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.
“When criticizing a Catholic institution, be sure to troop out quaint stereotypes so that your comments contain vague accusations of sacrilege or apostasy, and the humorous implication that its leaders are, in fact, just bad Catholics.” At least that’s what I presume is written in the general press conference guidelines down at Arizona State. Or maybe the athletic director has one of those desk calendars that gives a new piece of advice for every day of the year. But if that’s the case, he really should have checked the calendar for October, where on the fifth day of the month it is written, “If you mess with the Golden Calf, you get the horns.”
It seems that we’ve had to cancel an athletic engagement with Arizona State because we’re joining our new conference. The same thing happened to Michigan, whose athletic director was quite literally served with papers right before last season’s game… “When criticizing a Catholic lawyer, be sure…” To Michigan’s credit (which is fleeting and flimsy at best) their official statement simply said that the Wolverines may not want, nor ever again have time in its schedule, to play the Irish. No need to worry – they’ve thrown the 30-odd-year tantrum before.
All this for a conference? And one in which we aren’t playing football? Well, we’re playing some football, but not officially playing all our football… “When conference affiliations are negotiated by a Catholic lawyer…venial and mortal games…never on Friday…” With so much spleen being vented by those we’re leaving behind, one must wonder what sort of friends and neighbors we’ll have once we’ve moved to Atlantis. Why not give our conference the name of a mythical geographic location, since geographic designations have become really quite mythical in conference names? And so here is my impression of our new Atlantean opponents:
University of Maryland – We’ll get them out of the way first, since they’re getting out of the conference. I like the name of the state; I might have named my University Mary Land, had it not already been taken. I like the Catholic history of the state. I like that their mascot has the fine Latin name “Testudo.” But I can’t say I like their judgment, since they’re moving to a conference whose Latin name would best be rendered “Naufragio” – shipwreck.
Wake Forest University – We were just introduced to these fine Southern gentlemen this past season. Wake Forest sounds like the name of a country club – and this one admits Catholics. They play football like the play golf: stately pace, no rush, light contact, no rude remarks, nothing unsportsmanlike, and complimentary baked goods when it’s all over.
North Carolina State University – Professor-Emeritus Holtz used to coach the football team here, so they can’t be all bad. Of course, I don’t think he held a professorship at that point in his career…because I’m not sure N.C. State has professors per se.
Clemson University – They have a rock named Howard. Their stadium is called something like “The Valley of the Shadow of Death,” which is nice and Biblical. I think they have a tiger. But I know their players can take a punch.
Syracuse University – For a brief period, we had that portly man who didn’t understand that a football team must also play defense if it desires to win; nor did he understand that a team cannot lose half of its games and still make the playoffs as a wildcard…because we don’t have wildcards or playoffs. Before him there was that other fellow who wasn’t any good either. Suffice it to say, Syracuse was a problem then – they will not be a problem now.
University of North Carolina – We’ve played them 18 times. We’ve lost twice. Please refer back to the discussion of the portly man who didn’t do defense or winning.
Duke University – As long as the ball is pointed at both ends and not round, I have no problem playing them.
University of Virginia – I didn’t know they played football.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – What a cool name.
Georgia Institute of Technology – They’re engineers, so you might think they wouldn’t be much trouble – like Purdue. And in fact, they really aren’t much trouble…on the field. Their fans’ behavior is another matter entirely. They like to throw fish at us. Once again, “When insulting a Catholic institution…” Yes, we eat fish on Fridays. And the Georgia Tech wrecks also like to throw booze bottles at us…Touché, Yellow Jackets.
University of Pittsburgh – The bottomless Pitt. The games go on forever and we apparently can’t escape playing them.
Florida State University – This one feels unpleasantly like an incipient USC. The Seminoles are usually a challenge and their fans are so very crass. Also just like the Trojans, they have a gelding for a mascot – and he rides a horse, too.
State Penitentiary University of Miami – Really? Meeting Miami once in a while is fine, but getting into the pool with them can only lead to us having to towel off a nasty slick that clings. Yes, we’re Catholic – we believe in forgiveness of sins. But there has to be penance first. For the Hurricanes’ own good, we’ll penance them hard.
So, on balance, it’s not a bad group of football opponents. And moving to Atlantis will be good for basketball and all our myriad athletic teams. There are a couple of unsavory characters in the bunch, but every conference has its skunks at the family picnic. Still, I feel as though I’m forgetting someone or something. But I’ve gone through all the universities and institutes of technology. Whatever could I have left out…oh, that’s right…
Boston College – I’d make a nun joke or a snide fish-eaters comment, but those are only humorous when ridiculing a Catholic institution.
This week, the Michigan State football chaplain got himself in a bit of trouble for making a public boast about the Spartan basketball team, that was of questionable taste (to say the least). I know this is as much of a shock to you as it is to me – not that a priest has a filthy mouth, but that Michigan State athletes would welcome a man of God without trying to boil and eat him. I’m sure you also had the same initial suspicion that I had: a priest with low manners joining freely with our enemies must be a Jesuit. But keep in mind that Jesuits are characterized by dangerous intelligence. Michigan State players are not.
Much of my confusion was cleared up when I was informed that said chaplain is a graduate of the University of Michigan. What does one expect from a Wolverine but an angry snarl…and a grunt? At the very least, we must applaud the missionary zeal that has led him from Ann Arbor even deeper in partibus infidelium to East Lansing. This whole episode has given me cause to think generally about the ministry of the team chaplain, and to consider specifically issues of proper, upstanding conduct on the part of these ministers of Holy Church. We have so many of these Grace-Coaches here at Notre Dame, that our congregational post-nominals might as well be written CSChaplain.
Since St. Sebastian first took his turn as goalie for the Roman archery team, we have celebrated the Athleta Christi Nobilis, the Noble Champion of Christ. In these enlightened times, we no longer smite or slay; we limit our exertions to defeating in sportsmanlike fashion our opponents – who nonetheless remain enemies of our souls, bent on our utter destruction. It is for the coach to be like the military commander in this athletic combat. It is for the chaplain to be like the spiritual Department of Defense Inspector General, preaching, correcting, rebuking, and encouraging in season and out of season. Both coach and chaplain should manifest a love of the athlete as well as a love of the game. But while the coach can get away gutter-mouth exhortations peppered with barnyard language, locker room imagery, and hyperbolic threats of grievous bodily harm (all bellowed at ear-splitting full volume with eyes bulging and veins popping), the chaplain must set his mind on things that are above. Here are a few guidelines for appropriate sports chaplain conduct.
Fight the GOOD Fight. By all means cheer, jump up and down, and shake your fist at the opposing team. But leave the violent challenges out. With a very few exceptions, a chaplain would be returned to the dust from which he came if he ever tried to take on a strapping college athlete of any sort. Your Heavenly Dad might be able to beat up his dad, but after a real fight, priest, you’d be collecting your teeth with broken hands. And don’t be crude. Insult all you want – I’m French, my people created the art of insult. But draw some lines that exclude bodily functions and obscenities. Remember: that the end of your days, you may have to kiss your Blessed Virgin Mother with that mouth.
God made you to LAUGH. Like Abraham’s wife Sarah. But like Sarah, make sure that everyone’s laughing with you. We’re talking about sports and it’s good to be passionate about your school and your team. Skewer, lambaste, satirize, and lampoon the other school and the other team. You can even go after a couple of the opponent’s star athletes for shoddy performance or public foibles. But don’t get too personal. Even though it’s hard to believe at times (especially in the case of Michigan), the people on the other side of the field, or court, or stands are just that…real human people. They are all children of God (though at USC they are very naughty, dirty children). And be prepared to take all the abuse that will, rightly, be shoveled your way. Even Michigan State fans are capable of wit, albeit ham-fisted and ungrammatical. But don’t respond to vulgar baiting, don’t join with an opponent who is steeped in filth. Tangle with an Alabama fan once, and no matter how much ritual washing you perform, the stench will linger upon you for months.
Be prepared for the rain to come, the stream to rise, the wind to blow, and your house to fall down. Because it will. You can’t win ‘em all. The chaplain’s most important work comes right after the defeat. Comfort the afflicted, instill hope, and never, ever, give up on your athletes, your team, or your school. It’s not just football chaplains who have to be prepared to take hits. There’s always a lot of talk about team spirit. Well, if a chaplain isn’t keeping up his team’s spirits all the time, but especially in the darkest moments, he’s about as useful as a diploma from an SEC school. Sports are metaphors for combat; so never forget the example of a true combat chaplain, Father Aquinas T. Colgan, who always told his troops staggering back from battle, that as long as you’re alive, “Every night’s a New Year’s Eve; every day’s a payday!” He was a good Irishman, Fr. Colgan…but alas, he was a Carmelite.
Above all, no matter what the sport, no matter whether the team wins championships or is the doormat of the league, the chaplain must always give his athletes all his heart, all his soul, and all his strength. Brothers, take the tennis chaplain as your model – for, of us all, only the tennis chaplain truly serves.
P.S. If there is any chaplain out there who has mastered all of these virtues, please tell this occasionally crass, usually barbed, sportsfan-sinner how to do so.
“By the waters of Miami, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Notre Dame.”
This is why, in our wisdom, we make you all take philosophy and theology, whether you like it or not. This is why you have to know a little something about what’s written in the Good Book, in order to be given a diploma written by our University. Read the above quotation – obviously it’s derived from Psalm 137 (even the Freshmen recognized that, right?). But there are some important differences: first, Miami is substituted for Babylon, though I detected very few dissimilarities between the original den of sin and iniquity in Mesopotamia and the bordello on South Beach; second, after a hard day of tailgating in the southern sun, our fans passed out more than sat down; and third, we were lamenting the first and only loss of the entire season, not the utter destruction of Notre Dame and the enslavement of all our students.
You have to be a philosopher about these things, not a tragedian. One of the two teams was going to walk away from that game with a loss (ever since they did away with that fascinating conundrum, the tie). The defeat we were handed was heavy; but be philosophical – it could have been much worse. You only have to look at Alabama’s previous victim opponent in a championship game to see that we scored two touchdowns more than the zero achieved by Louisiana State.
The strength of Alabama in recent years has given rise to much popular discussion of a “dynasty.” Dynasties are for Pharaohs, not football teams. Alabama just happens to be particularly strong when other opponents (but not Texas A&M) are relatively weak. Unlike pharaonic dynasties that lasted hundreds of years, Alabama is more like the Germans – powerful bullies who rise up occasionally and roll over everyone in sight, until they’re resoundingly beaten again and subside into a decade-or-so of sulky weakness.
Looking at our 12 victories from our undefeated regular season (an activity in which Alabama cannot indulge), a mystic might be inclined to say we saved up all of our opponents’ scoring for one devastating game, in effect taking 12 small wins in exchange for one big loss. That may sooth wounded pride, and if Buddha had played football that might be called karma. We have mystics in Catholicism, but not samsara – each game is won or lost in its own 60 minutes, and fortune or disaster are not traded fluidly among present and future events. Of course, being Catholic, our mystics asks what sins we committed so badly to be given a 42-14 penance. But look, you self-flagellating mystics, those 12 victories are still there and aren’t going anywhere.
If you want to blame any supervening force for a January loss, then join with me in my manic hatred for the witchery that is the BCS (in my opinion, properly written without the “C”). Under the old bowl system, Alabama and Notre Dame could very well have played different opponents. If both won, the matter of #1 would be left up to the voters in the polls. Of course, Notre Dame would remain the only undefeated team, and Alabama would still have a suppurating wound named Aggie. The polls could have been unanimous or split. Crimson Tide fans could fantasize about what it would have been like had they gotten at shot at the Fighting Irish (whilst all the time claiming their 37th national title). Notre Dame would argue that we deal in reality, not fever dreams, and the lively debate would rage. Those days were so much more exciting! And isn’t debate what we do in universities? Aren’t theories what we develop and argue with passion? Those who lack creativity or mental vigor are much happier with this dry and definitive system the BCS claims to provide, having taken the matter out of the hands of fickle voters. Except for the fact that getting to their glorious final game is entirely dependent on voters who adamantly refused to rank Notre Dame #1 until there was no other alternative.
Yet, it is of no value to blame the BCS – why not blame the Freemasons (it’s the same group, after all…literally). The weak, the spoiled, the self-indulgent, and the slaves to rage all want to blame someone. So we look to the Old Testament, which is a series of books about blame. Moses would blame the people for worshiping a golden calf – or in the case of our fans, an aluminum can. Joshua would blame lack of preparation, though we had ample time and the band provided plenty of trumpets. David would blame himself for his infidelity…oh, let’s not discuss unfaithful, straying leaders at just this moment. So we turn to the New Testament: Matthew would blame the Pharisees, Mark would blame the Scribes, Paul would blame Peter, Peter would blame the cock, everyone would blame the Romans, and John the Divine was just batshi crazy.
But what everyone in the New Testament can agree on is that until the Second Coming, we live in a fallen world where we all sin and bad things happen to good people and nothing has any business being perfect. And so what do I say about an unblemished season ending in an unsightly bowl bruise – “If it were all gone, I should not give up! I came here as a young man and dreamed of building a great university in honor of Our Lady. But I built it too small, and she had to burn it to the ground to make the point. So, tomorrow as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild it bigger and better than ever!”
Well, the bricks have cooled now. It’s time to start rebuilding.
Besides, I blame the Jesuits.
Vincent Smith could tell you a few things about running back. And as soon as he stops weeping tears of a Clowney and rocking himself in the corner, I am sure he’ll be happy to. In the meantime, you’ve got Bayou Irish in all of my flu-addled glory. Great way to start a new year, folks, I gotta tell ya. Coughing up phlegm into a Kleenex before passing out in a Nyquil induced-haze at 7:00 p.m. ROCKS! But seriously, let’s talk some football, y’all. Six days out from the National Championship Game, let’s push the growing meme, ”Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy,” a little further. Let’s talk running back.
Before we go further, check out Biscuit’s preseason take on the position
In 2012, in getting to 12-0, Coach Kelly rolled out a multi-faceted offense that featured Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, George Atkinson, III and Cam McDaniel at RB. The workhorses in that stable, though, were the seniors, Theo and Cierre. Theo ran for 880 yards and 5 TD’s while Cierre put up 740 and 4. Theo, another Jersey phenom, found success in the backfield after playing receiver, fly half and striker. Cierre is leaning towards a move to the NFL after this year, and with a 14 month old daughter to support, who can blame him. The two each had signature games, BYU for Theo and Oklahoma for Cierre, whose stunning sixty yard run announced that the Irish had come to Norman not just to play, but to win. If the Irish are going to do the same to ‘Bama, both will need to turn in huge games.
And it’s going to be tough. Alabama comes into Miami with the best rush defense in the country, giving up just under 80 yards per game. ND has the nation’s fourth-best rush defense, so this game has all the potential of being a “slobber-knocker.” And, just as an FYI, Stanford and BYU have the other “top four” rush defenses, so it’s not like The Irish haven’t tangled with the top before.
The Enemy:If ND if going to win the crystal football, they’re going to have to handle the two thousand-yarders in ‘Bama’s backfield: T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacey. As you can see in the video below, that’s going to be very, very hard:
The scary thing is that Yeldon’s a freshman, and while that may put his chances of graduating from Alabama at between slim and none, he’s just going to get better. Having put up 1,000 yards this year, that’s very bad for defenses around the country. His junior stable-mate, Eddie Lacey, broke off 1,182.
This is not to say The Irish haven’t faced and defeated better backs: Le’Veon Bell, Stepfan Taylor, Denard Robinson and Ray Graham come to mind. But it’s rare to have two in the same game, much less on the field at the same time. Looks like Manti and the Boys will have their work cut out for them on the 7th.
Putting football aside, I want to wish all of you and yours the best in 2013. Obviously, I want that to start with a National Championship, but in every way, I hope that the New Year is one of health, tranquility and prosperity in all its forms for you.