I used to love the Old Timers Game. There was nothing like pitting explosive young male ego against the fading pride of men at middle age. Sure, there were a lot of injuries–but this is football not ballet (although, the way some of these new-fangled uniform pants fit, I wonder).
Like so many other fine traditions, the Old Timers Game was retired in an obsessive concern over “safety”. What’s this fixation with safety? You know what’s neither safe nor advisable: living in an unheated cabin in the forests of Northern Indiana during winter and calling it a University. I nearly said adieux to several of my favorite fingers and toes. You know what else isn’t safe: lots of open flame in a small, enclosed space like…say..an ivy-covered cave. That Grotto has gone up like a Roman candle more than once. But it’s still there because it’s a good idea to keep the BVM happy. I’ll let you in on a secret–keeping Herself happy is the only way to turn a small, unheated cabin in the woods into a University.
When it comes to football, I understand that certain innovations are necessary for the lads’ safety. Take helmets, for instance. They didn’t wear any when we started up the team in 1887. Now they wear glittering bowling balls on their heads. To these old eyes, it looks rather ridiculous–but the players seem to graduate a lot smarter and with fewer inexplicable ticks since the first leather head pads.
But leaving behind the Old Timers game was a bridge too far. It’s not fair to the team alumni who want one last chance at glory, even if it results in public incontinence. And it’s not fair to the lads on the team right now, who want a chance at resolving their underlying issues with their overbearing fathers, bullying older brothers, coaches, rectors, and all the alumni by knocking an older, slower former athlete into hopeless oblivion straight through his decorative bowling ball.
This lack of drama undoubtedly accounts for the poor tailgating atmosphere of this game. When there’s to be no ugliness on the field, people just don’t have the spirit for a good debauch beforehand. Of course, that won’t stop me from lining my cassock with some top-shelf flasks. That way I won’t have to drink what the Zahm lads serve out of five-gallon vats (it burns like fire and is, perhaps, bewitched). And with a number of inside pockets close to my gentleman’s areas, any usher who tries to pat me down wins a broken hand–and they know it.
Now, tailgating is a tradition that is also inherently unsafe; but you don’t see too many moves to do away with it. That’s because any such action would interfere with one of our most revered traditions–making scads of cash. If you’re worried about any changes to the traditions surrounding our football games, simply ask yourself: WWTTD. What Would The Treasurer Do? Let’s face it, I built stands around the football field in 1889 not out of a love for the bad sightlines of tradition, but because I could accommodate more paying spectators. Cartier Field (with its handsome French appellation) fell into desuetude after 40 years, when the Stadium opened and doubled its capacity. Then some artless fool, with no taste even in his mouth, entombed that once-elegant edifice within the ghastly shell we see today. Naked concrete is not attractive even to other concrete.
This was done in order to squeeze 20,000 more top-dollar customers into the area around the field. Yet, while I’m no engineer, I am fairly certain the Stadium is the only building in the world that can be expanded by a third and silenced by half. I have hosted novenas in Sacred Heart with the nuns from St. Mary’s, and it was louder than the Stadium. I have taken long walks in Cedar Grove with the chirping of birds and scratching of squirrels, and it was louder than the Stadium. So if someone wants to play music that gets people cheering, let him. Why do you think I put a brass band next to the field at the very first game? I haven’t a clue how this new music works, and quite frankly, the selections caused a wave of nausea to sweep over me last season. But the idea is sound–just find someone who is not tone-deaf to make it.
As far as I’m concerned, everything apart from faith, hope, indomitable spirit, and the protection of the BVM is all new at Notre Dame. But I have a long perspective. Traditions are fine things–but so is indoor plumbing. Keep the good, dispense with the backward. And someone give me back my Old Timers Game. Until then, I’ll be lighting an excessive number of candles in the Grotto and hoping for another ivy fire–they’re so cool!