may get my wish, depending on who the Gator Bowl picks. I think...if they take a Big East team, the Sun Bowl has to take a Big 12 team so they can't pick us...or something. But the Big 12's hella good this year; I can't imagine the Gator Bowl wouldn't want one of them. We'll see though. There are still other bowls out there who would want a 6-6 ND team for economic reasons. Though depending how pissed off the fans are at the coach, the turnout might be slightly less enthusiastic than usual.)

Anyway. I would say let's hope the Trojans overlook us so we can sneak in there and snatch victory away before they know what hit 'em...but since Pete Carroll's been there, the Trojans haven't overlooked us once, so I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for USC to make a big mental error like that. I also wouldn't hold my breath waiting for them to let up on us even if we're losing 38-0. (Thank you for last year, Pete Carroll, and for unnecessarily challenging a play like the jackass that you are. Looking forward to seeing you in action at home. P.S. Why is it that your face always makes me think of diarrhea?)

I do, though, think we can count on our team to play better. For one thing, they'll be in California, and I'm sure Jimmy will be much happier playing in his home state than he was in the frigid cold this week in South Bend. For another, I think it's safe to say they'd like to win as much as we'd like for them to win, and if they can just manage to show that undying hunger that Syracuse had, their efforts will come back to them tenfold. They will be the darlings of the Notre Dame universe (and the national media circus) for ages and ages if they pull this one out. They'll be slapped up on ESPN classic mere days later. They'll re-open their chances for a Gator Bowl bid. They'll reclaim some of the manhood they lost to Syracuse. They'll make Trojan babies cry.

And they will make the Band of the Fighting Irish the 400 happiest SOBs you've ever seen in Los Angeles. (And it will be in a way entirely unrelated to cocaine, so, you know, that'll be something new for L.A. as well.) And if only we were going to be in Los Angeles one day longer, they could just drop the entire band off at UCLA and we could celebrate with those completely baller SOBs all night long.

I'm pretty sure Dr. Dye would not approve this message.

So all fantasies aside, I just hope we play well enough for people to be like, "Okay, yeah, they deserve to go to a bowl game. Let's blame their last home game on the weather."

And if Charlie wants to save himself, this game is a little bit crucial.

The only thing that would make me even the smallest bit sad about winning is that it will mean Jimmy Clausen did something Brady Quinn never did, and between the two of them, Brady Quinn deserves to beat USC approximately 10 billion times more.

But you know what? Brady Quinn's a pro quarterback, and Jimmy Clausen just lost to....well, never mind.


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