By: Joe Pierce
When I tell people that I'm a Notre Dame fan, the following conversation usually occurs.
Person: "Did you go to school there?"
Person: "Well then, why do you root for them?"
Me: "I'm Irish-Catholic, I went to college and played football at a small Division III school in VA, so my childhood allegiance to Notre Dame remains intact. No one in my immediate family went to college, so I have no family allegiances. Rutgers is a North Jersey school, I hate Temple, and as I get older, Penn State annoys me more and more.
"Most importantly, though, the place is just special. There's no other place that can offer such religious and football tradition, matched with a mystique that you just can't explain.
"Plus, their athletes aren't dummies. It isn't like USC, where you can take ballroom dancing (*cough*, Matt Leinart, *cough*) and coast through to the NFL. You have to be a good person and good citizen to make it through."
This, my friends, is why I root for and love Notre Dame. They refuse to compromise their stringent academic and moral standards for athletes, and while they occasionally lose out on a recruit or have a player jettisoned from the program for not keeping their grades up or for acting like a schmuck, it's frankly the right way to do business.
Although it's painful and will hurt the program, Darrin Walls withdrawing from Notre Dame was the only choice. Although the Irish staff isn't confirming this, insiders say that Walls was asked not to return because of poor grades.
Cornerback is a position of strength for the team, but losing Walls, who had nine pass deflections and one pick as a sophomore last year, and who many consider to be the best athlete on the team, would hurt any program.
Over the years, how many times have we heard stories of crooked coaches like Jim Tressel and Jimmy Johnson pulling strings to keep their top athletes on the field? It makes me sick to hear these stories, and I'm happy Charlie Weis doesn't play those games.
Notre Dame has no choice but to make the best of a bad situation. Let's be honest—although they'll be much better, 2008 is considered another building year, and if the Irish compete for the BCS Championship this January, I'll think it's the work of the Blessed Mother, not Charlie Weis and his staff.
Walls' departure gives Raeshon McNeil, Gary Gray, and freshmen Jamoris Slaughter and Robert Blanton a chance to step up to the plate, compete for a starting job, and gain valuable experience on the field.
The best-case scenario would be for Walls to take a page out of Julius Jones' book: Work hard to gain readmission in the spring and return for the '09 season, where I think Notre Dame has a legitimate shot to compete for a National Championship.
If Walls returns, the Irish would find themselves with a talented and experienced group of veteran corners.
Although not having Walls for '08 hurts, take solace in the fact that the team you love wins and loses with class and dignity—which is certainly more than most fans can say.