Each football season takes on a personality of its own. The moment that personality percolates to the surface cannot be determined in advance. But, like April, come she will, recognizable in the moment, truly discernable only when the season itself is done and dusted. In 2012, the moment came in the eight game, when Everett Golson threw a fifty-yard completion to Chris Brown. In 2011, it came in the opener, against South Florida, when it started to rain and The Irish melted like spun sugar simulacra. This year, the moment may also have come in the opening game, against Michigan, when all eyez were on them, as shown by the television ratings.
But how many eyez? That’s a difficult number to determine. Nielsen Media Research owns the market when it comes to television ratings. They estimate, using US Census Bureau data and some amount of hocus pocus, there are 119.6 million “TV homes” in the United States. A ratings point is a percentage of that total number. That would mean that if a particular show garnered a 1.0 rating, one percent of television households tuned in. Putting my Arts and Letters degree to work, that equates to 1,196,000 households. Nielsen “knows” who watched what because it has a paid population of fifty thousand or so households. Each have agreed to let the company monitor their media usage in real-time via a “Nielsen box” connected to their t.v. and/or computer.
Notre Dame’s 2018 opener earned a 4.5 rating, which should mean that 5,382,000 households watched. That’s a solid number for the old Notre Dame Broadcasting Company, and a 275% increase from 2017’s opener against Temple and 50% more than the 2014 meeting between the two schools, in which Michigan did not score. NBC’s best prime time rating for a game going back to 2006.
Now, lest you get all impressed with yourself for having been in that number on Saturday, think how big your britches will get when you consider that the 2016 game against Texas earned a 7.0! Now, before you go blaming Doug Flutie or whatever, consider that the 2016 Texas game was played on a Sunday, when its competition was watching your mom. To prove the point that it’s the time and the opponent that matter, consider that the 2015 opener against Texas on NBC “only” managed a 2.4 rating, while the 2014 opener against Rice barely registered, getting a 1.3. The hoopla of an early morning start in Dublin against Navy got a 1.9.
So, the nation’s lonely eyes returned to Notre Dame on Saturday. College Gameday returned to the campus that opened its weekly traveling roadshow. Notre Dame’s 1988 National Champions returned. And the echos returned to the stadium which bounced and thumped in rhythm with the pieces from from the Wolverine team.
Against “the best defensive line The Irish will face all season,” a Brandon Wimbush-lead offense opened the game with back-to-back touchdown drives. They managed 132 rushing yards and 170 passing yards, and demonstrated that the left-side guard-tackle group is in good hands. Notre Dame’s defense, and the D-line in particular, looked great, picking up three sacks. Gloriously, Michigan helped apply some flames to the fire that became their season with hugely-important personal fouls. Maybe it was the waft of Chick-fil-A that brought the obvious nerves to the Wolverine sideline.
So Notre Dame stands 1-0 with Ball State coming up on Saturday. I no longer know where the losses will come on the schedule. Perhaps the moment has come, the moment when champions rise up.