This weekend marks the start of the 2013 march to victory for the football team. Fitting, then, that the team is guaranteed a victory in any event because they play with themselves [Editor’s note: Padre doesn’t always appreciate how certain phrases have changed over the years.] [Padre’s note: Get your mind out of the gutter, so Mark May’s can float by.] What used to be the old-timers’ game, the intrasquad scrimmage, or simply ‘the spring game’, has been officially exulted to The University of Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football Festival. Some might think this a bit too much – but when you start with a musty log cabin and finish with a 19-foot-tall gilded statue of The BVM, nothing is too much in these old eyes.
This is a weekend for pure, unadulterated celebration. We cheer for both the True Blues and the Glittering Golds. It is the one game that does not force us to welcome a viper into our hallowed Stadium. And while we will watch the lads play to get a sense for how good they will be this season, we must still pause to consider the vipers. Well, not really the Vipers, since none of our opponents have adopted that moniker for themselves. Such symbols are not to be underestimated, for they represent the drive and inspiration of our enemies. So let’s look at monikers and mascots to gain insight into what lies before our Blues and Golds in just a few short months.
To begin, we make a distinction between moniker, which is the team’s nickname, and mascot, which is their emblem. Our own situation provides the perfect illustration of the difference. We are named the Fighting Irish. This symbolizes the contribution of the Hibernian people to our University from the very first day of its founding. It also symbolizes our teams’ will to fight its way to the top, despite ridicule and violent opposition. And if you don’t think that’s as valid now as it was 90 years ago, you apparently didn’t watch or listen to anything during the entire 2012 season. Our mascot is the Leprechaun. Irish folklore tells us that the leprechaun is a diminutive elf who makes shoes for other fairies, likes a drink, hordes gold, and is secretive and tricky. Though that certainly describes generations of our Alumni, the Leprechaun’s qualities which we prefer to emulate are his wit, his tenacity, and his loyalty to his own. Interestingly, Irish folklore also tells us that there are no female Leprechauns – feel free to add your own Catholic-prudery-parietals joke at this point.
Now let’s categorize our opponents by type, starting with those taking a totemic spirit animal. We have two birds: the Owls and the Falcons. Both noble fowl and fierce hunters…of rodents. Owls only come out at night to carry off field mice and they can turn their heads fully around to look backwards. We will be playing them by day, there’s not one lad on our team who could possibly be considered ‘mousy’, and the Temple Owls will spend a lot of time turning their heads as our defense intercepts their passes and returns them for touchdowns. Falcons are the fastest birds of the air and vicious killers…of bunnies. The Air Force Academy even brings a falcon to its games. They are able to do this because this falcon’s ancestors were captured in small nets and kept in a coop like chickens. Hence, this fierce hunter now chases a leather chew-toy and responds to its master’s gentle cooing. It also wears a hood to keep it blind – so too, the Air Force Falcons will never see the Irish coming.
We have two feral cats: the Panthers and the Cougars. These are essentially the same thing, just living in different locations, and they survive by killing baby deer…and rodents. They scavenge rotting carcases, too. Big cats tend to play with their food before going in for the kill. As a result, panthers occasionally lose their prey after a long fight they seemed sure to win. I am told the term ‘cougars’ now more frequently does not refer to mountain lions, but means ‘lecherous older women’. Which is odd, because I thought that was what they called the USC Alumnae Association.
And then there are the Wolverines. The wolverine is the largest weasel in North America. The wolverine lives in a filthy, stinking hole. When you don’t play with the wolverines anymore, the cry crocodile tears. During the Civil War, General George Armstrong Custer led a brigade called The Wolverines. The 2013 season will be the Michigan Wolverines’ last stand against the Irish – and it should go just about as well for them as Custer’s Last Stand went for him.
Next we have those opponents with human mascots. There are the Boilermakers who are named after what they have historically done. You will note, they are not called the ‘Gamewinners’. There are the Sooners, also named for what they have historically done. In this case, the original Sooners were cheats and thieves who staked illegal claims to open land before others who followed the rules. They often snuck into unclaimed territories under cover of darkness or by the light of the moon. For this reason they were also called Moonshiners. As they sneak out of Indiana by night, the Sooners will need plenty of moonshine to forget about what they Irish will have done to them. And finally there are the Spartans, killed to a man at Thermopylae, decimated once and for all by the Romans. We’re Roman Catholics – need I say more.
Not all monikers and mascots make good, solid sense. We face two of these; first, the Sun Devils. At one time, Arizona State competed under the name ‘The Normals’. Finding this uninspiring, they created the notion of a sun devil, which exists only in their stadium and their minds. Stranger still, the mascot is named ‘Sparky’…because the sun showers sparks? No need to worry because, real or imagined, devils get exorcised by priests, and we’ve got plenty of those. By the way, exorcism is an act of casting out for good – similar to what Professor Swarbrick did to Arizona State. Second, back for more fun, is the Cardinal, a color represented by a tree. I have an easier time explaining the Holy Trinity than I do this combination. A color is an abstract idea like, say, a phantom whistle. A tree doesn’t do much intimidating except fall. But if a tree falls in a Stadium, does it whine?
Finally, we square off against two opponents who are old enemies. Like us, these two have rather complex combinations of monikers and mascots. First is the United States Naval Academy, which fights under the name the Midshipmen. Fair enough…not much to say here…that’s who they are and what they do. The West Point cadets call themselves the Black Knights, which is much more fearsome. But in reality, midshipmen sail the boat – they use Marines to do the fighting. Further confusing the matter, their mascot is Bill the Goat. What, I hear you ask, do livestock have to do with the Navy? Sailors used to keep goats and other animals onboard to slaughter and eat. Just like we did at Notre Dame when we had a farm; and just as we will figuratively do in the Stadium this year.
And then are the Trojans. Named for a people steeped in treachery, whose most notorious act was snatching a bride from her wedding. Such theft, dishonesty, and trickery never works out for the Trojans. After they kidnapped Helen, they lost the ensuing war; after they stole a victory from the Irish, they lost the whole bloody season. The USC Trojans have for a mascot a horse named Traveler. This they pattern off the famous Trojan Horse, something they also stole. Which was one of the worst tactical decisions in the history of warfare – rather like calling a timeout when your team is inches from the goal-line and about to score. Ultimately, the Trojans are some of history’s great losers. And we welcome USC to bring that spirit of Troy to our Stadium.
As for this weekend, I’m sure we’ll have a Football Festival, but the weather is anything but Spring. Since they are all my loyal sons, I can’t root for either the Blues or the Golds. Hence I will be rooting for the Greens…in this weather, under this blue-grey sky, I’ll root for anything G-G-G-Green.