Over the course of the next few weeks, college football fans across the country will intently speculate on the condition and progress of their favorite teams.
We will blindly seek joy in the development of our marquee players and torment our souls over the loss of them before a single snap is recorded for the '08 season. My emotions will fluctuate more than Ricky Williams’ before a drug test.
I have scoured the World Wide Web for any bit of information I can find on the Irish. I have watched more practice film on my team than Tyrone Willingham as I patiently wait for September 6, 2008.
Only the start of the season can cleanse the stench of last year's disgust. Only a completely demoralized San Diego State team after 60 minutes of hard-nosed football can reconcile the sins of 2007.
Even then, do we really know what we have?
Even if Notre Dame wins that game, will we not question the margin of victory? Won't we scrutinize every missed tackle and dropped pass throughout the game? Does anything but mere perfection allow me to sleep blissfully for a week knowing that the Wolverines are coming to town the next week?
Of course not.
In fact, that is the beauty of being a delusional Notre Dame fan, and a connoisseur of this imperfectly perfect game. What other fan base can remain cautiously optimistic after a 3-9 season?
I found myself watching the horror of the 2007 football season like a bad movie without looking away. It was as if my eyes were glued to a deplorable car accident on my way to work, and I had no way of turning a blind eye to the carnage.
The Mark Mays and the USCs and the Michigans of the collegiate football world can plan the demise of Irish football to all their hearts' content, but my psyche is ignorantly unshaken.
You can bring up the eerie likeness of Willingham's record to Charlie Weis' all day long. You can analytically dissect the margin of defeats during Weis' era until you are blue in the face, but my psyche will not be stirred.
(Keep in mind that until last year, Notre Dame was only dominated three times: Michigan and USC in 2006, and LSU in that year's Sugar Bowl. I attribute that more to complacency and offseason extracurricular activities rather than coaching, even though that too is the responsibility of the coaching staff, although the USC loss began to unmask the talent discrepancy that Willingham had left behind.)
Numbers are not always a telling indicator of a historical event. Even during Willingham's epic first season, where he started out 8-0, did we not get the feeling that we were more lucky than good? Did it not feel like the offense still struggled but was veiled by an opportunistic defense?
The 2005 and 2006 seasons presented an indescribable and uplifting feeling: For the first time since the Holtz era, we had a coaching advantage on the sideline rather than a liability.
Now I know feelings amount to jack squat in the sports and journalism world. I comprehend that this society is dictated by empirical evidence and hard numbers—so what? How many of us out there feel more certainty after this 3-9 season than the 5-7 season in 2003?
Make no mistake about it: Our right leg has been cut from under us, and a man of Chris Stewart's stature is leaning on it. Yet until I see another debacle like the one I saw last year, I am not panicking.
Now, by no means am I insinuating that there is not a sense of urgency about this upcoming season. Charlie Weis knows the stakes that are on the table for this upcoming year. The Notre Dame faithful understand the severity of another losing season, which would bring about the insecurity of another coaching change.
My fellow peers will undoubtedly blast me for writing an article that lacks real substance and is myopic in reasoning. Nonetheless, this is not an article aimed at addressing the vast improvements that the team has made since the end of last season.
I am not here to harp about how bright the future is at Notre Dame with the incoming recruiting classes, or that everyone from the 3-9 team is stronger, faster, and wiser.
I adamantly believe that there is something wrong in this world when a football team that strives to do everything the right way (with the exception of Derrell Hand's incident last offseason), a school that profoundly cherishes the academic world as commensurately as the athletic one, and an institution rich in tradition and morality would be denied entrance among the elites of the college football world once more.
This is a unique football structure that refuses to give way to the dictatorship of any conference, sending a clear message that we will play anybody, anywhere, no matter the odds.
The haters shout from the rooftops that this elitist, racist, underachieving abomination of a football institution must learn to adapt—or Notre Dame shall perish.
Contemptuous rivals signify the insignificance that Notre Dame now holds on the college football landscape. Many pundits in the national media believe that Notre Dame has long reached the zenith of its existence, and that our decadent past is concealing the reality with which we see today.
Well then, if that is the case, why does a guy who has no Irish lineage to speak of and has never come within eyeshot of South Bend, Indiana, and with no connection to the program, outside of being an overzealous and maniacal fan, still believe in the luster and splendor of Notre Dame football?
Notre Dame is a martyr in a time when many look for easy solutions to winning. The recruitment of today’s high school athletes creates more prima donnas than men of tomorrow.
Academics are an afterthought at best. Colleges penalize students that step out of line for fear of NCAA sanctions rather than the damage to their reputation. How many universities can honestly say that they will still do the right thing when no one is looking?
Above this heap of dishonorable manure, above the verbiage of calling 18-year-old men “kids,” lies a higher standard with no excuses. Notre Dame does not hold themselves to these excruciating standards to separate themselves from the pack, but rather because college football needs this to be the standard.
So while we sit down over this last week scanning through the various media outlets, awaiting the development of an incoming freshman at fall practice or the horrific news of a torn ACL to an upcoming playmaker, remember the broader stroke that Notre Dame paints on the collegiate football canvas.
It is one of optimism, one of profound hope, but above all else, the stroke of a champion.
Maybe not today or even next year, but eventually, the good guys always win.
The movie simply isn’t over yet. It’s just getting good.
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