Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bring Up the Name Notre Dame to Me, And I Get Emotional

I checked my mail box the other day, and the big envelope caught my eye immediately.

I saw that it was from Notre Dame.

Whenever I get mail from Notre Dame, I know it’s important.

I tore open the envelope. Inside was my very own “2005 Spring Football Guide” put out by Notre Dame.

Down in the right-hand corner of the book, it says $3. I got mine free, I guess, because I’m a dues-paying member of the Football Writers Association of America.

Bring up the name Notre Dame to me, and I get emotional.

People have been telling me for years that men and women in this country fall into two categories:

They either love Notre Dame or they hate Notre Dame.

I don’t love Notre Dame, so I guess that tells you where I fit in.

But please don’t say that I “hate” Notre Dame. I’d never use that word, especially when it comes to a college or a football team.

Even though I don’t watch every minute of every Notre Dame game on the tube, I know something about the football tradition there.

I’ve been in the press box, the locker rooms and the interview rooms a number of times.

When they paid me to go to games, I made sure I went to a pep rally at Notre Dame because I had heard about them so many times.

I’ve heard about – but, unfortunately, didn’t get to see – Rockne and The Gipper. [Wait a minute, I did see a former WHO-radio announcer named Reagan play the role of The Gipper in a movie, so maybe that counts].

The closest I ever got to Rockne was an ESPN Classics show a few years ago when some old black-and-white film showed the coach being transported up and down the sideline while sitting in a wheelchair. He either had phlebitis or a hangover.

I’ve seen the movie “Rudy” several times. I thought it was good.

I’ve been close to the Golden Dome. I’ve walked through the campus when Notre Dame students were throwing footballs around two hours before a game. Heck, maybe Charlie Weis was one of them.

Charlie, the new coach of the Fighting Irish, is a 1978 graduate of Notre Dame. He didn’t play football, which may help him in his new job.

I remember the names Lujack and Hornung. I’ve even interviewed both of them. I talked to Johnny Lujack, a former Notre Dame quarterback who used to sell cars in Davenport, for my Internet columnizing a couple of years ago when I wanted to know if he thought the Fighting Irish should be playing Iowa.

Lujack told me he doesn’t make Notre Dame’s schedules.

I interviewed Paul Hornung a number of years ago. He won the Heisman Trophy while playing for a Notre Dame team with a losing record. I tried to compare his situation with that of Troy Davis of Iowa State. Davis’ teams didn’t win, and he didn’t get the Heisman.

Things like that happen only at Notre Dame, I guess.

Both Lujack and Hornung were nice to me on the phone. I was nice to them, too.

I remember Leahy and Parseghian. They both coached at Notre Dame. So did Bob Davie. You remember Bob, don’t you? He’s on TV now.

I heard a lot about Leahy on the radio and from former Iowa players. I covered some of Parseghian’s games when he was Notre Dame’s coach. I think he spoke at the pep rally I attended on a Friday night.

Leahy was Notre Dame’s coach when Iowa’s Forest Evashevski branded his team the “Fainting Irish.” Evashevski and the Hawkeyes thought Leahy’s players faked injuries late in both halves of a 1953 game at South Bend, Ind., that ended in a 14-14 tie.

When Evashevski returned to Iowa City, he spoke at a gathering. When Evashevski spoke, everybody listened. He drew a roar from fans with this remodeled Grantland Rice poem:

“When the one Great Scorer
Comes to write against our name,
He won’t ask that we won or lost,
But how we got gypped at Notre Dame”

I’m sure Charlie Weis wouldn’t do something like that.

I have faith in everybody these days.

Charlie says it’s his job to “raise the expectations” [that’s what I’m told on Page 5 of my “Notre Dame Spring Football Guide”] at the school, which had a 6-6 record in 2004 under Ty Willingham.

It may not be all that easy to raise the expectations. My “Notre Dame Spring Football Guide” says the Fighting Irish play four of their first five games away from home.

They’re at Pittsburgh and Michigan, play Michigan State at home, then play at Washington [where Willingham is now the coach] and Purdue.

I wonder what Rockne and Leahy would say about that.

I know what I’d say:

I’d say, “Fire the schedule-maker.”

Before I deliver my last rousing cheer on high to spring football at Notre Dame, I’d like to mention that Chick-fil-A sponsored the cover of my “Spring Guide.”

It says so on the left-hand corner of the book. After “Chick-fil-A,” it says, “We Didn’t Invent The Chicken, Just The Chicken Sandwich.”


On the cover, it also says, “Blue-Gold Spring Football Festival Presented by Chick-fil-A.

Page 2 of the cover has ads from Papa Vino’s Italian Kitchen at 5110 Edison Lakes Parkway in Mishawaka and Chili’s Grill & Bar in Michigan City and Mishawaka, Ind., and St. Joseph, Mich.

Page 4 has an ad for “Legends of Notre Dame, a restaurant and ale house pub on Notre Dame’s campus.”

There’s an ad for Notre Dame Federal Credit Union on Page 30. Ideal Consolidated, Inc. is on Page 31. An attorney has his ad on Page 32 and 1st Source Bank is on Page 33.

Fifteen guys, all with either initials M.D., D.O. or DPM, are lined up to appear in an ad for South Bend Orthopaedics on the back cover.

Lots of ads. Lots of support for the Fighting Irish.

And, just think, this is amateur football!

I wonder why they charge $3 for the “2005 Spring Football Guide?”

Vol. 4, No. 341
May 3, 2005