Sunday Afternoon Quarterback: To Love or Hate the Fighting Irish

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Sunday Afternoon Quarterback: To Love or Hate the Fighting Irish

IconAs I sat on my couch and watched Michigan State absolutely decimate the Notre Dame football team—dropping the Fighting Irish to their first 0-4 start ever—it made me wonder what all the fuss is about. 


Why are we all still talking about them when there are compelling stories this season, such as Kentucky’s rise in the SEC, West Virginia’s dominance on the ground, LSU’s impenetrable defense, or the juggernaut that is Southern California?


I think it’s because Notre Dame has the most polarized fan group in all of sports: you either love the Irish or absolutely despise them.  So while there are millions who are depressed about the futility of this year’s installment of the Irish, millions of others are indeed smiling.


But where does this hatred come from?  Simpy put, Notre Dame is one of the most prolific collegiate football programs in the history of the sport—and no one likes a team that always wins. 


Just ask the New England Patriots.


Notre Dame is the most popular team in all of college football, and with good reason.  Throughout its illustrious history, the Fighting Irish have won 11 national championships, and have produced seven Heisman Trophy winners (tied for most ever), 79 consensus All-Americans (most ever), and 43 consensus Academic All-Americans (second most ever). 


Aside from the University of Michigan, Notre Dame also boasts the 2nd highest winning percentage in college football history.  Notre Dame Stadium is the House that Knute Rockne built.  The Era of Ara [Parseghian] was here.  In terms of football hierarchy, Notre Dame is the ultimate juggernaut. 


From Paul Hornung to Joe Theismann to Tim Brown to Raghib Ismail to Tony Rice to Brady Quinn, the history of the Fighting Irish is boundless; legends have passed through that gateway with the moniker: “Play Like A Champion Today.”


One legend who was smaller in stature—but certainly no less prominent—was Rudy Ruettiger, the legendary undersized walk-on who notably played in a game for Notre Dame during his senior season. 


People love Notre Dame because it is the place where legends are truly made.


One of the reasons why Notre Dame is so popular is that it also happens to be one of the two Catholic schools in all of Division I-A.  Rather than the regional or state crowd that schools such as Ohio State, Alabama, Nebraska, and Texas attract, Notre Dame has fans throughout the nation and a major reason is the religious affiliation of the school.


Rather than rooting for state pride, a good proportion of Notre Dame fans root for the school because they are Catholic.  To many, religious pride translates to this football team—although by the same tolkien, many have no regional or academic affiliation to the school.


Well what about the other Catholic school, Boston College? 


They haven’t won nearly as much historically, so it’s easy to jump on the Notre Dame bandwagon.  Everyone likes a winner right?


Some have said that rooting for religious affiliation isn’t a justified cause.  Does God really want certain teams to win and others to lose?  More than that, does God even care about football? 


Is Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus” a divine spirit backing the Notre Dame Football team, or nothing more than a hyped up shrine?


Notre Dame has been an independent football program throughout its history, which allows it to generate a substantial amount of television revenue (which it doesn’t have to share with other members of a conference).  It is the only school featured exclusively on a major network (NBC)—even though it hasn’t won a national championship since the Lou Holtz era.  This independent status subsequently gives the program ultimate flexibility in scheduling its opponents. 


For decades, Notre Dame played the two service academies—Army and Navy—which used to be two of the premier football programs in the country.  To this day, Notre Dame still plays the US Naval Academy, but I wouldn’t call it a rivalry, as the Fighting Irish have won an astounding 43 straight times.  To their credit, they also play West Coast power USC annually in the Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.


Notre Dame has drawn the ire of many fans for several reasons.  The media, for one, has historically favored the Irish.  By the end of the 2006 season, I knew anything and everything pertaining to Brady Quinn, his sister, and Tom Zbikowski’s amateur boxing career.  Even after the Irish have gone 0-4 this season—and figure to lose their next four games—some of the opening stories on SportsCenter still feature Charlie Weis and the apparent freshman sensation Jimmy Clausen. 


While Notre Dame deserves a certain amount of media exposure due to its extensive fan base, does anyone else really need to see Weis talking about moral victories?


Speaking of the fan base: the elitist nature of some fans is another reason why people hate Notre Dame.  The combination of religious, athletic, and academic superiority that certain Irish fans promote certainly creates enemies.  The irony is that some fans have absolutely no basis for making this assertion of superiority—as they didn’t even go to the school. 


Looking in from the outside, there is also a seemingly exclusive nature in determining who can—and who cannot—be a fan of the Fighting Irish.  Of course, University of Notre Dame students and alumni create the foundation of Irish fandom, but Catholics also enjoy pleasure in rooting for touchdown Jesus.  Bleacher Report writer Bryan Goldberg once mentioned that despite his avid support for Notre Dame, his Catholic friends didn’t allow him to be a fan of the Golden Domers.  Apparently, he didn’t fit the requirements of fandom according to some.


IconFinally, people don’t like Notre Dame because of its differing standards of success in the football program.  While I was reluctant to mention this because of my disposition, Tyrone Willingham was given a raw deal by only being allotted three years to turn around the program.  Whereas Willingham was given the quick axe, Charlie Weis is on the way to one of the worst seasons in Notre Dame history—with many of his own recruits—and has nine or ten years left after a lucrative contract extension. 


Although each will seem to be in similar situations after their first three seasons at Notre Dame (Willingham had 21 wins after his 3 seasons; Weis figures to have about 23 at the end of this season - his third), Weis can fall back on the presumption of rebuilding a program.  Supporters of Weis can say Willingham’s poor recruiting contributed to the downfall of the program years after he left—but what about Brady Quinn, Tom Zbikowski, Jeff Samardzija, and Darius Walker?  They were all Willingham’s recruits and all led the Fighting Irish to two BCS games in a row. 


Willingham sure looks like he’s recruiting a football program over in Washington right now, with stud Jake Locker and co.  Regardless of whether the differing standards pertained to any racial implications, one thing is for sure: Notre Dame and Tyrone just didn’t mix. 


As such a prominent figure in college football, Notre Dame will certainly have its fair share of supporters and detractors.  A team that consistently wins and generates such a strong national attraction will usually have a polarized fan base.  There are those across the country who root passionately for Notre Dame, and those who think they’re the most overrated, over-hyped program of all time. 


Should religious affiliation be a justifiable reason for fandom?  Does a bad Notre Dame team deserve all of this exposure?  The answer to these questions is unclear.


One thing’s for sure though: when we sit down and watch Notre Dame get pummeled by Purdue, UCLA, USC, and fellow Catholic school Boston College, they’ll be the focus of the college football spectrum—whether we love them or not.



Extra Points:


-After watching Michigan beat Joe Paterno and Penn State for the 9th time and seeing Ohio State put up 45 first half points against a clearly inferior Northwestern football team, who is the front-runner in the Big Ten?  Surely, few thought Michigan stood a chance to win the conference after upsets at home against Appalachian State and Oregon, but Lloyd Carr’s team is beginning to rekindle its fire at the right time.  When Chad Henne returns to the starting lineup, I expect Michigan’s offense to be firing on all cylinders.  If Michigan has any semblance of a defense, it should contend for a Rose Bowl birth.


-Ole Miss proved that Florida isn’t as invincible as previously thought.  As of the past few years, Florida has struggled in the state of Mississippi.  In fact, before the Gators 40-34 victory over the Rebels, Florida had lost its last three contests in the state.  Last week I saw Ole Miss in action against Vanderbilt.  I was unimpressed—to say the least—by quarterback Seth Adams and the rest of Mississippi’s offense, but he went out and threw for over 300 yards.  Though Tim Tebow eats linebackers for breakfast, Florida will have to make sure its defense is in sync by the time October 6th comes around when they travel to Death Valley to play the LSU Tigers.


-Speaking of the LSU Tigers: the South Carolina game proved that LSU won’t be able to just waltz into Atlanta for the SEC Championship this year.  While the game seemed out of reach in the 4th quarter, Ryan Succop kicked a field goal and backup quarterback Chris Smelley led the Gamecocks to a late touchdown.  Had they picked up this pace a little earlier in the game, USC would’ve had a chance to win.  Any periods of mental lapses or sloppy play by LSU against an SEC opponent working on all cylinders could ultimately be the Tigers’ downfall.  Although other analysts and announcers continue to laud the quarterback play of Matt Flynn (8/19 70 yards 1 TD 1 INT), he once again did not impress me.  Ryan Perrilloux played significant minutes with Flynn in the game for the first time all year.  I believe this trend will increase—especially if Flynn is still hobbled by his high ankle sprain.


-Redshirt freshman runningback Knowshon Moreno of Georgia has really impressed me so far in the season.  His combination of elusiveness and power reminds me a lot of former SEC stud Carnell “Cadillac” Williams during his days at Auburn.  Matthew Stafford impressed me as well, making clutch throws in setting up Brandon Coutu’s potential game-winning field goal a the end of regulation.  Even though Coutu missed, Stafford came back in overtime and threw a beautiful deep ball to Mikey Henderson to end the game.  As Stafford continues to gain playing experience, his decision-making will steadily improve.  He already has one of the strongest arms in college football,  and if he can cut down on interceptions, this Georgia Bulldog team will be a force to be reckoned with in the rest of the SEC.


-Brian Brohm must be kicking himself right now.  While Brohm was probably the 2nd or 3rd best quarterback prospect after his junior season—and all but a lock for a first round pick in the NFL draft—he came back for his senior year to win a national championship.  Not only is that possibility out the window, but winning the Big East Conference isn’t very likely now either, as the Louisville defense has given up a whopping 40 points per game in its last three contests.  Brohm and Harry Douglas have done everything they can to help their team win, but they need some serious help from the defense.


-TCU won this year’s installment of the “Battle for the Iron Skillet” in their matchup against SMU that I wrote about a few weeks ago.  The Horned Frogs will have a tough road ahead of them if they want to win the Mountain West, as they have upcoming games against Utah, at Wyoming, and at BYU.


-Contributing to my “Vanderbilt fashion” corollary, bad teams find ways to lose close games.  Maryland was winning 24-3 and driving to make the score 31-3 when Wake Forest defensive back Alphonso Smith intercepted a Jordan Steffy pass and took it back 100 yards for a touchdown.  Riley Skinner then led his team to a last minute touchdown in regulation and beat the Terps handily in overtime.  If it weren’t for last season’s improvement, Ralph Freidgen would already be fired, but he’s definitely on the hot seat right now.


-Andre Woodson looks like a Heisman front-runner to me after another impressive performance against the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Aside from his strong arm, Woodson has proven to be one of the most precise, efficient quarterbacks in the NCAA.  He has a 68.4 completion percentage with 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.  In fact, Woodson set a Division I record, having thrown 295 consecutive passes without an interception.  If there was any doubt whether Woodson was a one hit wonder after an impressive junior season, this game along with Woodson’s comeback victory over Louisville has proven that he’s one of the best players in the country.


-Arizona State has flown under the radar this season, but people may start to take notice as junior quarterback Rudy Carpenter and senior runningback Ryan Torain continue to tear up the competition.  They will continue to fly under the radar, but upcoming games against Washington, Cal, Oregon, UCLA, and USC—all in succession—will prove if this Sun Devils team is for real, or just another middle of the road Pac-10 school with a potent offense and absolutely no D.


Washington University (MO) Watch:  The Bears upset #14 North Central (IL) 16-13, as junior quarterback Buck Smith threw 30/56 for 258 yards and one touchdown.


Some Links


You know what? Nick Saban is truly evil.  Notwithstanding his abrupt departure from LSU, his even more unexpected exit from the Miami Dolphins, or even infamously making then-rookie Dolphins defensive lineman Manuel Wright cry, Saban has drawn the ire of many by putting the axe on the website formerly known as SEC Poon.  SEC Poon was essentially a blog that featured SEC women at games and tailgates.  Apparently, Saban found one of his nieces featured on the website.  My question for Saban would be: what were you doing looking at SEC Poon in the first place?


While Saban may have struck a blow to all mankind, shutting this website down has spawned an influx of “Conference Poon” inspired blogs.  Now, there are websites dedicated to ACC Poon, Big East Poon, Big Ten Poon, Pac-10 Poon, and Big East Poon.  Not to mention—Poon Of the SEC, which is basically SEC Poon 2.0.  The only major conference missing is the Big 12.  No wonder Texas A&M got beat up by the Hurricanes Thursday night.  Let’s just remember to not take it too far with this new trend.  I assure you, no one wants to see “Ivy League Poon.”


By the way, is it a coincidence that when I type in “Saban” on a MS Word document, the spell-check wants me to change the word to “Satan?”


UT pre-game dance before the UCF game: The “Soulja Boy” is everywhere.


Speaking of UCF: some fans suffered from heat exhaustion during this game.  It gets a little hot in Orlando, especially if fans don’t have access to water fountains.


Matt Flynn, or Matt Damon?


Tributes to the infamous “Leave Britney [Spears] Alone” YouTube clip: “Leave Coach Fran Alone!”“Leave Bill Belichick Alone!”


This was a few weeks ago but it’s worth a look.  The Oregon Duck mascot beats up the Houston Cougar mascot.


Our future Heisman winner Darren McFadden and his tricked out Crown Victoria.


From 100 Percent Injury Blog Rate:  it’s been about a year since the appalling Miami-FIU brawl.  Here’s a tribute to A’Mod Ned, the player who infamously went into the fray for Florida International while still on crutches.


I’m not exactly sure if this has much marketability, but Chanel is offering a chic, stylish football for the small price of $180.


Gus Johnson was made for games like this.


Interesting name arrangements for those with a sophomoric sense of humor (from Mister Irrelevant, it wasn’t me!):


What are the chances?

What are the chances II?


The Miami Heat organization has decided to create a “Golden Oldies” dance team consisting of women ages 63-81.  Wouldn't you just love to see them "Pop, Lock, and Drop It"?


Introducing little-known “facts” about everyone’s favorite journalist in Skip Bayless trivia, which includes a classic quote: “Skip once played the tail end of a donkey in a grade school play. Many say he's continued to play that role throughout the course of his life.”

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