Saturday, August 18, 2012

Really, Rick Reilly?

I really wanted to call this rant “Rick Reilly is a specious git (and other thoughts about the preseason),” but I decided it might undermine my own ethos to invoke purposely inflammatory language, so I’ll try to refrain.

If you haven’t yet seen this Reason To Rant, kindly check out Rick Reilly’s little love note, posted here via ESPN.

I’m not sure what bothers more about this article: that it’s nothing more than an eloquent incarnation of the same pre-season haterade Notre Dame fans have to drink every year, or that it’s written by someone who claims to have once been a Notre Dame fan.

As a sports journalist, I’m sure Rick Reilly’s ingested enough about Notre Dame over the years to sneeze booger-sized replicas of the Word of Life mural out his nose (that’s the actual name of Touchdown Jesus, for all you haters out there). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of his golden-plated angst stems from sheer inundation. Win or lose, Notre Dame Football still manages to generate more fan/hate mail than any other team. (There is supporting evidence for this somewhere. I recall reading a mailbag post last season in which a sportswriter discussed why he gets more fan/hate mail for Notre Dame than for any other team. But I can't find the link and I can't remember which sportswriter it was, so this severely undermines my argument. However, I did find this post, which is somewhat related and kind of interesting.)

All right, Rick, so you’re sick of the hype. So what?

Don’t get me wrong—sometimes the media’s obsession with making darlings out of Incidents Without Intrigue pisses me off, too. Did we really need to spend three entire postseasons discussing Brett Favre’s imminent retirement? Did we really need to give LeBron James an hour-long special on ESPN so he could make a four-syllable announcement that he’d decided to trade himself to the Miami Heat?

So if the inordinate attention Notre Dame receives is the fault of the media, I can see why, as a member of the media, you might feel you have the prerogative to call for a demotion from darling status.

But look, dude, I don’t care what sport you’re talking about: a team is only as popular as its fan base allows it to be.

FACT: Notre Dame hasn’t won a national championship since 1988. (With the possible exception of 1993, but let's not go there.)
FACT: Notre Dame Stadium has sold out for every single home game since 1966 except one - a 1973 Thanksgiving Day game vs. Air Force. (I'd stay home and eat turkey, too. Well...maybe.)

FACT: Notre Dame has won only 2 of its last 12 bowl games dating back to 1995.
FACT: The 2010 ND-Miami Sun Bowl marked the fastest sellout in Sun Bowl history, less than 24 hours after the matchup was announced. The 2011 ND-FSU Champs Sports Bowl matchup marked the only Champs Sports Bowl sellout ever.

FACT: Notre Dame gets yearly undeserved hellahype in preseason rankings and preseason All-America teams.
FACT: Manti Te’o could rip off Rick Reilly’s head with his eyelashes.

I know, I know. You're not impressed. Washed-up team vs washed-up team in a bowl game = stadium full of Alzheimer-friendly fans living blissfully in the throes of sports-induced flashbacks. Nebraska has more consecutive at-home sellouts. Nobody wants to see Notre Dame play at Yankee Stadium or Soldier Field or in Dublin, Ireland, so they should just give up the whole dumb independent thing.

Blah blah blah.

Whether you like it or not, Notre Dame wouldn’t be sitting at the BCS table or negotiating TV contracts or retaining their status as an independent if it weren’t economically viable for them to do so.

Trust me, no one is more painfully aware of Notre Dame's lack-of-luster in recent seasons than the entire Notre Dame fan base. And  no one wants to see the Irish wake up the echoes and shake down the thunder and win over all more than yours truly. (I burn. I pine. I perish.)

But many of the things I love most about my team you won’t find on the scoreboard after the clock hits zero. I love that the students stay and sing the alma mater after every game.  I love that we play the Naval Academy every year—not because I look to it as a guaranteed W on the schedule (nobody in their right mind could say that anymore, anyway), but because it represents a history of gratitude, admiration, and respect. I love that Notre Dame has the highest graduation rate for athletes of any D-I school in the country. I'm not saying winning isn't important (it's still sports, after all), but there's a lot more going on in college sports than what happens out there on the field--and if you're going to strike the low blow and bring up the Penn State scandal, surely you're aware of that.

So you know what, fine--you can lobby for our demotion all you want. Your pithy perfidy is nothing new. Rockne’s Ramblers had to travel all over the country because most of the teams in the Midwest refused to play us. Michigan blacklisted us out of the Big 10 for so long we finally gave up trying to join a conference. The very scourge of our opponents allowed us to win fans (and players) from every corner of the nation.

Ah—but that was back when you were winning, you say. Why should anybody care about the Irish now?

Because it's still our team, that’s why. The entire Irish fan base isn't going to fade into oblivion just because we aren't finishing in the Top 10 at the end of every season. If you don’t understand this, you might want to go back and check the last two lines of the alma mater again.

Notre Dame hasn't given up on anything. (One game of Brian Kelly's piss-poor clock management skills does not an entire season make.) And if you're going to punk out just because the Irish haven't won enough national championships for you lately...then I think you may have missed the point of being a fan.

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