Just about twenty-four hours from now, college football fans will begin gorging on what is set up to be the best regular season Saturday of the 2017 campaign. Between Michigan State/Ohio State, Georgia/Auburn, Oklahoma/TCU, and Notre Dame/Miami, from noon on, there’s something to be excited about. Get your rest tonight. Hit the liquor store and food trough of your choice in the morning. Kiss your loved ones and tell them you’ll see them Sunday. Tomorrow is set up for greatness.
Of course, there’s no need to hide the ball – for Irish faithful, the main event will kickoff just after eight PM in Miami. Yes, there are some painful flashbacks from January 2013 that might pop into your head, but most seem to be in agreement that this battle should be something quite different from that horror show. Instead, with a Top 10 match-up between Our Lady’s University and The U, people have been harkening back even earlier than 2013. The vibe and intensity has many recalling the clashes with Miami of the late 1980’s and with that has been the return of the game moniker “Catholics vs. Convicts.” I’m here to make my pitch to everyone out there to stop using that name.
Our slice of the interweb has been accused (quite recently in fact!) of telling people “how to enjoy football.” I consider this is a serious attack. After all, sports and fandom is entertainment. It should be fun. I am generally pro-fun and pro-fun-things-in-sports. So make no mistake, I don’t mean to be pedantic about fandom. You do you, but I would like to suggest the possibility that enjoying this 2017 Notre Dame team without comping them to a specific era of the past could enhance your enjoyment.
For me, there is no comparison between college football and the NFL. The sterile, packaged, overly-marketed feel of the NFL is a real turn off. Everything organic about traditions and loyalty is scooped up, run through a marketing machine, and spit back out with a lot of filler ingredients. It’s, in a word, boring. What college football gets right is letting each game’s excitement speak for itself. Yes, in part this is because traditionally college football is the only of the major sports where each regular season week feels monumentally important. It’s also because the match-ups and traditions feel like they grow out of the games rather than being cultured in a Madison Avenue office.
Rivalries feel important. Even in down years, there’s still something special about certain match-ups. Notre Dame/Michigan and Notre Dame/USC immediately come to mind for our fans. No matter the respective records, there’s a genuine excitement and desire to destroy the opponent. Virtually every team in football has these match-ups where record doesn’t matter. I just don’t view Notre Dame/Miami as one of those. I’m sure for fans of a certain age, I’ll get some disagreement here. Yes, the match-ups of the late 1980’s were monumental, epic showdowns. They featured programs at the height of their power and coaches with a penchant for the dramatic. The “Catholics versus Convicts” showdowns were peak college football awesomeness. I do not dispute this.
Here’s where I break away: I also view the “Catholics versus Convicts” moniker as very distinct to a specific era of a particular match-up. Sure, I saw some folks mention that name in 2012 and 2016, but nothing to the effect that I’ve seen in the build up this year. That’s because the match-up doesn’t have nearly the same buzz without the programs excelling. Ask fans of the Iron Bowl…or Bedlam…or Good Old Fashioned Hate what the game means, and it’s always a chance to add an exclamation to a season. Sure, it’s bigger when the teams are doing well, but it always means something. Notre Dame/Miami doesn’t have that. Reviving the “Catholics versus Convicts” title with the teams doing well sells 2017 Notre Dame short and undersells a team trying to forge its own place in history. It just feels…forced.
I love Notre Dame’s traditions. I love its spirit and sense of history. There’s a reason that so many fans outside of the Irish faithful view a trip to South Bend as akin to a trip to the Holy Land. However, sometimes (sometimes! I repeat SOMETIMES!!), our fans get a little over obsessed with recollections of the good old days. A return to glory, an awakening of the echoes, is all fine and good. I’m pro-that too. But, it seems like Brian Kelly and the current Irish team is constantly compared to the Holtz-era for no apparent reason other than that was the last time the team did well consistently. It’s the last tick mark on the “glory” days of Notre Dame football, and therefore, anything new must be a return to the old. And that’s unfortunate. I say, let this team make its own traditions. Let this game be its own special event and not just a rehash of an era past.
For those that follow Notre Dame SID, Michael Bertsch, you’ve probably seen the number of stats he’s put out telling you that this Irish team is doing things that relate back to dominance even older than the Holtz-era. Even older than the whole “Catholics versus Convicts” thing. There’s no need for 2017 to be a re-boot. Independence Day was a damn fine movie in the mid-1990’s. It was fun, action packed, and had its own quirks…like making Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Randy Quaid action “stars.” You know what it didn’t need, to be re-made? Trying to re-create the magic just felt sad, empty, and over-produced. Kind of like an NFL product.
If you sit down to watch the Irish tomorrow and still want to make references to “Catholics versus Convicts,” that’s fine. I won’t begrudge you. I’m basically expecting ABC to make some references to it. And, as I said at the outset, I’m pro-fun. So do the fun thing. For me, and I’m hoping for some of you, I’d just prefer that the fun seem fresh, new, and organic to the 2017 campaign and not a forced recall to a time now passed.
As always, Go Irish!