Saturday, December 13, 2008

ND’s Bowl Trip No Strike, But Spare Will Suffice

If you are a member of Notre Dame Nation (alums and subway alums alike) you probably have a distinct opinion on Notre Dame’s acceptance to play in a bowl game with a 6-6 overall record.

Moreover, aside from the mere acceptance of the bowl bid it is probably safe to say you have an even more distinct opinion on the actual bowl game itself.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, Notre Dame accepted a bid this past Sunday to play in the Sheraton Hotels Hawaii bowl on Christmas Eve at 8pm EST. This marks the third bowl game that Charlie Weis has lead the Irish to after Tyrone Willingham led the Irish to two such games prior to Weis’ tenure (though he only coached one of them as Kent Baer served as interim Head Coach in the 2004 Insight Bowl).

Bowl games are generally exciting attractions for universities as they provide additional practice time/experience for the upcoming season and instant cash flow for the sake of merely showing up to play.

Moreover, they provide adoring fans yet another opportunity to see their teams play whether it be live and in person or on TV.

So, I beg the question, what is all the fuss about? If you read any fan forum or message board you would think the sky is falling and the program had lost all of its games this year.

Aside from even accepting the bid, people are complaining about ND choosing to play on Christmas Eve (what some ignorant people are calling the holiest day of the year even though Easter Sunday actually holds that title). They claim that more viable options existed, such as the Texas bowl on December 30, 2008.  They say ND should only accept more lucrative bids, such as BCS Bowls, Cotton Bowls, or Gator Bowls.

Perhaps the most shocking thing to me is that people are complaining about IMPROVEMENT. Sure, ND blew a number of games late in the year and lost to a hapless Syracuse team. But facts are facts: ND was 3-9 in 2007 without a bowl bid and are now 6-6 with a bowl game in the near future.

Consider where the program was last year and ask yourself this question: Can I honestly say that I expected ND to be in the national title game this year?

If you truthfully answered “yes” then I suggest you submit yourself to a psychiatric evaluation.

It simply is not logical (nor probable) to believe that ND would have transformed from 3-9 to 12-0, 11-1, or even 10-2. Heck, even 9-3 would have been a stretch, although it might have happened had the Irish closed out games against UNC, Pitt, and Syracuse.

ND has played with at least 12 underclassmen starters this season. At least 26 underclassmen have received playing time this season. (For an more in depth look at ND's youth, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of "The Youth Manifesto" by the fine gents over at Her Loyal Sons).

This young and talented team simply has not learned how to finish games yet. Say all you want about coaches motivating players, but the onus also falls on the players to execute and want to close out games in strong fashion rather than let their opponents creep back in.

Save for Ohio State’s heralded 1968 sophomore-led National Champions (10-0) there has not been as young as a team as the Irish that produced such amazing results (and OSU was 6-3 the year before).

I just finished reading a great book by Dr. Kenneth Blanchard  and Dr. Spencer Johnson called “The One Minute Manager” that is incredibly reflective of my outlook on this situation.

One of the sections in the book uses an analogy about teaching whales to jump over high ropes at aquatic shows. Trainers don’t go out to the ocean, hold a rope high over the water and wait for a whales to jump over it for show selection.

Whales aren’t born trained to jump over ropes held out of the water, let alone to swim over ones in the ocean. They must be trained to do so. Any expectation otherwise is wishful delusional thinking.

The same line of thinking can be applied to the state of Notre Dame football. The 2008 team has not yet been fully trained to jump over the proverbial rope, yet so many people illogically expect it and demand it.

I admire the passion, devotion and faith to one’s loyalties. I too want to see ND win national titles every year, let alone be in title contention. But I know that with the parity in sports today that that kind of thinking is improbable.

I love Notre Dame unconditionally, but that does not mean I simply sit back and blindly follow administration moves, faculty hiring/firing practices, development plans, or gameday operations.

However, that unconditional love does mean I can see the larger picture that ND is more than just football. If you think otherwise then you are sadly mistaken.

Notre Dame graduates – undergrad and graduate students alike – have gone on to become some of the world’s finest doctors, lawyers, mathematicians, businessmen and businesswomen, teachers, and priests.

Yet they haven't done so because of the success of the football team. They have done so because of their hard work, commitment, and determination to best the best. They embody what it means to "Play Like A Champion Today."

Family. Strength. Courage. Discipline. Sacrifice. Respect. Humility. Faith. Ethics. Service. Love. 

Those are all values that were either learned or reinforced during my time at Notre Dame. Our Lady's University provided the foundation for individuals who are fighting to make a positive impact on the lives of many.

I am proud to be a graduate of the University of Notre Dame because of the values it represents and holds itself accountable to, not because of its football team. 

National championships and Heisman trophies are great achievements by the University, but they should not be overlooked by the greater good facilitated by its graduates, faculty, and representatives.

As Lou Holtz once said, “People don’t come to Notre Dame to learn how to do something. They come to Notre Dame to learn how to be somebody.”

If you don’t believe so you are nobody.


Brian said...

One thing I want to make clear - I do not consider a 6-6 season a success, nor do I wish to see ND continually perform at or near that level.

I want nothing but the best for my University. I want national championships (I think for now I would take contention, though... baby steps).

Directional improvement is necessary and gladly accepted though.

All of the so-called "fans" who say they won't tune in to the game because it isn't of the caliber they're pining for make me sick to my stomach. I don't think there's a better definition of fair-weather fan if I've ever heard of one.

Grow up and support your team or cross them off your list all together.

Justin Cates said...

It's hard to consider this a bad season for Notre Dame. I think the way it ended, the last few games were very disappointing and left a nasty taste in everyone's mouth which fueled all the 'fire Charlie' talk.

Like you said, baby steps. Consider this season growing pains and look forward to all the talent coming back next season.

The bowl game is a chance to finish things off the right way and build momentum heading into the final recruiting stretch. Let's see what they've got left in the tank before the season is condemned as a failure.

Serafin ND10 said...

Urban Meyer recently mentioned that he still considers ND his "dream job..."


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