Dear Notre Dame,
Recently, David McCollugh, Jr., gave a commencement address to a high school graduating class. It pretty much fits you to a T, sentence by sentence, word by word. So, with apologies to Mr. McCollough, I present my speech to you, Notre Dame fan. You're Not Special:
Pope Benedict, AD Swarbrick, Coach Kelly, Coach emeritus Holtz, Notre Dame fans who have never set foot on the South Bend campus: for the privilege of speaking to you this afternoon, I am honored and grateful. Thank you.
From this day forward… truly… in sickness and in health, through coaching fiascos, through middling football that spans generations, through terrible quarterback play, through every schematic advantage, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever separated from reality, you and your Notre Dame fandom as one, ‘til death do you part.
No, Notre Dame football is life’s great ceremonial mediocrity, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon--Off Tackle Empire. Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a blog that levels the playing field. That matters. That says something. That and your ceremonial costume… that ridiculous golden helmet, and the green jerseys you break out when losing in regular uniforms isn't painful enough. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned dorm tramp or NCAA '12 player of the millenium, each of you thinks exactly the same. And that's because of your fandom…you're all exactly the same:
You think Notre Dame is exceptional. You think Notre Dame is special.
You’re not special. You are not exceptional.
Contrary to what Touchdown Jesus suggests, your glowing 1989 National Championship trophy, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur (that could be either Kelly or Charlie, you decide), that nice Dr. Lou and that batty Beano Cook, no matter how often the ghost of George Gipp has swooped in to tell you otherwise... you’re nothing special.
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, lied to, and given undue deference. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have over rated you, kissed your ass, fed your ever growing inferiority complex, praised you, taught you to think you're special, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been given the benefit of the doubt, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over in September and you've been declared 'back' every season of the last 12. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve watched your games, your practices, your middling bowl games, your coaches press conferences.
Absolutely, smiles ignite when Charlie Weis waddled into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every shortcoming on the football field. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture on ESPN. And now, you think you’ve made it back to being 'elite'… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, as we've spent an entire week on you at this fine on-line community, the first non-B1G team to be profiled emerge from this magnificent website.
But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
The empirical evidence is everywhere, ratings numbers even NBC can’t ignore. Davis, Holtz, May… I am allowed to say Corso, yes?
Not ranked in the top 25 at the end of the year is the norm, not the exception. Oh, the typical blue bloods have BCS wins--Ohio State leads the pack with 9. Michigan, USC, Texas, Alabama, they all have multiple BCS wins.
You're Oh-fer-eternity in BCS games. Maybe that is special, but in a 'I need to wear a helmet on my head when I leave the house' kind of way.
Here are some teams that have more BCS wins than you: Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon, West Virginia, Boise State, Utah, and TCU.
No, cubby, you're not special.
"But,Ted," you cry, "Beano Cook tells me I’m my own version of perfect! Dr. Lou tells me I have the spark of Zeus!"
You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. In your unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with everyone–which springs, I think, from your fear of your own insignificance, a subset of your dread of the mediocrity that has enveloped your program — you have of late, you Irish fans, to everyone else's detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. You have come to see them as the point — and you're happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if you suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage yourselves into a better spot in the top 25 polls.
But the Sun Bowl and the Hawaii Bolw doesn't cut it, cubby. Even though you desperately want to believe it does.
No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s "Notre Dame is back in September". As a consequence, we give your team far more attention than it deserves, and by December you get a bowl appearance more out of pity than achievement.
As this football season commences, then, and before you shatter beer bottles against the wall when you lose to Navy (again), I urge you to keep your Notre Dame hubris for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with coaches you don’t believe in any more than you would a top 25 poll you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a 'Notre Dame should be relegated to the FCS' argument.
Embrace the easy comforts of 7-5, the specious glitter of a December bowl trophy as it glints in the sun, the narcotic paralysis of rationalization that will lead you back to your self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages.
Develop and protect that moral superiority and demonstrate the lack of character to apply it. It's your fan base trademark.
Dream big, because dreams are about all you have left. Work hard...at convincing yourself you'll be good this year.
Don't think for yourself--that's a trait your fan base isn't known for, so why start now?
You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, "pursuit" – which applies more to your defense as they try to haplessly run down an opposing ball carrier as it does to your team trying to get a BCS berth.
Don’t wait for reality or logic to find you when it comes to the status of your football team. Get up, get out, and proclaim to everyone that 'Notre Dame is back'.
Because we all need a good laugh at your expense. Now, before you dash off and get your WAKE UP THE ECHOES tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not trying to long for a time past and convince yourself that's where your program is today.
Because it isn't. And it won't be for a long, long time.
Rather than Play Like A Champion Today, it should be Play To Not Get Our Ass Kicked Today. But because WAKE UP THE ECHOES doesn’t have the same ring to us as it does to you, we--and by we I mean everyone else in college football except Beano Cook--shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.
Because you really don't matter anymore, Notre Dame. You're not special.
Play on NBC not to play on NBC, but to embrace the inevitability that you will be humiliated at least once at home this year, probably twice. Play so you can broadcast it to the world, not that the world will particularly care.
Go to Norman to get your ass kicked at Norman, not to cross it off your list, but congratulate yourself for thinking you'll win.
And finally, know that one of the greatest truths of college football in the 21st century is the undeniable fact that you’re not special.
And you won't be. For a long, long time.