For a Notre Damer, it doesn’t get any better than this just-completed weekend.
Whenever the Michigan Wolverines and their fans bus into South Bend, it is an event. No matter the records or rankings, neither team wants to lose to the other.
There is no love lost between Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. Memories are long, stretching back to 1887, with boycotts and blowouts and legendary games marking mileposts along the 120-plus year history.
They have been called “Natural Enemies,” and rightfully so. This year, neither team was ranked. But don’t tell the Irish Faithful that this game was meaningless. This game meant everything—validation, pride, history, credibility, and last, but not the least, payback.
We knew the storm was brewing literally and figuratively on Friday evening. The weather forecast for Satuday called for real football weather in the form of driving rain.
But for the Wolverines a worse storm began brewing on Friday evening. The pep rally in the Joyce center, packed to the rafters with delirious Irish faithful, honored the 1988 National Championship team and its coach Lou Holtz, who soaked in the adoration and reflected it back to the crowd.
Following a singing of The Notre Dame Victory March, coach Holtz delivered a stem-winder of a speech that must have given a hint of what it was like to be in the locker room during his tenure.
“This game is gonna be won. You go to bed tonight and don’t worry about it. You worry about Mark May’s intelligence... but not this game! It’s about faith, it’s about support, it’s about never giving up—no matter what the odds are. We are Notre Dame and nobody else is! And we’re special! And we take that pride in the way we play and the way we feel and the way we do things! Go Irish! God bless you!”
Shortly afterwards, at dinner across the street at Parisi’s Italian Restaurant, we rubbed elbows with Tim Brown, Derrick Mays, Digger Phelps, and other Irish legends before heading home and preparing for Saturday. Holtz was right—we just knew we would win the following day.
Gameday on Notre Dame’s campus is a special thing, and all the rituals and rites were properly observed. Bloody Marys at the Morris Inn. Steak sandwich at the Knights of Columbus. The bagpipe band. The Marching Band’s concert on the steps of Bond Hall. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart and a prayer at the Grotto. It was here, in the sacred space of the Grotto, while hundreds of pilgrims knelt in prayer or lighted candles, we were treated to the sight of three alcohol-glazed Wolverine fans popping beer cans and wisecracking, as if we needed another example of why these barbarians needed to be sent packing.
And then there was the game. If you want a recap of the game, read the papers.
Don’t believe the face-saving blather that Michigan “gave the game away,” or they are having a down year, or any other BS you might read.
I was there and I saw it—they were beaten. They aren’t as bad as people are saying, and in a year or two, when they have mastered their new offense, they will be a force once again.
But they have players now—good players; and they were trounced in Notre Dame Stadium. As Charlie Weis said in his press conference, “It was Bombs Away. We had more for them, we just couldn’t get to it all.”
The Irish took a huge stride from San Diego State to Michigan (begging the question: “Who is better, San Diego State or Michigan?”).
Look for continuing improvement.
“Clausen to Tate” will be a frequent and devastating mantra, and both of these guys are the real deal.
The Irish are rising, and to all the smirking ND Haters—your smiles don’t look so confident, and your empty comments don’t carry as much conviction as they once did.
Good luck to your team if they run up against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame over the next few years.