Fighting Irish Need to Fight for More Than the Scoreboard
Understatement of the year: my team isn’t doing as well as I had hoped they would. I’m an Irish fan. Yeah, yeah, I know. The team that people everywhere seem to love to hate. And many of them are reveling in this year’s 1-7 performance thus far. But I’m a fan. It’s seasons like these that separate the die-hards from the fair-weather fans. I’ll stick with them like I always do. We’ve had rough seasons before. But this one seems to be gleaning some serious headlines. “Irish Woes Continue.” “Just How Bad are the Irish?” “Stop Hyping up Notre Dame’s Schedule.” Sigh. Such is life.
I am not a sports analyst and I certainly don’t pretend to be. I immerse myself in statistics and SportsCenter speak, but I’ll be honest: there’s no way I can lead a college football team. So, I’m not going to give an in-depth perspective as to what my beloved Irish can do to salvage their season. Keep trudging, Irish. And above all, learn from your mistakes. That’s about all the pep talk I can muster.
Charlie Weis was the picture of optimism when he refused to call this year a “rebuilding year.” “God strike me dead if I ever use that term,” was his exact quote. Thumbs up for the optimism, but Irish fans have been hit between the eyes with a huge dose of reality.
All over the net, there are theories as to the apparent slump (probably a softer word than is necessary, but I’ll keep it for now) during this season’s downward spiral and I’d like to address a few of them.
- It’s Charlie Weis’s fault. Surprise, surprise, we’re pointing fingers already. Allegations such as “he’s coordinator, not head coach material” are flying like I don’t even know what. Charlie, as well as anyone in a leadership role, knows that when the chips are down, all heads are turning your way. I was in the Charlie-is-playing-with-Ty-Willingham’s-team camp when we were winning with Quinn, Samardzija, Walker, and others. But then it dawned on me. Ty had the same players and he wasn’t winning. Charlie was. Now he’s playing with Ty’s ’04 and ’05 recruiting class and we’re losing. Very interesting…
- It’s Jimmy Clausen’s fault. Okay now, hang on. He came in an undefeated quarterback from high school, a presumed “phenom.” Well, unfortunately for all ND fans, nothing has appeared yet that can resemble anything close to phenomenal. But am I going to lay the blame on him? Nope. Here’s why: he’s a freshman. I’m never comfortable starting freshman right off the bat. Remember Ron Powlus? Neither do a lot of other people. Lou Holtz was going to start him as a frosh and… well… let’s just say it didn’t work out. (Note from my husband: This season is providing Clausen with something that many quarterbacks who go undefeated don’t have - character. It’s giving him the opportunity to take responsibility and start from the bottom, working up. He appears to be taking it rough, but he keeps showing up. He didn’t quit or transfer schools. Kudos.)
There are glimpses of players like Rick Mirer, Kevin McDougal, and Brady Quinn in the young Clausen. But he’s got a long way to go. Quinn wasn’t a stand out his first year. He didn’t turn any heads until two years ago. He was considered “up and coming.” Clausen still has some serious work ahead of him as long as he stops listening to the nay-sayers and focuses on the job at hand.
- Notre Dame is always overrated. Really? Have you been watching the last couple of seasons? Yes, this season was a lot of hype and it’s been a bit of a disappointment to say the least. But did you watch them come back time and again to pull out wins in the last couple years? There records weren’t spotless, but they were an exciting team to watch. I’ll take that over a blowout anytime. And it shows another factor of Irish football: perseverance. It’s easy to win easy games in blowouts all the time. It’s another to come against everything and everyone, put points on the board, and add a tally to the win column. Not to mention when you chalk up a loss and stand in front of the student section with your head held high anyway. That takes guts.
- The loss of big players. I think this has some validity and not just because it is an easy answer. When you have a team with rhythm, chemistry, and all out heart, they’re very hard to replace. When you’re focused on moving toward that elusive national championship (at this point, we fans would just love a bowl win), mentoring the up and coming class most likely isn’t a priority. Even superstars like Brett Favre have said that training the new guys isn’t their job. It’s too tempting to fall into the trap of filling the last guy’s shoes. Yes, losing Quinn, Samardzija, Walker, and several other standout players has crippled the Irish on both sides of the ball. Even tough players like Zibikowski are hanging in there, but there’s only so much a single player can do. There is talent in the younger classes, but they lack the experience that is supposed to comprise the starting line up.
- Mediocre talent due to recruitment turn-offs. There are two arguments to this theory: (1) Notre Dame needs to join a conference to stop losing recruits and (2) Notre Dame needs to slacken its academic standards to get bigger talent.
So my response is in two parts: (1) Perhaps I’m behind the curve but what’s so great about joining a conference? It’s exclusive. People argue that ND doesn’t join because we’re “holier than thou.” Are you mad because we don’t want to play in your clubhouse? Being an independent gives you freedom that conferences take away. Plus, there is an economic factor that could be discovered with a little research. It doesn’t make sense to them, hence the independent status. But because we don’t to play the way others want us to play, we get berated. And… (2) Huh? Notre Dame is first and foremost an academic institution. Just to clarify, that means they put academics first. I know this because I watched both of my brothers and my sister-in-law complete degrees there. It’s tough. It’s not cake walk classes so you can don a helmet and run down the tunnel. Sure, there are those who don’t challenge themselves, but I’m willing to bet it’s not a wide spread thing.
Such is the life of an Irish fan for the 2007 season. It’s been tough. But I’m hanging in there. Every team goes through rough times. I’d get bored if they won every year. There will always be the haters, just like the “I hate the Yankees” club, the “Anti-Cowboys” fan base, and the ever growing contingent of “Bonds Bashers.” Whether I am a card-carrying member of any of these organizations is completely beside the point. Notre Dame is a prime target for negativity and we die-hard fans will continue to hear it, argue against it, possibly even ignore the comments for years to come. One thing I will say about this year’s roster: at least they’re getting a decent education. And at least I know where I will be on Saturday afternoon: on my couch, in my jersey, screaming at the TV, and loving the Irish.
by Angela Moore
CollegeSports-fans.com Notre Dame Correspondent
More articles by Moore: