Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Notre Dame Football: Read It Like A Book Edition

Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0

You know that feeling when you're reading a good book and you don't want it to end, but you cannot put it down because it is SO GOOD--and then once you're finished you're desperate to talk about it with someone but talking about it only makes you want to read it again, and then after you're done re-reading it you think "DANGIT why isn't there a sequel?" and then once the sequel is announced you feel both thrilled and trepidatious, because how could the sequel possibly be as good as the original? It can't, of course--but there's always the hope that the author's only warming up and the sequel will be even better than the original and after enough days of rehashing and re-reading and re-reading and re-reading you become a bit desperate for the sequel because YOU MUST KNOW. WHY ISN'T IT PUBLISHED YET.

That is what this season's like.

At least so far.

Notre Dame's 31-0 shellacking of the Michigan Wolverines is a page of history I want to read over and over and over again. After the game, I went home after the game and scrolled obsessively through Twitter, liked every game-related Facebook status I could find, rewatched the game highlights, re-posted my favorite .GIFs; and all week long I've continued rewatching and rehashing and basically LIVING THE DREAM and still I cannot get enough of how awesome it was.

The last game against Michigan that even came close to being this much fun was the 2012 affair in which Denard Robinson threw four interceptions. In a row. On his birthday.

But it was not necessarily a game you want to take home and cherish. It was simply one wild victory amid a series of demoralizing, outrageous narrow defeats and equally hair-raising victories against the Wolverines.

Our final prime-time showdown against the Skunkbears (for the next twenty-odd years--or however long the series goes on hiatus this time) seemed destined to follow the same scurrilous plotlines as almost-every matchup for the last decade: another bloody, pulp-fiction mash-up--gory and gut-wrenching down to the last punctuation mark.

Instead it was a giddy, gloom-free adventure yarn, thick with touchbacks, touchdowns, turnovers, and--egads! can it be?--punt returns (fielded by the absolutely fearless Cody Riggs), dazzling its readers (I mean spectators) with a breathtaking, never-before-seen 31-0 conclusion.

At least, it was if you're an Irish fan.

Pursuit of Perfection

If I said this was a perfect game for the Irish, that would be a lie. Everett Golson needed three time-outs during the first series of the game to get the offensive tempo right. Our receivers dropped some key passes. Michigan came within scoring range on their first two drives of the game, notched 9 more yards of total offense than the Irish (289 to ND's 280), and converted a key 4th down early in the game.

But Michigan had four turnovers. We had none.

Michigan missed two field goals. We were so busy scoring touchdowns we only attempted one.

Notre Dame was 4 for 4 on scoring chances in the red zone. Michigan didn't even make it to the red zone.

The crazy thing is--Michigan didn't even look that bad. It wasn't like they were falling all over themselves, fumbling snaps or running all over the field like fools, the way my unfortunate and least-favorite-protagonist (aka JimmayJimmayJimmay) did when Michigan blanked us 38-0 in 2007. Michigan looked like a team that knew how to execute; and which is probably capable of executing at a much higher level.

Only they didn't, because we were too busy straight-up kicking their ass and everybody knows it. Including Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke:

"Number one, give Notre Dame credit for how they played. It was a total butt-kicking all the way around."

Step off, Balrog. You thought you had our number but we totally turned Gandalf the White on your ass.

Feel free to savor that for like the next two decades.

Double Double, Toil and Trouble...

I'm just going to say this now, even though it's only two games in and too soon to call it: something special's brewing in South Bend.

I'm not saying it to be cocky and I'm not worried about jinxing us (though feel free to knock on wood if you like); it's just a deep-down feeling in my gut, and it's been there ever since I walked out of the stadium Saturday night.

The crowd was different than I expected. Not rowdy or raucous or even necessarily electric. Just fierce. Because it wasn't a game filled with the thrill of a comeback or sudden, violent twists of fortune (despite the turnovers); it was a page-turning ADVENTURE, where from beginning to end, no matter what potential peril loomed ahead, everything always turned out all right. And you don't keep going along with the story because you want to see more peril; you keep going because every freaking page is full of WIN.

Even if an undeniable part of the glee over beating the Wolverines is fueled by a borderline vicious desire to have the last laugh, the energy in the stadium was not one of anger or revenge; it was more the exuberant energy of JOY. Pure celebration. And contentment. Like lying on the beach reading your favorite book all day while people bring you free drinks kind of contentment. That sleepy, assured certainty pooling deep in your stomach that ALL IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD, and whatever disasters are going on elsehwere, whatever uncertainties or doubts or pitfalls lie in our future, they cannot touch you at this moment. Nothing can touch you. At this moment, YOU ARE INVINCIBLE. And you do not want it to end.

In all honesty: the loudest thing I heard coming out of the student section all night was a booming chorus of "Notre Dame Our Mother," followed by most of the students just standing around for a while, not wanting the night to end. So naturally everyone went home and watched replays, accompanied by sudden uncontrollable bouts of maniacal laughter. (Well, okay. Maybe that was just me.)

But anyway. My point is--for most of 2012, it felt like we were playing with a chip on our shoulders. We had a year of amazing, nailbiting victories--of questions that needed to be answered, points that had to be proved. Our squad that year was driven by the defense; its heart and soul was undeniably Manti Te'o. And when Te'o got crushed by a hideous catcfishing scam, the team likewise faltered and went down hard. (That's my narrative and I'm sticking to it.)

But the team that played Michigan Saturday night? No questions. Only answers. As Coach Kelly noted in the post-game presser:

But, this team [...] probably its success is really in its youth. There's young guys out there that are playing for this football team, and we have embraced that. [...] It's a group of kids that has bonded really well together on both sides of the ball. So, it's not really just one side. It's not just the defense. It's not just the offense. When we won 12 games, it was definitely a defensive group that kind of led that. This, they feed off of each other one both sides of the ball. 

The team that was in the stadium Saturday night put forth an effort so complete, so unified, so viscerally present that our mistakes didn't matter. We made mistakes, but we absorbed them the way readers absorb minor typos in an otherwise perfect manuscript: we glossed right over them and moved on. 

As Lou Holtz reminds us, you don't have to be the best team in the country. you just have to be the best team in the stadium every week. So we don't need to play perfect every week. We just need to play like THAT every week. Not like we're out to prove something; just like we're out there to PLAY. If we play every game the way we played Saturday, we will win every game on our schedule.

Anyway. I know it's too early in the season to be saying any of this and that everyone is looking forward to Stanford as the next big test. But our goose-egg defeat of the Skunkbears isn't the kind of game you see every day. Or every decade. And I am just saying. If we keep this up--if we believe in Mt. Everett, the man who cannot be brought down--if we believe in a full-team effort led by the Prodigol5on.... There's something special about to start brewing in South Bend.

And in the meantime:


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Notre-Dame Michigan Postgame Tweets

Because there's nothing like reliving the moment over and over in 140 characters or less.

Last season: lost 41-30 at the Big House. Michigan plays the chicken dance to bid us farewell.

Notre Dame fans remain unintimidated.

Game Day: Under the Lights

1st half: Notre Dame 21, Michigan 0 

2nd half: Notre Dame continues to exceed expectations. Van Gorder lives the dream.


4th quarter: Better than the chicken dance


Final Score:


Postgame: Everything Is Awesome

Sunday Morning:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Game Day Scavenger Hunt: Michigan Week

Game Day Scavenger Hunt

It's a long way to kickoff. You should tweet me pictures of your ND-Michigan game day preparations @shamrockhead

See if you can capture any of these gems:
-Cars plastered with Notre Dame paraphernalia
-People painted entirely green
-People wearing kilts (who aren't the Irish Guard)
-People dressed up as nuns and priests
-Wait...actual nuns and priests
-People taking Touchdown Jesus pictures in front of Touchdown Jesus
-Tailgates with pirate flags
-Someone wearing outrageously tricked-out Notre Dame tennis shoes (I know at least one person who has a pair)
-Someone who's converted an XXL version of "The Shirt" into a dress
-Dogs wearing spirit gear (not that I generally condone dogs wearing people clothing--I am just saying)
-The person wearing the most rally beads
-A bloody mary with an absurd amount of garnish
-Notre Dame fans photobombing Michigan fans
-People dressed up like leprechauns (who aren't the actual leprechaun)
-Random road signs (or, you know, Burger King signs) cheering on the Irish
-The tailgate that looks most like a formal banquet
-Food purposely shaped like footballs. Or shamrocks.
-Muck Fichigan shirts
-Anything so ridiculous it must be photographed
-Anyone not on campus who is still tailgating like a boss

Send them to me @shamrockhead and I will compile them into a Game Day Photo Post.  Dooooo ittttttttttt.

Notre Dame Football: Last Night of the Skunkbear Edition

I confess it: the season snuck up on me. The summer, the cheating scandals, the potential unionization of college football players, the ridiculous four-team playoff system that . I saw it all coming (well--maybe not the entire ND cheating scandal, but since that's indelibly intertwined with all the other major issues in college football it is, alas, is another post for another time). And I let it sneak up on me anyway.

I didn't have time to collect my thoughts before the Rice game, and sure as our special teams unit (NEWS FLASH: special teams unit now live -- good field position now available in all locations -- no limits on exchanges or returns) I didn't have time to write anything after. But it's Michigan week--the Last Night of the Skunkbear for probably twenty-odd years. I can't let that pass in silence.

First things first - I'm going to sum up some of my thoughts with

Shit I Didn't Have to Write

ESPN College GameDay's spot this morning about about walk-ons, featuring this choice quote from ND Running Back Tyler Plantz:
-How much did last semester's tuition cost you?
-Nine grand.
-Worth it?
-I would've paid nine million
The Odds from SB Nation:
The Michigan Wolverines are 6-2 SU and ATS in their last eight games against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but just 2-6 at South Bend since 1998.
Despite their recent success in this series, the Wolverines are the betting underdog this Saturday going off at +5 on the road against Notre Dame.

Everett Golson has never lost a regular season game under center at Notre Dame, improving to 13-0 SU and 8-5 ATS all-time in last Saturday's win over Rice. He is poised to improve to 14-0 when he leads the Fighting Irish to a win and cover as a 5-point favorite over Michigan on Saturday.
To pull off the road upset, Michigan will likely need to get the running game going against a Notre Dame defense that is replacing five of last year's seven starters in the front seven.

The West Wing clip:

Did you say Michigan sucks? I'm sorry, I thought you said Michigan sucks.'s take on the Last Known Matchup Between ND and Michigan For Some Tim:
"Much like energy, a rivalry can neither be created nor destroyed. So, Michigan’s hatred for Notre Dame will (probably) turn into more hate for Ohio State. Notre Dame’s disdain for Michigan will (presumably) scatter all over this great nation."

I don't really feel the need to defend Notre Dame's scheduling choices to Michigan fans (in the same that way I don't feel the need to waste my breath arguing integrity with USC fans), but since the ND-Michigan game is going on hiatus for an indeterminate number of years (which, let's face it, is another traditional part of the rivalry), it's hard to resist quoting Lou:
I just want all Michigan alums and administration to know--it's not that we're not playing you because we're afraid of you. We're not playing you because we're trying to upgrade the damn schedule.

But really, nothing sums up my thoughts on the Michigan rivalry better than Blue-Gray Sky's letter to Michigan fans:

In the end, perhaps we do owe the Skunkbears a few more tokens of thanks. If Yost hadn't taken his ball and gone home, perhaps we would now be in the Big Ten, and our idea of football excellence would entail two or three losses per year and a trip to the Rose Bowl twice a decade. But instead, you blackballed us, and tried to choke us out of existence. You should have finished the job. We survived, and because too many teams were under Michigan's villainous spell in the Midwest, we were forced to look elsewhere to find quality opponents. And we did. We scheduled and played the nationwide champions of the day: Army, Southern Cal, Georgia Tech, Stanford, and many others. We criss-crossed the country, we were Rockne's Ramblers, taking on all comers, what tho' the odds. In doing so, we won national acclaim, respect, and the hearts of countless Americans. It was Michigan's attempt to stamp out a budding rival that created the nation's most popular and successful football program, the University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish.

This is why we don't approach the Michigan game with the same tradition-laden respect, the pomp and circumstance, or the "contest of equals" honor reserved for the Southern Cal game. Rather, like Inigo Montoya closing in on the six-fingered man, we come with a singular focus. We are Notre Dame Football. You tried to kill us. Prepare to die.

How Sweet it is (to be Loathed by You)

You guys...I kind of love to hate Michigan. It's oddly satisfying: like popping a pimple or demolishing a sandcastle or squashing a fly. It's a destructive energy--a homage to entropy--a union with the inevitable decomposition of the universe and a visceral representation of the state of Michigan's defense once Everett Golson's finished shredding them to pieces tonight.

Playing Michigan isn't the same as playing USC. Playing the Trojans (loathed as they are) sort of has a pomp to it--like the approach you might have to a yearly, organized fight-to-the-death between two patronizing and highly aggressive city-states. Or playing MSU, which feels more like fighting with a rude neighbor whose pitbull keeps trespassing on your lawn. Or playing f@$*ing Pittsburgh, which isn't even a rivalry game but which is lot like trying to fight the actual pitbull trespassing on your lawn. Every time Pitt plays Notre Dame, they play us like they've contracted f*$&-ing rabies. (Guess who I am NOT SORRY to not be be playing this season.)

But watching Notre Dame play Michigan is like watching two kids brawling in the schoolyard; kids who can't even pass each other in the halls without throwing a punch. Like James Potter versus Severus Snape. Or no, actually,  since there is no scenario in which Michigan is cool enough to be either of those characters. So really it's more like Molly Weasley vs. Bellatrix Lestrange.

And we must destroy the Bellatrix Lestranges of the universe. We must crush them, like cockroaches, under the heels of our vengeance. We must charge into our final meeting roaring with enough fury to last a century:


^This is the last time we beat Michigan. I am just saying.