Good Fridays w/Padre: Wordplay

There will only ever be one Michigan. This is neither good nor bad. Someone had to be first, and it was our northern neighbor. That is in the very nature of a rival. The word comes from the Latin rivus, meaning river. A rivalry is weighted with the sense of an unquenchable competitiveness natural to two neighbors who use the same river, who oppose each other from opposite banks with a fast-flowing waterway forever coursing between and dividing them.

Michigan, we would say, is the protorival, adding the Greek prefix protos meaning first.

Contemptible, loathsome, and soon to be relegated for a spell, Michigan will nevertheless be the mythic protorival that forever looms large out of our past, defeating us first and yet to surrender more victories to us than we have to them.

There will only ever by one Southern California. This is neither good nor bad. Someone has to be the fiercest, and it was this team from the other side of the continent whom Rockne invited to meet us in Soldier Field. We beat them that first day. But they have beaten us 35 times. That is, they have beaten us most, worst, and when it counted more against us and more for them.

Southern California, we would say, is the archrival, adding the Greek prefix arke meaning chief. Brash, lewd, and chronically dishonest, Southern California will nevertheless be the epochal archrival with whom we shall forever clash in games that shall never lack intensity and significance.

Our opponents tomorrow call themselves the ‘Eagles.’ Their instrument-bearing spirit band and pep squad refers to itself as the ‘Screaming Eagles.’ Why do the Eagles scream? For no other reason than to draw attention to themselves. Why do they demand such attention so loudly? Because if they were not an obstreperous gaggle of petulant whelps, the eagles would be infinitely forgettable. If they didn’t bray for the sake of drawing annoyed glances, no one would ever bother to look their way. The shot heard round the world may have been fired in Lexington, but its echo went to Chestnut Hill to die a slow death.

And what does an insecure, attention craving group, that feels it has been monumentally slighted, do to address its plight? It attaches itself to a larger body and it agitates. We would say it is a parasite, from the Greek para and sitos, meaning ‘food beside.’ The parasite cannot feed itself, and thus must suck sustenance from another.

This is how Boston College elevates itself to the level of rival with Notre dame. Yet we have never shared any metaphorical river. In fact we have never shared anything except Frank Leahy, who was a loyal son brazenly using Boston College as a stepping stone to the plinth of Notre Dame. You can still see Frank’s boot prints, he jumped so hard to get out. Likewise, Boston College has not engaged Notre Dame in anything approaching 83 vicious blood-lettings that have annually captivated the ghouls of the college football world.

In short, you can’t arbitrarily decide one day that your commuter school suddenly rivals one of great pillar universities of collegiate athletics. You can’t declare your own lofty status and then sit smugly self-assured, declaring that you are unanimous in your decision.

The Irish have suffered a few painful losses to the Eagles. But Boston College has used this not so much to declare that it represents a new challenger; Boston College would have everyone believe it is now the great nemesis of Notre Dame. They want to be the young hotshot who has robbed the star quarterback of his starting job, when in fact all they have ever amounted to is the seedy cheerleader who kissed the quarterback and gave him a cold sore.

Parasite was too technical of a term to apply. After all, a parasite does best when the host doesn’t notice it. The Eagles want ever so much to be noticed and feared. What then would we call this group? From the Irish language keening, meaning wailing and crying out. And from the Hungarian, vampires.


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  • tlndma

    I grew up 45 miles from BC and 1 mile from Fitton Field, home of Holy Cross. Every other year, I would watch BC come on to Fitton Field like they were the gods gift to football. Most years the scoreboard would reflect a severe beat down was handed to the Crusaders. Every so often though HC would stand up to BC and their 50 extra scholorships and give them a good game. Once 79? they even beat them.
    Now the people at Holy Cross thought they were BCs biggest rival. BC wanted to be Penn St or Syracuse’s main rival. The thing with a rivalry is if it is totally one sided, it’s not really a rivalry.
    Now back in the 40s and 50s I’m told HC – BC was a competitive rivalry. This is what I hope for NDs series with them. That, 10, 15, 20 years from now we’re saying “remember when these guys used to give us a game?”. There is nothing that would get under the skin of the “bald eagles” (BCs 60-70- yr old alums) than to tell them”You are our Holy Cross.”