I want you to watch this clip. Got it? Did your eyeballs drink that in? Good, because that’s the most you will ever root for Notre Dame. You will root for Notre Dame when a Disney version of a true story (Rudy sells used cars now) stars the fat hobbit, the cast of Swingers (“he’s so little!”) and has a song track better than most fight songs.
Outside of that, the film only acts as a historical reference point for you to realize how much these Irish fans care about this football team. You Dad could think you are a failure until you go to Notre Dame. Your brother could hate you until you go to Notre Dame. Your girl leaves you for your other brother and playing for Notre Dame is all that matters. You keep getting rejected from fucking going to Notre Dame and you still want to help paint the helmets.
All of this and these people are fighting to drive hours out of Chicago, where it’s awesome, to toil in South Bend, Indiana which except on game day is the most depressing place I have ever been. Yes, the grotto is pretty. Sure, there’s a sense of nature. But if we are talking grottos, I’ll take the one at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills ever single time. If that’s sacrilegious apologies, but let’s keep it real “football fan”, it’s probably a bigger crime not to choose that grotto with the half naked girls and millionaire in a smoking jacket who just wants you to party.
It’s gameday and I can say that it’s the strangest I’ve ever experienced. ESPN is on campus, but our fans don’t seem to be. ESPN is simply advertising that for the first time since you had a cassette player, Notre Dame is a win away from the title game. They are a win away from waking up their echoes.
Now, I have been calling Notre Dame a paper tiger all season. Time to find out.
I am not going to bullshit anyone today (unless I end up at a farmer’s market and need to haggle for a WWII pistol). I don’t think our season is defined by this game. I don’t think Max Wittek needs to look like Matt Barkley for him to end up the next great Trojan quarterback. I don’t even think it matters if Notre Dame wins because as much as I think the SEC is a myth, this Notre Dame team isn’t going to be the one to prove it unless they teach Manti Teo to play all positions on both sides of the field.
This game matters because when you are in a rivalry, you either get fed or get fed on. How often do you get to be “spoiler” Arrogant Nation? It doesn’t really matter what bowl we go to, I just hope we have a team that is cool to play as a litmus test. This game doesn’t matter to something larger, to some sequence of 1s and 0s that determine if we “look good” in the computers. All we have to do is look good in our uniforms.
We can throw deep. We can run trick plays. We can be assholes all day and if we lose, okay, we went for it, we played like historical Trojans. If we win, we fuck over one of the most myopic, self-aggrandizing, but insecure fan bases in the history of fans and bases. The Notre Dame fan knows they’ve been irrelevant for so long and every time they get close, they Chicago Cub it.
Not historically, I respect ND’s traditions, successes and so on. Shaking Coach Parseghian’s hand at the Bush Push game was a sporting highlight for me. Notre Dame fans on game day (save that one who called her priest at halftime to ask God to fire Willingham before the 3rd quarter) are some of the most polite I’ve enjoyed playing. Their fathers teach their sons the joys of our rivalry, not the kind where you ban a marching band, but the kind where bold traditions take in each other and want to prove theirs is best.
Ours has been best for a long time, a reversal from the previous trend, which was preceded by many reversals before it. Notre Dame and USC is a magical rivalry and this year with the Bruins proved it.
UCLA beat us 13-9 and made t-shirts celebrating us not going to the national championship. We then went to the Rose Bowl.
Winning today would be more than just playing spoiler. This would be reminding Notre Dame that when we started the greatest inter-sectional rivalry in sport, they accepted that the road to an undefeated season would always go through Troy. And we committed our road would always have to go a really long way through cow pastures into a part of Indiana Google Earth doesn’t even take satellite pictures of.
UCLA shutting us out of the title that year hurt, it hurt because they are our cross town rival and their culture is so at odds with ours. It feels awful to lose to a school who doesn’t actually care about football at all and their traditions are stale, the kind that no one outside the Pac 12 knows.
Michigan knows Conquest as we know Hail to the Victors. Traveler and the Dotting of the I can stand in the same hallowed hall. Our song girls sweaters have sent heartbeats racing for decades just as there is not one college football fan who doesn’t know the tune of Wake Up the Echoes or the image of Touchdown Jesus looking down on the field.
When tradition faces tradition for high stakes, it is a chance to write your name in a real history book. When we stop Notre Dame today, for this bearfighter at least, it will be with respect to their tradition and enjoyment that this defeat is dealt with our own tradition to burn into their memory. They can sing our fight song as well as we reluctantly can sing theirs.
Max Wittek, who I have liked for a long time, gets to have the most imposing first start since Matt Leinart, another Mater Dei legacy, walking into #1 ranked Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium and put them down 24-0. He was a big guy like Wittek and I admit, I am excited to see a 6’4″ QB again (I know Matt Leinart was 6’5″). I am excited to see a big arm air it out and to see that moxie that could make for a classic game.
It’s our tradition against theirs. It’s good for the game. It’s good for us. It’s an opportunity to have new heroes be made and old ones to write final chapters. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than taking this one in and that includes riding a supermodel as a surfboard at Jaws with everyone on earth cheering for me and making me bourbon-based drinks.
I have no prediction. I don’t want one this week. I just want their band to play and our band to play. I want our teams to hit the field and go to war. And when the dust settles, I want to hear Conquest. I want to flip on ESPN and watch Lou Holtz apologize.
This season has been marked by too many expectations and confusion of what the purpose is. Today is a beautiful reminder that the point is simple. The point is to destroy our opponent and hopefully in a manner that is worthy of our greatest rivalry. We all know what they have to lose. I am excited about what we have to gain.
I’M ON INSTAGRAM @LOSTANGELESBLOG – FIND ME ON GAMEDAY FOR BOURBON