When I started this Indiana adventure, my boss, Fr. Basil Moreau, required that I send regular written reports back to France. I suppose he wanted to keep tabs on his personnel, because it wasn’t like he was spending one thin franc on the whole project. Anyway, I dutifully dispatched informative missives across the Atlantic on a regular basis. These days, the current administration seems to enjoy peddling excerpts of my letters like a jilted mistress. Since we’re in a big anniversary year, I thought I’d share a few notes of my own from six score and five years ago – some of which unfortunately mention tomorrow’s despicable opponent.
Shortly after Fr. Moreau stepped down, I took over as Superior General. As the big French cheese, I didn’t answer to anyone except the BVM. Since She only takes prayers and not letters, I picked up a pen pal in Rome – His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII, Bishop of Rome, Primate of Italy, Patriarch of the West, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Dude.
November 9, 1887
I’m pretty excited here. I’ve lighted upon a new idea to keep the lads happy and possibly make a little coin, too. It’s called football. Imagine a Trastevere street brawl where the object in contention is an oblong ball, not someone’s sister. Two evenly matched teams try to score with the ball – again rather like in Trastevere.
What makes this different is that other people actually come to watch, not throw bricks and bottles. I’m thinking I can recruit new students, invite important guests, even bring some alumni back for an afternoon at the old school. I can charge these folks a couple of pennies to sit on some temporary wooden seats, a couple more pennies for a sausage on a roll with some lemonade, and maybe even a whole dollar for a woolen jersey (if I can get the nuns to knit faster). Hell My Goodness, I could create an instant afternoon market. Maybe I’ll call this “marketing.” At least it’s slightly less seedy than selling indulgences.
I’m told that there are a lot of starts and stops in a football game; and sometimes play is suspended for a period of consultation. Since I don’t want excitement to wane among the spectators, I’m having our band play a few catchy tunes during lulls in the action. Until we can come up with a catchy ditty of our own, we’ll play “Knock ‘em Down McCloskey,” and “Down Went McGinty,” and “Finnegan’s Wake.” Most of my students are Irish, and they like violence and death, so it should keep spirits high. Besides, nothing would be worse for our team than a sepulchral silence descending over the field.
Finally, I had to line-up an opponent. This nice college just over our northern border in Michigan has volunteered to send its team to play us here at Notre Dame. I think it might be a vocational or trade school, because the representatives I’ve met from Michigan don’t seem terribly bright. But that’s fine, since we’ll have both smarts and the BVM on our side.
Rub the Pieta’s nose for good luck on November 23.
Your Loyal Servant,
November 24, 1887
WHAT THE HELL DICKENS WAS THAT? Our inaugural foray into football was disastrous! First of all, we lost the game by eight points. Mind you, there were only eight points scored in the whole bleeding match – all by the opponent. My lads couldn’t touch the so called “end zone” with two hands and a helper. And that was only part of the ghastly spectacle.
The game was scheduled to start mid-afternoon, but my students gathered near the field hours beforehand. This wouldn’t have been so much of a problem, had not some enterprising South Bend gin-slingers trotted up with gassy draft horses pulling wagons full of the local hooch. My lads sat on the hinged back panels of these wagons and got pie-eyed, borracho, three sheets to the wind, wallpapered, slobbering, legless drunk.
And the alumni were no treat. I think they came for afternoon tea and cakes, not a rousing football game. Between hissing at the more exuberant lads like distempered tomcats, these cranks had the nerve to ask the band not to play so much because the music was disturbing their chitchat. Just because these popinjays graduated in the 1860s doesn’t mean they won a medal, or a chest to pin it on, or the right to smother a football game like blanket soaked in fetid swamp water.
Now let me tell you about the Michigan…though I use this term loosely…people. The players were brutal half-man-half-beast types who truly seemed to enjoy bloodying my boys. I don’t really know the rules of this game, but it doesn’t take an aficionado to recognize brazen cheating happening mere feet away. If they weren’t so dumb, I’d swear these oafs were Jesuit-trained (no offense to your brother Joe – I’m sure he’s one of the five or six good Jesuits in the world). And the traveling Michigan fanatics were little better. They have mouths like sewer pipes; and the men are pretty obscene, too. I have been accosted by more genteel mobs in the Paris slums.
Of course I fully intend to do this again come spring. Hell Golly, if an actual firestorm eating my entire college couldn’t stop me, a herd of dimwitted bison masquerading as a football team isn’t going to stop my Notre Dame lads. Vengeance may be the Lord’s, but we’ll get this football thing together and put Michigan in its proper place – which is somewhere in perdition next to the carnal malefactors.
Your Highly Agitated Servant,
April 22, 1888
Two days, two games, two losses. At least my lads scored in both outings this time. But the Michigan…people…are becoming even more abrasive, if that’s possible. I’m really starting to hate these bastards boorish louts. The Heavenly Father loves all his children; but the rest of the world thinks Michiganders are reprobates.
I promise you this, Santita: Even if we have to play them for a century-and-a-quarter, we will beat Michigan. And we’ll do it with dignity, grace, and style.
Your Determined Servant,
And then I sent him one of our popular new Brooklyn-style hats, since I already had one of his.
Son, in 199 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard, incontrovertible facts: There is a God, and I'm pretty tight with Him.
Now I’m going to tell you a whole lot of things I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew me. I was along before your time, but you all know what a tradition I am at Notre Dame. And one of the most important things I ever said was, “Friends, sometime when my University is up against it and the breaks are beating the students, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win at everything for Padre. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be then, friends,” I said, “but I’ll be looking right over your shoulder.”