Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Ineffable Consequences of Joy

THE IRISH ARE NUMBER ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There are not enough exclamation points in the universe to signify the cacophony of bliss going on inside my head.

Thanks to a trio of spectacular, irrefutable, stunningly victorious performances from the Fighting Irish, the Stanford Cardinal, and the Baylor Bears, Notre Dame is officially the only undefeated (bowl eligible) team left in the country, and the current undisputed AP number one.

The sign on top of Grace Hall has been lit.

For the first time since 1989, the Irish are 11-0.

For the first time since 1993, the Irish are second to no one.

This Week's Edition of Notre Dame Football Is Brought to You By the Number One

1 - current rank of Irish scoring defense (tied with 'Bama)
1 - current rank of Tyler Eifert for career receptions among Irish tight ends
11 - number of sacks made by Stephon Tuitt so far this season
1 - number of first-place votes the Irish received last week in the coaches' poll
1 - number of touchdowns allowed by the Irish in the last ten quarters of football
1 - number of shutouts posted by the Irish this season
1 - number of drives Wake Forest started past their own 30-yard line
1 - number of Irish coaches with more wins than Brian Kelly in their first three years (Dan Devine, with 28 - Kelly currently has 27)
1 - number of first-place votes Georgia received in the coaches' poll this week
1 - number of losses 'Bama needs to maintain if they want to make it to the national championship
1 - number of times Notre Dame needs to beat USC to make it to their first championship game in 24 years

"I can't imagine anybody, from what I saw today, playing any better than Notre Dame." -Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe

Lo, I say unto you: listen not to The Noise, wheresoever it may come. Let it slide as a dead weight from your shoulders. Shuffle it like the mortal-est of coils, so that your spirit may be lighter than air. Heed not the words of doubt that lie in wait, as shadows wait for the fall of the midday sun.

We could run the table, win out, beat Alabama in the national championship, take home the crystal trophy, win a Heisman for Manti, and THERE WILL STILL BE PEOPLE who say we "just got lucky" in the Pitt game.

Haters there always have been, and haters there always will be. We must bask so boisterously in the glory of our own joy that we cannot hear a single noise outside of it.

In other words: In this life, we ain't gotta prove nothin' to nobody, 'cept ourselves.

And hot damn--I don't think I need no more proof than this.


Last night, I felt as though I could fly into a million tiny little pieces. Some of them wanted to (for example) seek out Rick Reilly and whap him across the face with a gigantic inflatable monogram ND (do they sell such a thing? They should).

But most of them wanted to fly around the slick furor surrounding Stonehenge, or inhabit the indescribable sweat-drenched glory of the Backer, or become personally responsible for illuminating all the filaments inside the bulbs atop Grace Hall before dissolving into a state of pure, football-fueled delirium.

Instead, I happened to be standing in the midst of a prayer circle (of course), clasping hands with a group of newly-met acquaintances (why not?), singing along to songs I was only pretending to know the words of (naturally), when a friend came over and held up her smartphone proclaiming the score of the Baylor-Kansas State game. I think my eyes fell out of my head for a second.


On the way home, I caught the last few seconds of the Oregon-Stanford game on the radio.

For a while there, I was pretty sure I wasn't inhabiting reality at all.

I think joy is almost like a state of shock. It is both impossible to contain and impossible to endure alone, and it requires rounds of reassurance and confirmation (and whooping and hollering and slightly injuring those around you with excessive, hand-numbing high-fives) before you can accept and sufficiently bask in the state of HOLY SH*T GUYS THIS IS REAL THIS IS REAL THIS IS REAL!!!

And then, after many frabjous rounds of "like"ing every Facebook status you can find, you achieve state of zen mastery in which nothing can disturb you or deter you from your goal. Which is, of course, to BEAT SOUTHERN CAL.


Keep Calm...USC Sucks

I have nothing clever or elegant left for USC, because there is nothing clever or elegant to be wasted upon a school that encourages its student managers to cheat by deflating balls and then claims absolutely no knowledge of it.

Fair is fair: maybe you didn't have knowledge of it, USC. Maybe that's so. (Ha.) But really--deflating balls are the least of USC's problems, because their greatest problem is coming to the Coliseum next week to PAY--THEM--BACK.

I may or may not have made it all the way through 24 hours of celebration before I started thinking about how much we need to beat the Trojans. Perhaps the two energies inside my football-addled mind (these being "WE'RE NUMBER ONE" and "BEAT SC") are now coupled together in a frenetic kind of focus.

Which is exactly what the team needs to have this week. FOCUS.

Louis Nix tweeted the following at around midnight last night:
lOUIS NIX III ‏@IrishChocolate9
This means nothing because SC is getting ready for us. Go Irish!!!

Interestingly enough, this tweet was posted approximately two minutes after a friend on campus texted me to let me know Louis Nix was leading cheers in front of Stonehenge.

I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I think I like it.

Trojans Break

Somehow--miraculously--perhaps because the stars have aligned to pave our way to the national championship--I am not worried about how this team is going handle a night game on the road against their biggest rival. They handled the game against Oklahoma like pros. They handled yesterday's game against Wake Forest like champions. They understand exactly what's on the line, with College GameDay coming to town (for the third time this season) and the #1 ranking plastered all over their psyches like a giant moving target.

I'm not saying Southern Cal couldn't take us down. Baylor just beat the #1 team in the BCS, 52-24. This is college football. Anything could happen.

But I don't care.

I don't care that USC just lost to cross-town rival UCLA. I don't care whether Barkley's healthy or injured. I don't care whether everyone on GameDay "jinxes" us by picking us to win. We're not going to let anything happen. We are going to MAKE something happen.


This isn't 2005, or 2006--and it sure as hell ain't 2007. This is the best scoring defense in the country, going up against a team that's lost to every ranked opponent it's faced this season (plus Arizona). It doesn't matter if USC gives us their best performance all season. Yes, I realize they're loaded with top-flight talent. Yes, I realize Barkley's probably out on Saturday. (Although my feelings on THAT subject can pretty much be summed up by the following tweet:
Matt Q. ‏@A5thDown
Don’t you dare believe that little chunk of excrement, Lane Kiffin, until Barkley isn’t playing on Saturday. #BeatSC)

And as we learned from the Weis era (and, obviously, from the movie Miracle), talent doesn't matter if you can't use it inside a system that's designed for the betterment of the team.

That's why the Irish keep winning this season. Not because they have the best quarterback in the country or five Michael Floyds at wide receiver; not because they're the best on paper or because everyone said they were gonna be great at the beginning of the season (HA); they win because they are a team. Because they're not just playing for their school or for trophies or for personal glory--they're playing for each other. They're like a family. All the greatest teams are like families. Ask anyone from just about any championship team ever (or just watch the movie Miracle); it's true.

Former players even bring this up at pep rallies sometimes. Like--for example--when the 1977 national championship team came back to campus for a reunion (I'm pretty sure this was in 2007): they all came to the pep rally, and the speakers from the '77 team went on and on, not about the championship itself, but about how much they loved being around their teammates, and how much they loved playing together as team. And you could tell. You could still see it, in the way the players were interacting with each other. And let me tell you what--it was a stark difference from the way our 2007 squad looked, sitting there at the same pep rally. (Not that this is shocking, considering how the 2007 season went.)

Of course, I do realize that the '77 team was just back for a reunion, had no pressure whatsoever to win a game the next day (or ever again), had already won a championship, decades and decades ago--etc etc etc. But what I'm saying is, the vibe from the '77 team was a lot like the vibe you get at a nice big family reunion where the family actually gets along (if you can picture such a thing). And I don't think the vibe came from them winning a championship together. I think that sort of vibe is something you have to create en route to a championship and that's part of why you win it.

It's like the Anna Karenina principle: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

There are all sorts of complicated derivations of offense and defense and x's and o's, of course, but the underlying principle of teamwork is the same: you've got to be willing to block for the person next to you, or you ain't gonna win beans.

And whatever else Notre Dame may be lacking (according to the plethora of our extremely vocal critics this season), this is one thing we've got, without question. Manti Te'o is the heart and soul of it. And I would take our team--our family--the entire Notre Dame family--against any team in the country, any day of the week.

And if Notre Dame's like a family, then I'd say in comparison, USC's more like a bunch of obnoxious second cousins with a disreputable uncle they have to keep bailing out of jail for excessive misdemeanors.

So bring it, Trojans. Bring it.


"But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep." -Herman Melville, Moby Dick

So my Senior Day was possibly the worst Senior Day of all time. Not that anyone from the class of '09 needs reminding, but we lost to a 2-7 Syracuse team with a lame duck head coach in the freezing cold while the student section pelted snowballs down from the stands. That game has been brought up a lot this season, because that happened to be Manti Te'o's first official visit to the university.

What a sea-change since then.

In 2010, I wrote a football rant as interpreted through the words of Herman Melville (aka Notre Dame Football: Moby Dick Edition), and certain phrases keep popping back into my head. The one above was foremost in my mind as I started mulling over yesterday's nearly-perfect 38-0 win over Wake Forest.

If Senior Day 2008 was the sludgy depths, then Senior Day 2012 must be near the top of the peak. We're not quite to the top of that delight yet, but we're getting close. SO--INCREDIBLY--CLOSE.

"For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this [football program], they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include...all the generations of [All-Americans], and [coaches], and [Heisman winners], past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of [Catholic Disney World], and throughout the whole [college football] universe, not excluding its [non-BCS] suburbs.

It was that accursed [twenty-year championship drought] that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!... I'll chase [it] round [the Big House], and round the [Coliseum], and round the [Orange Bowl], and round perdition's flames before I give [it] up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that [twelfth championship] on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till [it] spouts [blue banners] and rolls [trophies] out.

All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy [Irish fans], are visibly personified, and made practically assailable in [that elusive twelfth national championship]. We pile upon the [Golden Dome] the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by [the college football world], from [USC and Backup College and Bo Schembechler on] down....

Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering [twelfth national championship]; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."


South Bend Tribune/ROBERT FRANKLIN

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