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Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Changing my tune on the Irish
I wasn’t raised to hate Notre Dame like some people, I just always hated them of my own accord. I hated that they were always on NBC even though I had never seen them have much success. I hated that every year, so many analysts (specifically Lou Holtz) would come out and say that this was Notre Dame’s year even when they had no good reason for saying so. I hated that probably half the people I knew loved them, even though few had actually gone to Notre Dame. I hated the uptight traditions and their independence from a conference, and the seeming arrogance that I supposed was intrinsic.
I prayed (despite my assumption that God is a Notre Dame fan) that they would keep on suffering year-in and year-out and that all of their so-called fans would just have to keep saying, “I guess we’ll just have to wait till next year.”
But here we are, week eight of the college football season, Notre Dame’s ranked fifth in the first BCS standings of the year and still undefeated, and instead of cursing them, I think I’m actually rooting for them.
The Irish have turned it on this year not because of an easy schedule (they’ve played three ranked teams so far this year and are slated to play two more); they’re winning because they have some great talent. The team’s defense has been one of the best in college football, it’s ranked 11th in turnover margin, and it seems as if the quarterback carousel is working in the team’s advantage. Everett Golson, by stepping up and taking the reins of this football team, has been able to take some of the pressure off Tommy Rees, who seems a little more comfortable not having the weight of carrying college football’s most storied franchise all on his shoulders. Rees instead has been a vocal backup, helping the younger Golson learn some of the tricks of the trade, which has allowed him to get back to the basics and regain some self-confidence.
Of course, the credit can’t all go to the players; coach Brian Kelly might be the most important reason this program has been turned around. For the first time in the past decade, Kelly has allowed the his players to enjoy playing for the Fighting Irish, and the players are finally more enthused about finding ways to win, than finding ways not to lose. Despite a more laid-back approach and a players’ coach reputation, Kelly is not afraid to step up when players step out of line; he’s already suspended a number of key players, such as Rees and Cierre Woods, for things such as violating team rules and getting in trouble with the law. This combination of fun and discipline has brought Notre Dame football to life again.
So the evidence is there that Notre Dame is good, but where’s the evidence as to why I’m happy about it? I’ve realized that maybe it’s important to have a team with such a rich tradition, that’s been struggling for close to two decades to compete with the top teams in the country, to actually have a legitimately strong football team again. People want to see Notre Dame be good again because they either want to see the Irish win, or want their own team to beat a good Notre Dame squad. Everyone loves to compare the old days with the current season; with Notre Dame at its best, college football is able to do this, by having the long-time top dogs face off against the new top dogs. The Irish are fun to love and fun to hate, and it’s more fun to do both when they’re good.
Obviously, Notre Dame isn’t out of the woods yet. The team had the fortune of playing two of its first three ranked opponents at home, but the boys will have to go on the road to face their last two toughest opponents in Oklahoma and USC, both of which tend to attract large, noisy crowds. It’ll be tough for the Irish to make the national championship with that type of schedule, but the team has already been successful in changing fans’ perceptions, as well as the way the players view the school they play for, and that’s a step in the right direction.