In the wake of last night’s crushing at the hands of Alabama, this blog can easily be seen as “piling on.” Those who might say that would be 100% correct.
Guess what, Notre Dame? Today, America is savoring your dismantling because the vast majority of America hates you. Eyeball-popping, color-changing, bile-spewing hatred, and you bring it on yourself.
There’s so many reasons why; they are almost too numerous to mention. But Yahoo’s Pat Forde encapsulated so many of them by finding examples in Notre Dame’s very own post-humiliation locker room.
After the debacle, the stages of grief were personified in the Notre Dame locker room.
Louis Nix III was denial and anger.
“They did not dominate us,” the Fighting Irish nose guard insisted, after Alabama had pummeled the Fighting Irish 42-14. “Go back and look at the film. … I think they did have the best offensive line in the country, but they did not dominate our line. We just missed tackles.”
Just missed tackles, eh? The 1976 Tampa Buccaneers didn’t miss than many tackles. The Irish defense spent Monday night getting pounded like a cheerleader’s cervix on prom night. and the offense didn’t even get off the bus.
Theo Riddick was depression.
The senior running back sat in front of his locker and sobbed. He wept so long that it seemed he would never stop. He cried into a towel. Then he put the towel over his head, rocking back and forth, still crying. Then he took the towel off and cried some more as coaches and teammates consoled him, before walking into the showers.
This is what happens when you build up some serious false hopes. To be honest, that isn’t all the team’s fault, knob-slobbering of Notre Dame has been a usual practice, but it got worse with every successive win this season, and it reached a crescendo once it was certain the Irish were slotted for the BCS Championship game. I’ll come back to that later.
Finally, Mike Golic Jr. and Kapron Lewis-Moore were acceptance – and with acceptance came a glimmer of perspective.
The two fifth-year seniors shared an embrace. Minutes earlier, Golic had spoken with a quavering voice, battling emotion at the end of his Notre Dame career. Lewis-Moore’s final game with the Fighting Irish ended with him on crutches, after a second-half knee injury.
“Hey, Kap,” Golic said, wrapping his arms around his teammate. “Hell of a ride.”
“We were at Syracuse, brother,” Lewis-Moore responded.
Syracuse was the low moment of their time in gold helmets. It was November 2008 and the two were redshirt freshmen when the Irish lost at home to the Orange as a 19-point favorite. The Notre Dame students showed their anger over the perpetually underachieving state of the program by pelting their own players with snowballs.
Fast-forward from that ugly day to Monday night, where the weather was 50 degrees warmer and the attitude was 180 degrees different. The Irish fans couldn’t love their undefeated, No. 1-ranked team enough, buying up more than half the 80,120 seats in SunLife Stadium to see them play Alabama for the national championship.
It was a great moment for the Notre Dame faithful.
Right up until kickoff.
Then it was an absolute nightmare.
I live in Indiana, and for four months, I’ve done nothing but listen to all the snowball-throwers become Irish sycophants once again. What made last night so sweet is that Alabama was the one team Notre Dame faced that wasn’t a disappointment. At the beginning of the season, we all looked at the Irish schedule and saw road games at Michigan State, Oklahoma, and USC. Toss in home games with Michigan and Stanford, and not even the most ardent snow-ball thrower saw 12-0. I though 8-4 would be a season to be proud of.
At 3-0, I said they couldn’t beat Michigan, who didn’t bother to show up.
At 5-0, I was sure the winning streak ended with Stanford, who didn’t bother to show up.
At 7-0, I was placing bets the Irish undefeated season would die at Oklahoma, who didn’t bother to show up.
By the time the Irish rolled into the Coliseum, a destruction of a weakened USC was a foregone conclusion.
But Alabama was a different deal, and those who weren’t swallowing the Irish media hype saw that.
Nobody seemed to want to remember that Alabama were the reigning National Champions, and had won two of the last three. Nobody seemed to remember Alabama racked up a record of 36-4 in those three seasons in a conference which has now won 7 consecutive National Championships, while Notre Dame went 28-10 with a schedule that featured the likes of Purdue, Pittsburgh, and all three service academies. Nobody seemed to want to remember that Alabama came into this game with 7 first-team All-Americans stacked up against one for the Irish.
In other words, the only people who were surprised at this complete and total dismantling of Notre Dame were the snowball-throwers and the media. So why does Notre Dame get this sort of treatment? Literally, they’ve become the Dallas Cowboys of college football.
When you get right down it, the Cowboys really are the Notre Dame of the NFL. They are brilliantly marketed; you can’t find a single city in America where it is impossible to find some mouth-breather decked out in either Cowboy or Irish gear. The marketing thing becomes even more impressive when you consider they both live off distant memories of days gone two decades by when either of them mattered. Of course, they can still be marketed without winning since at any given moment, there will be the American sports media tickling their collective chins with Cowboy and/or Irish ball hair. This is why the Cowboys and the Irish ALWAYS are completely over-rated; this is why the Cowboys and the Irish keep winning championships on the front pages in September, and are little more than so much faded newsprint by January.
But this year, the Irish managed legitimately to be in the conversation in January, and thanks to the snow-ball throwers and the media, the resulting Irish-gasm completely obviated reality. Notre Dame just came off 25 largely ireelevant years, and yet we still had to live through a month of hype for a game in which they seriously over-matched and had little chance of winning. After all, there was no way you could compare Alabama to Stanford or Oregon.
It begs the question, how did this happen?
In short, it’s because both the snowball-throwers and the media are stuck in a world of twenty years ago. But to do that, let’s look at what both those entities have had to ignore.
First off all, there is the fact that Notre Dame has that sick TV deal and it also has a sweet deal with the BCS, but both of those deals have a shelf life…they won’t last forever in the current configuration. Look what Notre Dame just pulled off this year. They essentially joined the ACC in everything except for football, which means even though they lost last night, they are going home to South Bend with a check for $18 million they don’t have to share with anybody. In this world of continuing conference re-alignment, which is all money driven, the ACC is not going to settle for being a schedule-whore for the Irish.
That’s the dirty little secret here about ND’s deal with the ACC. Notre Dame will have five ACC opponents on it’s schedule, which essentially fixes the problem they had when all the traditional Big Ten opponents dropped off. Not only do the Irish now get rid of Michigan on their schedule, they replace them with some crap ACC team like Duke. Remember, all Notre Dame has to do to go to a BCS game is win ten games., and five N.C. States and Wake Forests get you half-way there. At some point, the ACC is going to want their cut.
Of course, that assumes that a) Notre Dame can continue to get it’s own television deal, b) Notre Dame can remain relevant in a BCS-turned-playoff world, and c) sooner or later, not being in a conference will mean the Irish get left out.
This is important because these three factors are what drive the Irish-gasm that just happened, and they are also the same three factors which may mean it never happens again.
Problem #1 - The NBC TV Deal: Everybody of any note gets tons of TV exposure now. In this era of cable/satellite, You can see anybody of note every week as well. When the last time you couldn’t see an Ohio State game somewhere on basic cable if not a network? This means the value of ND’s deal with NBC gets watered down with each passing year that the number of homes with basic cable increases. Don’t forget NBC Sports signed up with ND football when it literally had nothing else. Don’t forget NBC Sports has been pumping money into long-term contracts with other entities like the Olympics and the NHL in order to build it’s own sports network. The simple math says NBC won’t be offering ND big money again. And when they don’t, who else will? ESPN and ABC won’t, they already have wall-to-wall college football, and with better ratings draws than ND. CBS already has the SEC, and FOX has it’s fall Saturdays booked until November with baseball.
Problem #2 – The Ever-Changing BCS: ND’s “ten win” scenario almost means nothing since now they will have five-game arrangement with the ACC; a conference which never has more than two good teams in it. Throw in the usual service academies and whatever other mediocre college football program they will schedule, and you see right away why Notre Dame has set themselves up to get an easier path than anybody to a big-money bowl game. It won’t take long for somebody who gets screwed in the coming play-off scenario to cry foul, and if ND doesn’t have their own TV deal, they suddenly lose a lot of their financial muscle.
Problem #3 – The Conference Situation: Joining a conference is the turd in the Notre Dame punch bowl nobody wants to talk about. The last thing Notre Dame wants to do is join a conference, and there are many reasons why.
Delusion – The leadership at Notre Dame still falsely believes they are a “college football blue blood.” They still believe they can get a Texas-type deal in their next contract negotiations, and they are going to get a rude wake-up call in a few years when they discover that isn’t going to happen (see problem #1). The harsh reality: Which game would you be more likely to watch in September: ND vs. N.C. State or Tennessee vs. Florida?
Conference alignment is a no-win for Notre Dame – In order to remain competitive in the short term, they would have to join a weak conference like the ACC, because ND in a league like the Big Ten or SEC means they are instantly not likely to be a BCS contender. The lack of their own TV deal, the fact they would be recruiting against conference leviathans, and the inability to control their own schedule all make full conference membership detestable. Not to mention good old-fashioned discrimination…see, those Catholics have long memories, and they remember when Notre Dame wanted to join the Big Ten in the 1920′s they were rejected. That has been burned into ND’s organizational memory for close to 90 years now, and they aren’t likely to forget it soon.
What does this all mean? In short, If the snowball-throwers and the media want to see a Notre Dame appearance in a championship game as more than a once-in-a-quarter-century event, it is time to stop worrying about “waking up the echoes” and start making the Irish find 21st-century adaptations to your 20th-century beliefs. Otherwise, just mark you calendars for January 2038 for your next four-touchdown Championship drubbing.