I hated Notre Dame Football.
Note the past tense.
Rick Reilly had every Fighting Irish critic in the country, including me, smiling from ear to ear with his “Demoting Notre Dame” column that he wrote this past August. At that time, his demands—a removal of its NBC TV deal, BCS rule and undeserving hype—were justified.
Now that Brian Kelly and company have clinched a BCS Championship berth, after a run that was perhaps fueled by its skeptics, Reilly and Notre Dame’s immense amount of "haters" have been silenced.
However, even as a bona fide hater, I'm not the least bit frustrated.
Unlike if it had made the national title game in, let's say, the Brady Quinn-era, I won’t be rooting like my life depends on it for Alabama/Georgia.
No, I haven’t grown a soft spot for the Blue and Gold. Instead, it’s because the Fighting Irish are simply less hateable this year than perhaps every other year in the program’s existence (besides the Rudy-era, of course).
Here’s how Notre Dame won me—and maybe even you—over.
First off, it’s impossible to root for Manti Te’o to fail.
The all-world inside linebacker could easily be chilling in a mansion making seven figures right now. He could have said, “Senior season? After consecutive 8-5 campaigns? Screw that,” and entered the 2012 NFL draft as a first-round lock.
He didn’t, though. He rolled the dice for loyalty, a risk that rarely reaps rewards—just ask Sam Bradford, Jake Locker, Matt Barkley, Jermaine Gresham and more who not only failed to win a title or improve their stock, but they also either got injured and/or hurt their stock.
The Fighting Irish freak of nature has dodged the injury bullet, though, boosted his stock and led his band of brothers to the championship.
You can’t hate on that.
Plus, thanks to Te’o being its biggest name, Notre Dame doesn’t have that overrated, entitled quarterback as the face of its team anymore. Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen…Everett Golson? The sophomore dual-threat QB bucks the trend.
Instead of being a highly recruited hype magnet who’s been told he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread since the age of 16, he’s an underdog who had to fight for his job and earn every minute that he's played. He did so against the overrated Tommy Rees, no less, who was nearly as easy to root against as Quinn and Clausen themselves.
Golson isn’t the only underdog on the Fighting Irish—"Gonna Fly Now" fits as the entire team’s theme song.
It wasn’t ranked to start the season. Circling back to Reilly’s column, he wrote that it was “relegated to insignificance.” It doesn't have an overwhelming number of pro prospects not named Te’o.
The Fighting Irish wasn't supposed to earn a BCS Championship berth, let alone sniff one.
It is, though, despite competing in five games which were decided by one score. It is, despite being on the wrong end of the "upset pick of the week" since what seems like September.
In one season, the Fighting Irish has evolved from literally being the prototype team fans love to hate to the underdog that keeps proving people wrong.
On that note, why was it the prototype for so many years? Because it clung on tight to its superior tradition.
Cue new-look unis.
That step away from its tradition is yet another reason why it's so easy to root for this year.
Not So Bold Prediction: Countless experts will predict the SEC Champs to massacre Notre Dame. If you haven’t already, I invite you to join me in tossing the Haterade in the trash can for just one season. If you keep chugging, Kapron Lewis-Moore may just end up screaming “extra shiny" in your ear.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.