What an unexpected year! No one should have been surprised that 2016 followed 2015; but the manner in which it followed was surprising: Not so much as night follows day, but more as a troop of rabid baboons follows the tourist who went to relieve himself behind the bushes and missed the bus back to the safari lodge, all while having his pockets stuffed full of beef jerky and hard candies.
The Fighting Irish 4-8: We began the 2016 season ranked tenth and widely expected to vie for a place in the Freemason’s playoff scheme. And then we lost…to nearly everybody including the Navy (again). How terribly unexpected! We can beat Duke in their beloved Cameron Multipurpose Indoor Room, but we can’t defend Notre Dame Stadium from a team with a .490 all-time record. We cast our Dutch scapegoat into the desert, but we were not ritually purified. Our conference officials didn’t help matters, though their literacy classes in the offseason might enable them to read the rule book next year, with special concentration in the sections on “The Varieties of Pass Interference,” and “Targeting: That Elusive Pixie.”
When one gazes upon the Campus CrossToBear Crossroads construction reaching its climatic conclusion, and then considers the shambolic collapse of the football team, one can only be put in the mind of the Tower of Babel. And, oh, did the Alumni babble about this season, this coach, this athletic director. Yet, nothing says ‘reasoned dialogue’ like an angry letter to the newspaper. And nothing says ‘unhinged screed’ like having to pay to get your letter printed. Note to disgruntled Alumni: If you have a serious concern you would like to bring to the attention of Father President and the men behind the Board of Trustees curtain, take a sheet of bond paper (preferable watermarked) and, using a fountain pen, in your best calligraphy, list everything you appreciate about your Alma Mater, followed by a very brief description of what currently burns your ass frustrates you, and enclose a big fat check. Better still, make the check really, really big, and take your place behind the curtain. But full-page ads designed with all the flair of a fifth-grade science fair poster only make you look petty and small-minded; in short, you look like Michigan fans.
First Championship in 108 Years: No, it hasn’t been that long for the Fighting Irish (though it might feel that way); but it was that long for a hapless baseball team from Chicago. How chronologically unexpected! It’s always nice to see a perennial loser finally grab the brass ring. I just wish we weren’t edging dangerously close to becoming that perennial loser. Perhaps we can take a page from the Cubs’ playbook. They believed in their old, and storied team no matter how bleak recent seasons had been (check); They sank lots of money into stadium enhancements (check); they devoted even more money and effort into getting the best leadership and coaching talent available (how ‘bout them Cubs!). Yes, in the Cubs I believe we can see that there is always hope for the future, no matter how interminably long that hope as to wait. We may not know the day nor the hour when victory will strike…but there are a few constructive things we can do to hasten its arrival. Above all, the Fighting Irish do share one critical characteristic with the Chicago Cubs: Both teams are owned by Catholic families.
NCAA Sanctions: You have to love a supervising authority that rewards honesty with harsher penalties than obfuscation, deception, and lies. Yet, we must ask what our administration thought would happen when they “self-reported” a purely internal and substantially inconsequential matter. This was not unexpected. And now our administration is behaving like the zookeeper who lives with lions and, despite dealing with their claws and feces for years, is still bitterly disappointed when one bites him in the neck. In the new year, we need to recall that the NCAA was created by colleges and universities to assist them, not to rule them; and in assessing punishments for bad behavior, proportionality, justice, and equality must be the guiding principles. Well, if any collegiate administration does that, it will be truly unexpected. For my part, I am going on a New Year’s diet – I’m not swallowing any more of the garbage the NCAA is shoveling.
New President: Right on schedule there was a presidential election. Nothing unusual here. But a very loud man won that election in a manner that was quite unexpected to many. I myself am rather a-political; but watching the debates between the two candidates, I couldn’t help yelling, “We want Barabbas!” Whether he was our choice or not, we should wish the new President well. To do otherwise is no better than hoping the captain of your ocean liner finds the nearest iceberg because he didn’t invite you to sit at his table. Our own Father President will have to decide if he should invite the new President of the United States to deliver the Commencement Address in the coming year. Whether he does or he doesn’t, Father President can expect several more angry letters in the newspapers and full page ads. If you are thinking of preparing either of these, see my advice above. And stop making fun of the new President’s hair; I enjoy my untamed locks that reach past my shoulders and are mirrored by my waist-length beard. Believe me – nothing is so presidential as a sick flow.
Basketball School: This may be the most unexpected aspect of the fading year – we’re pretty damn darn good at basketball. Amidst the ashes of the football conflagration, let us hold onto the warm bricks of hope that constitute another successful basketball season. Maybe bricks aren’t the best metaphors when talking about basketball, but you get my point…or my three-pointer. In any event, no matter what infelicities 2016 brought, we must all have hope for 2017. And remember, 1879 was a pretty unexpected year for all of us at Notre Dame – but what we rebuilt that very year still proudly stands today.