Sunday, September 11, 2011

Finding the Echoes

Notre Dame 31, Michigan 35

Beat me in an agonizing, soul-shearing, bladder-bursting, throat-clenched-up-around-your-eyeballs, down-to-the-wire brawling rivalry match once—good for you.

Beat me twice—shame on me.

Beat me three times—WHAT THE F***?

A rant for my comrades-in-arms

I do not care about statistics or fumbles or interceptions. I don’t care about all-time win records or Desmond Howard or fucking night games in the Big House. I don’t care about the numbers. It doesn’t matter how many yards we racked up or how many points we scored or whether our players broke any school records (which probably they didn’t, although they did last week—WHATEVER). Do you know what does matter?

Dear Notre Dame Football,

I love you and support you no matter what, so please GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.

I say this out of a deep and extremely painful place of faith and support. I say this with a total commitment to everything I said last week, and the week before that, and the week before that. I’m not going to reiterate any of that because there’s no point.

I know that nothing I say or do or blither senselessly into the night is going to have any impact on how you prepare or how you act or what you do out there on the field, so everything I spout out amounts to basically NOTHING, but I know of no other way to cope with the frustration and the astonishment and the unholy heartache of watching a good team and a more-than-good defense lose YET AGAIN to a team that they could have beaten—that they had beaten—for absolutely no reason at all.

And I’m not going to watch the coach’s interviews, or the player’s interviews, or anybody’s interviews; and I’m not going to look at the stats from this week or read any articles or look at any fucking blogs; and I’m not going to come up with something clever because there’s nothing clever left to say. Not at two in the morning.

You know what is left to say?

You are Notre Dame, and you need to get over this. Whatever “this” is—snap out of it. I don’t care if you’re playing or coaching in a fishbowl. So what? I don’t care if every other team wants to beat you more badly than anything ever. YOU’RE NOTRE DAME, RIGHT? SO DON’T LET THEM.

Love, Lisa

Pontifications on Perplexities

Too many of our recent coaches—possibly ALL of our recent coaches—have treated the Notre Dame tradition like it’s some kind of burden, some kind of weight, some kind of distraction. Even the coaches that you felt like “got it”—as soon as they feel the pressure and experience the perplexity of the fishbowl, they want to get away from it. They want their teams to tune out of it and just go to work every day.

And on the one hand, sure. You want your team to go to work every day. But on the other hand—THIS IS WHAT NOTRE DAME IS.

I know everyone’s tired of Notre Dame being all in-the-national-spotlight even though fans of most other teams will gladly tell you we are no longer relevant and haven’t been for years. And maybe it is tiresome to cling to the good ol’ stories about championships and Heisman trophies and the Four Horsemen and Louuuu, but it’s important. Not because we’re crazy and not because we’re clinging to the past like it’s all we have.

It’s important because whether or not we’re playing like YE OLDE NOTREE DAMEE OFE YORE, we’re still…you know, Notre Dame.

During its 25th anniversary season, ESPN ranked the Irish as part of the #3 greatest college football rivalry of all time: Notre Dame vs. Everyone.

Which is still true. Everyone wants to play the Irish. And beat the Irish. And straight-up hate on the Irish. For curious reasons, beating us still matters, even when we suck.

Although right now we don’t suck. That’s not our problem. We’ve just got this discouraging little trend going of allowing-opponents-to-beat-us-when-they-have-no-business-beating-us.

A couple years ago, Dr. Lou gave our team one of his “pep talks." He said something along the lines of, “Sure, other teams get excited to play the Irish, and they’re going to go out there and give you their best game. But you get to go out there and represent the University of Notre Dame. What greater motivation do you need?”

Right on, Dr. Lou. I think you’ve hit the problem on the head.

I’m not saying this team doesn’t have the drive to win or the right idea about What It Means To Play For Notre Dame. I think we’ve got a lot more heart and a lot less punk-face ego than we’ve had in previous seasons.

But we’re still somehow in a place where our head coach is telling us to “be patient,” which is coach-speak for “holy shit it’s game one of season two and already people are hanging me out to dry.” More for resembling an heirloom tomato on the sidelines than for losing the South Florida game—but still, it’s not like the two weren’t related.

Obviously B.Kelly’s just as frustrated as the rest of us. Only lucky for him, it’s his job to fix this. So he gets to scurry off and do that while the rest of us sit around twiddling our thumbs wondering what’s going on behind closed doors and whether next week’s game against MSU is going to be another hope-staining stinkbomb of agony.

Mostly what concerns me, though, are Brian Kelly’s comments over this past week about living in the fishbowl and not being used to this kind of scrutiny. Which, okay, I understand--I’m sure it’s a harsh adjustment being suddenly so under-the-gun after experiencing the somewhat more patient and less hostile fan base during Year One. Not that year one was so easy—I recall writing a post last year commenting about how we, as a fan base, just need to CHILL OUT sometimes and let the players and coaches do what they do without the crushing pressure of OMG NO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN OVER TWENTY YEARS PLEASE WIN ONE NOWWWWWWW.

However. While I still believe the coaches and players need to tune out the restless pontifications of the fans, the students, the media, and desperate football bloggers everywhere, there are some things they don’t need to tune out. There are some things that I think are starting to be treated as a burden instead of as a boost, a boon, a bedrock of support.

What I mean by that is this:

Last night, after the game ended, when I was full of too many beers and too much disappointment and absolutely could not handle staring at footage of the Big House for one more freaking second, I went into the bathroom (I was at a friend’s house), shut the door, closed my eyes, plugged my fingers in my ears, and hummed the Notre Dame fight song.

I don’t know why I did this. I know it's strange, but I did it without thinking, and you know what? It made me feel better.

I confess this to you not because you need further evidence of how much of a total psycho I am, but because as I stood there blocking out everything except the single-note strains of my favorite fight song, I realized something.

Dr. Lou is right. All the things that we keep referring to as “pressure”—all the traditions and the history and the ongoing demand to Play Like a Champion Today—aren’t just cheesy harbingers of a past that has no place in our present. They’re not a burden or a curse or a marker of an era gone by. They're the reason you coach. They're the reason you play. They're the wellspring from which you draw strength.

The coach that is finally able to embrace this--to imbue the players with the sense that the echoes are not just out there waiting to be lived up to, but that they are yours, they are a part of you, from the second you step on campus--is the coach that will finally bring us all the way back.

Maybe Kelly is working on this. Maybe this is why he says “be patient.”

But it’s hard to be patient thinking of comments from last season when the coach described the team as "playing like they didn’t have all the traditions and history and expectations of Notre Dame hanging over them—they just flat-out played.”

Yeah, I want our team to flat-out play, but if you’re going to win a championship ever again, you have to do more than that. You don't shirk the traditions. You don’t even try to live up to them. You just have to live them.

The “measuring stick” of our team from yesterday informs us that we are not exactly there yet. And how do you get there?

I don’t know. I don’t think you can get there based on a confidence that comes only from accumulating wins—otherwise you end up like Utah last season, and you totally crack after your first loss.

So you have to get your strength from elsewhere. You have to have confidence that comes from nowhere but yourself, your teammates, your coaches. Not in spite of the pressure, but because that's why you came.

And it's not like the players aren't saying these things. They're just not doing them yet. At least not in a way that's allowing them to win games.

So I’m going to keep watching, and waiting, and hoping. One day we’ll round the bend and we will no longer lose games that are within our power to win. One day we’ll get back everything we had at the end of last season, and play for all four quarters. One day we’ll play like NOTRE DAME again.

Like next Saturday, maybe.

If all else fails, I’ll sit on the floor, plug my fingers in my hears, and hum.


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