Sunday, November 14, 2010


Some nights stick with you forever.

Some day you'll be old with creaking bones, probably hooked up to a monitor the size of a potato chip taking measurements of all your key bodily functions including the exact trajectory of your next fart (sorry, I've been reading too much Dave Barry lately), and someone will mention that the Irish are getting ready to play on Senior Day, and suddenly memory will leap over the years and you'll find yourself standing right back there on that field soaked in endorphin-tinged glory, screaming and reveling with 8,000 of your closest friends (or, in the case of the band members, no longer capable of paying any attention to what you're playing because you're mentally screaming and reveling with 8,000 of your closest friends; but that's okay because at this point your fingers know the songs better than your brain does anyway; and besides who the hell is going to care if you accidentally play an E-flat here anyway? Who the hell is going to care if you're incapable of playing anything at all? That's right, no one), and it will be as though no time has passed at all.

Some details will start to blur together, but other moments will lodge deep in your brain; and as other bits of memory fade, these will become sharper by contrast, and more potent.

I will never forget the 2006 night game against MSU in Spartan Stadium. I will never forget the rain-drenched, mud-soaked fervor of moldy band jackets and mildewed sheet music; the slip-n-slide-Africa-exploding-volcano halftime show; the sheer decibel level of the 400 people standing next to me. Never again in my life will I hear the marching band scream as loudly as they did that night, and if someone tries to tell me otherwise, I will not believe them. The band was so unbelievably cacophonous that we had alumni writing in to the Observer about it afterward. Including this letter, which I often think of when I think of that night:

Give due credit of last Saturday's win to the Notre Dame marching band. We sat across from them on the press box side of the field. They had to stand on the sideline the entire game, and they played their hearts out in the last eight minutes of that game when Michigan State imploded. They made the noise of 30,000 screaming Irish fans every time the Spartans tried to run plays from deep in their own territory late in the game. I don't think that Notre Dame would have won the game without them. I am told that the Michigan State game was their only scheduled road game. If this is true, it's a shame.The University should cough up the money to send them on the road every time we play a quality opponent.

Thomas D. Drake alumnus class of 1974 Sept. 24

(Thank you to the Observer archives for that one.)

Other sharp-and-clear memories from that night include the football team running over to stand next to the band and the several hundred Irish fans who clambered their way down the quickly-emptying stands to be in our corner of the stadium after the game; Jeff Samardzija yelling "Play the fight song!" over and over again until we did; taking a picture of the final scoreboard; hurrying out of the stadium behind the MSU band, not even marching but clumping as closely together as possible so the MSU fans (who were cursing and throwing things at us BEFORE the game started) didn't feel tempted to do anything they might regret later; boarding the buses feeling too exhausted to keep celebrating but too ebullient to care; eating THE BEST SUB SANDWICH I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE; discovering that I had the DVD of Rudy shoved into the recesses of my backpack, and subsequently enjoying the viewing of said movie more than I ever have in my life....

It's funny; you'd think I would have more concrete memories of the actual football game. But to be honest, the live-game action is all kind of a blur. Do I remember what happened in the game? Of course. I was standing right behind the endzone (THE ENDZONE) at field level, so the angle was terrible, but I remember the adrenaline of the turnaround--the miraculous turnovers--the fabulous TD passes from Brady Quinn--

And I know that, long after many other Notre Dame football players have faded from my consciousness, I will remember Terrail Lambert's name.

But I don't necessarily remember what all these plays looked like, from my angle on the field. I don't remember the exact moments in which they occurred, or what I was doing with myself at the time; I just remember screaming and screaming and screaming until I couldn't think anymore. And now when I look back on that game and reminisce over all the miraculous football action that occurred, I don't picture it from my angle on the field. I picture it from this highlight video:

Funny how memory works, huh?

It's something unpredictable, but in the end that's right

This year's seniors entered during the fall of 2007 and experienced the worst season in Notre Dame football history, followed by two disappointing 6-6 campaigns and this season's frustrating, injury-leaden "transitional year" in the wake of a coaching change.

Not that there weren't any bright spots; a win in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl and Golden Tate come to mind. But there were a lot more low points, and the low points hit you harder, especially when, for example, you come out in the freezing cold and lose on Senior Day amid a flurry of snowballs to a 2-7 Syracuse team with a lame duck head coach. (And you make David Bruton CRY.)

This, of course, would be MY senior day, and it was sheer misery. My hands went numb, my toes went numb, my heart went numb. The post-season pineapple trophy was nice, but it didn't really make up for things. (Last year's seniors know what I'm talking about, although at least for their actual Senior Day they didn't start to go numb in all their major organs.)

And I only bring this shit up because last night was--I don't know--redemption.

I think that word is thrown around too much when it comes too football, but it kind of feels true, doesn't it? Doesn't it seem like all the pussy-ass twatwaffles who wrote into the Observer about rushing the field when we lose on Senior Day (or who silently agreed with said twatwaffles) need to just pack up with all their unbelief and get the hell out of town?

Thank you, Rocket.
Thank you, bye week.
Thank you, seniors, for sticking with it.
Thank you, team, for not cashing in your chips.
Thank you, Tommy, for not throwing any interceptions.
Thank you, Robert, for giving us the play we needed to allow us to play the way we should always play.

And thank you, Coach Kelly, for being the coach that I know you are; for understanding how to manage the emotions of a bunch of college kids; and for saying exactly what I've been thinking all week long.

Behold this quote:

You saw it today, a football team that didn’t have on their shoulders the traditions and reputations and all the things that you have to worry about sometimes being a football player at Notre Dame. [...] They just flat-out played.

And in doing so, they managed to uphold all the traditions and reputations and expectations that come along with being a football player at Notre Dame.

Can I just say again--it's funny how these things work, isn't it?

Just remember: football is 80% mental, and 40% physical.

(...and 100% badass.)

I know I've used this Little Giants quote before, but I love it because it's SO TRUE. So much of football (so much of life) is all about your attitude and the way you come to play. In the words of Brian Smith:

You just have to have the emotional advantage, that even if you aren't, that you play like you are the baddest on the field and nobody can stop you. Having the kind of attitude makes you a better player and so that gives you that edge.

As an individual player, the mental edge can only take you so far. (For example, you might think you can beat Golden Tate in a one-on-one matchup, but HA HA HA he's totally going to score on you at some point and there's just nothing you can do about it.) But if your whole team has that mental edge, you're going to win football games.

Certain friends of mine from Texas are going to find this extremely painful, but we owe some of yesterday's win to the Horned Frogs.

I was thinking maybe Utah would come off the loss to TCU feeling pissed off and out to prove something, but instead they came out looking demoralized and more than a little sloppy. Ten penalties for 65 yards in the first half? Ouch.

Some of the first half success we can reasonably attribute to Utah not being quite ready to play, and our players being in-the-zone enough to capitalize on it.

Our offense did nothing the first couple possessions. They needed a kick, a momentum swing, to get things going, and they got it. And once the offense got going...Jonas Gray had some killer runs, Michael Floyd had some crucial grabs and some even more crucial blocks, Duval Kamara came out of nowhere (like he does occasionally) and had two TD grabs on his Senior Day, and Tommy Rees threw for 3 TDs and NO INTERCEPTIONS in his first official start.

So can I just say again -- THANK YOU ROBERT BLANTON.

Or should I be thanking Harrison Smith?

That first interception was absolutely crucial. I think it gave us the momentum swing that set the whole rest of the game in motion. I realize that the offense didn't do anything with the possession immediately following that play, but I think it made all the difference for our D.

The defense--or perhaps more accurately, Harrison Smith--went out still feeling high after that interception. Harrison Smith made the first two tackles on Utah's possession, both of them run plays (and the second run was enough for a first down). Then, mysteriously, Utah decided to throw the ball three times in a row, and our defense (to the shock and awe of all in attendance) managed to PUT SOME PRESSURE ON THE QUARTERBACK and shut down the Utah passing attack, forcing one two-yard gain and two incompletions.(And no, Utah did not have any penalties on that particular possession, so the only self-inflicted agony there was the playcalling.)

And Utah, with its head still-not-quite-in-the-game, managed to fall asleep on the punt play and allowed Robert Blanton blow right through, block the punt, scoop the ball up on a lucky bounce, and sprint straight into the endzone.

And then we were on fire.

We got a little help from Utah, sure, but our boys played all four quarters, and the defense in particular did not let up. Fueled by the momentum and the crowd and the mental edge, they kept the Utes out of the endzone and Protected Our House in a way all the doubters and haters and unbelievers have started to claim we are no longer capable of doing.

Well, screw you people. You wanna know what protecting our house on Senior Day looks like? It looks kind of like this:

Utah Possessions - How Lost


Or, better yet, it looks like this:

(Sorry about the stupid ad at the beginning....if anyone has a link to a better highlight video, by all means let me know.)

Perhaps I'm sounding really reasonable and calm about all this...but have I mentioned that I pretty much feel like this?


Haven't I been saying all season that we're making improvements, and we're getting better and better mentally, and one day this is all going to manifest into something brilliant? (HAVE I been saying this all season? I can't remember. I've been THINKING this shit all season.) More fabulous quotes from Coach Kelly (and I swear I'm not just mimicking everything he's saying and trying to pass it off as my own):

It's the culmination of what we've been working on since December. You don't just pull these out of a hat. You don't just wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, let's rise up today.' It's the consistency of approach from a day-to-day basis and how we go to work every day.

We're not a finished product by any means, but we're starting to develop the mental and physical toughness, the way that you need to go and approach this game on a day-to-day basis.

You tell 'em, coach.

Also, quotes with some definite attitude from Cierre Wood:

The game plan was to come out and just beat them up physically and mentally.

I think we did that very good. There was definitely body language in the first half, and midway through the third quarter. It seemed like they didn't really want no part of us no more. So we just had to go for the kill.


(You can talk the talk as long as you walk the walk, Cierre, but the next time we lose a game my heart's going to break a little more over your grammar.)

Also, I'm going to steal some key facts from this Eric Hansen article in the South Bend Tribune:

  • The Irish broke a streak of 11 straight losses to ranked teams, which started with a 47-21 home drubbing from Michigan on Sept. 16, 2006.
  • It was the highest-rated team the Irish had taken down since before any of the current players attended freshman orientation - more precisely, a 17-10 upending of a third-ranked Michigan on the road in game 2 of the coach Charlie Weis Era back in 2005.
  • Saturday marked the fewest points the Irish allowed against an AP Top 20 team since a Jan. 1, 1993, Cotton Bowl win over No. 4 Texas A&M, also a 28-3 victory.
  • It was the fewest points Utah has scored since losing 17-0 to UNLV on Sept. 22, 2007. That's a span of 45 games including Saturday's Irish victory.
  • It was ND's largest margin of victory against AP Top 20 team since Oct. 12, 1996, when Notre Dame beat Washington 54-20.

  • Also, Hansen's article ends with this comparison:

    [...] this team, this mission is about big pictures and foundations, not isolated moments in time. In the post-Lou Holtz Era, Notre Dame has become the McRib of college football.

    It's back. It's gone. It's back. It's gone.

    It's back?

    Hahaha. Who knows? And to be honest, right now I don't even care.

    The Irish won on Senior Day. That's all that matters. We've got two games to go and our hopes of becoming bowl eligible are still alive, but I'm not going to think about any of that right now.

    I'm giving myself at least a twenty-four-hour rule, and I'm celebrating.

    To conclude

    So, since I'm waxing all nostalgic about my most memorable game as a student, I'm curious to know... What's your most memorable game? As a student or otherwise. And, for current students (and seniors especially), what stuck out at you yesterday? What were your favorite moments? What little ancillary details do you think will stick with you, long after many other things have faded?

    Last but not least...


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