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:


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