Monday, January 7, 2013

Roll Tide! Top 10 Reasons to Hate Notre Dame

Tonight, in the Bowl Championship Series Championship Game, at whatever the Miami Dolphins' stadium is being called this year, Number 1-ranked Notre Dame takes on Number 2 Alabama.

If you're a fan of classic college football, it doesn't get better than seeing the 2 biggest names in the sport go at it.

When I was a kid, on New Year's Day 1979, in the first college football game I can remember seeing on TV (ABC), I saw the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama go into the Superdome in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, ranked Number 2, wearing those great crimson uniforms and helmets, with head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant -- not wearing his famous houndstooth hat, as, "My mama told me never to wear a hat indoors" -- looking more like a football coach than any man had before or since.

And I saw Penn State come on wearing their all-whites, looking like they'd lost their uniforms and had to get emergency spares, and there was their head coach, the rat-faced Joe Paterno, looking for all the world like a James Bond villain.

Paterno, of course, was not a Bond villain.  Bond villains die within 2 hours or so.  Paterno was allowed to continue his evil for another 33 seasons.

Penn State got a 1st-and-goal on the Alabama 1-yard-line.  They couldn't push it in.  On 4th-and-goal, they decided to go for it.  Chuck Fusina, who later quarterbacked the Philadelphia Stars into all 3 USFL Championship Games, winning 2, walked to the line for Penn State.  And Marty Lyons, later of the Jets' New York Sack Exchange, stood up for Alabama, pointed and Fusina, and said, "You better pass." Fusina, doing exactly what the stubborn-as-hell Paterno told him to do, handed off, and the Tide held.  Final score: Alabama 14, Penn State 7.  Alabama was the National Champion.  I soon found out that this had happened a few times before, and it has since, including 2 seasons ago.

On that same day, the University of Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Indiana, was playing in the Cotton Bowl, in the Dallas stadium of the same name, against the University of Houston.  Despite their quarterback being sick with the flu, and taking intravenous fluids and eating chicken soup, he led the Fighting Irish to score 23 unanswered points in the 4th quarter, and Notre Dame won, 35-34.  This quarterback would be heard from again: His name was Joe Montana.  However, I have no memory of this game, and it is quite likely that I didn't see it.

Nor do I remember seeing that day's Rose Bowl in Pasadena, outside Los Angeles, in which Charles White, who would win the next season's Heisman Trophy, fumbled the ball as he jumped over the goal line, but the University of Southern California was awarded a touchdown anyway.  This "phantom touchdown" led USC to beat the University of Michigan.  Nor do I remember seeing that day's Orange Bowl, in Miami, which was actually a rematch of one of the great rivalries of the era, one which is no more: The universities of Nebraska and Oklahoma.  Nebraska won the regular-season matchup to win the Big Eight Conference and get their automatic bid to the Orange Bowl, but someone suggested a Cornhuskers-Sooners rematch, and Oklahoma, led by that season's Heisman winner, Billy Sims, won it.


Being a Northerner, and being aware of the University of Alabama's role in standing in the way of the progress of civil rights, ultimately being forced in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy to back down and obey federal law, you would expect me to support Notre Dame tonight, in spite of being Protestant rather than Catholic.

But you would be wrong.  Part of it is my long-term admiration for what the Alabama football team has accomplished, based on what they did when I was young.  This included winning the 1978 and 1979 National Championships.  It also included the Crimson Tide, still ranked Number 1, just barely holding off a determined Rutgers team in front of 65,000 fans at the Meadowlands on October 11, 1980, and Bryant saying, "We won the game, but Rutgers beat us." Something of the Tide's mystique was lost on the East Rutherford carpet that day.  But the Bear, not always the most decent of men -- he had his issues with rules, brutalized his players when he was at Texas A&M in 1954 (see the book and film The Junction Boys), and waited until a 1970 pounding by USC to admit that he could no longer beat outside-the-South teams that were racially integrated with his team that was not -- showed his class, and, not yet knowing of his previous failings, my childhood self decided admiring him had been worth it.

So, I am rooting for Alabama tonight, and would be even if I had no reasons to dislike Notre Dame.

However, I have plenty of those.  And so do you.

Three years ago, I first did "Top 10 Reasons to Hate Notre Dame." Their return to being one game away from winning the National Championship, for the first time in 24 years, means it bears repeating.

Lke all people with taste, I hate Notre Dame. Granted, I'm Protestant, but if Boston College football, and Georgetown and Villanova basketball, are any indication, there's a lot of Catholics who haven't drunk the South Bend Kool-Aid, either. Some of them have even got to be Irish (particularly at BC).

I went around the Internet looking for assists on a top 10 reasons to hate Notre Dame. I came upon several.  I came upon one, done by a University of Michigan fan, who came up with a Top 111. Nope, that's not a misprint: One hundred and eleven.

I could say a few words about Michigan fans, but that Top 111 reference gave me a chuckle.

Let me give a few Dishonorable Mentions:

* The way they treated Tyrone Willingham.

* The way they put up with even more losing from Charlie Weis, before they finally realized that being white didn't make Weis a better head coach.

* The way they treated Gerry Faust.  Gerry wasn't a bad guy, he was just in over his head, a great high school coach that should have gotten another college job (or two) before going on to the Golden Dome.  But he wasn't ready for the big time, and it showed.  Okay, fine, admit it.  Say, "He did his best, and it wasn't good enough, and we should fire him and find a better coach." But that wasn't the reaction.  They hated him. For what? For going 5-6, 6-4-1, 7-5, 7-5 and 5-6 from 1981 to '85? At a time when, as they usually have (which is surely to their credit, no matter what else I could say about them), they had a brutal schedule?

* Giving Joe Kuharich enough of a profile so that he would eventually be hired as coach and general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles.  How did trading the libertine quarterback Sonny Jurgensen for the straightlaced Norm Snead work out for the Eagles, Joe? It worked out pretty well for the Redskins.

* Leapfrogging.  In the history of the Associated Press college football poll, there have been 70 instances in which the top AP team has won its game, but was jumped by the second-ranked team.  Notre Dame has been the jumper in 10 of those instances. Not only has Notre Dame jumped over the top-ranked team 10 times, but it has also done it by defeating unranked teams 70 percent of the time.  So, that gives the following teams reason to dislike Notre Dame: Michigan, twice in 1947 and once 1948; Ohio State, in 1947 and 1964; Nebraska in 1965; and Texas in 1970.

Now, if the team plays so well that it shows its dominance over the team in front of it, then it should jump the other team. That at least makes sense. However, shutting out an unranked opponent is something that's expected of a Number 2 team.  It should not be a reason to jump another team, especially when the top team won its game. In most of the seven cases listed above, it simply looks like Notre Dame jumped into the top slot simply because it was Notre Dame.

* Undeserved Heisman Trophies.

Paul Hornung in 1956 over Jim Brown, Johnny Majors and Tommy McDonald.

John Huarte in 1964 over Jerry Rhome and Dick Butkus, when Orange Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Namath wasn't even in the Top 10.  Well, it's not like he went to a football school, it was only Alabama, and besides, Huarte had the better pro career, right?

Tim Brown in 1987 over Don McPherson, Lorenzo White, Craig "Ironhead" Hayward, Keith Jackson (the tight end, not the broadcaster), Daniel Stubbs, Chris Spielman, Ken Norton Jr., Deion Sanders, and, oh yeah, Thurman Thomas.  Granted, Brown is worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as are some of the preceding.  But do you think he would have been chosen if, like White, he had played for, say, Michigan State? Michigan State only won the Big 10 that year, after all. And beat Notre Dame along the way.

One of the ironies about the above is the guys who didn't win the Heisman with Notre Dame: Joe Theismann -- who changed the pronunciation of his name from the "THEEZ-man" it had been in South River, New Jersey so that it would rhyme with "Heisman" -- finished 2nd to Jim Plunkett in 1970 (and then Plunkett beat Theesman in Super Bowl XVIII 13 years later); and Montana got stuck in the Sims-White buzzsaw in 1978 and '79.

Then again, Beano Cook's whacked-out prediction that Ron Powlus would win the Heisman twice... well, let's just say that Tim Tebow came a lot closer to matching Archie Griffin. Powlus came closer to matching Archie Bunker.

* Cheating -- and then claiming that they got cheated.  Remember that 2005 classic between Notre Dame and USC? To this day, Fighting Irish fans claim that Matt Leinart carried Reggie Bush over the goal line for the winning touchdown, which led to USC winning a National Championship it didn't deserve.  On top of how they cheated to get Bush in the first place.  Well, they would have a point, and then some... if the grass hadn't purposely been allowed to grow longer to slow USC down.  So much for Notre Dame's vaunted ethics.  But USC won the game anyway.

* Lou Holtz. He was annoying enough before going to South Bend. But ever since he stepped onto that campus, he has been so, so hateable.

There's an old joke (this also comes from a Michigan fan) about a guy who walks into a bar and says he's the world's biggest Notre Dame fan. Another guy in the bar, who hates Notre Dame, asks him how he knows this. The ND fan says he's such an ND fan, he has a tattoo of Joe Montana on one side of his ass, and a tattoo of Paul Hornung on the other. Naturally, our man in the bar with an ounce of taste doesn't believe anybody would be so stupid as to tattoo a pair of guys who haven't played for Notre Dame in decades on his gluteus maximus. So the ND fan drops his pants and moons the other guy.  He's got to prove it, after all. And the other guy says, "I can't make out Montana on the left, and I can't make out Hornung on the right. But that's definitely Lou Holtz in the middle."

Actually, in the original joke, it was Montana on the left and Rick Mirer on the right. But aside from angry Seattle Seahawk and Chicago Bear fans, still fuming that such a stiff ever took snaps for them, who remembers Mirer today?

Here we go:

10. The Notredame Broadcasting Company. It used to be that the only college football games NBC would broadcast would come on New Year's Day: An early bowl game at 12 or 1, then the Rose Bowl at 4:30, finally the Orange Bowl at 8. The BCS messed that up (and ABC got the Rose Bowl contract), but these things happen. But one school making a unilateral deal with a network? This wasn't like the 1970s and early 1980s, when The NFL Today was followed by a Dallas game so many times that CBS seemed to stand for Cowboys Broadcasting Service. This was obscene.

9. Daniel Eugene Ruettiger.  Who the hell is Daniel Eugene Ruettiger? Well, just as Joe the Plumber's real first name is Samuel and he's not really a plumber, "Rudy" isn't really named Rudy, or even Rudolph.  (Though I'm sure there's been a few times when he's had a red nose -- if you know what I mean.)

Seriously, Rudy was not good enough to play Division I college football.  He was put into the last game of his senior season because of pity.  He was like football's answer to Charles Victor Faust.  (Look him up.)

I loved the football team at East Brunswick High School when I was there.   (And they deserved it, because they were good players, and most of them -- not all -- were good guys.) Did I beg coach Marcus Borden to let me suit up? No.  Why? Because I wasn't good enough.  (It wasn't because, like Rudy, I was too small: There were players even smaller than I was, but they were fast, and they were tough enough to take hits that would have left me begging to be carried off the field.)

Yet Rudy built his experience into a book, and a film, and a career as a motivational speaker.  What's his message? Probably something along the lines of, "If you believe in yourself, work hard, and persevere, you can achieve your dream." Except that's not what happened to Rudy.  It was more like, "If we let you on the team, will you shut the hell up about your dream? And if we let you play the last play of the last game of your last year, then will you shut up about it, and leave us the hell alone thereafter?"

But, of course, he didn't -- and now, he has become what George Gipp became: A cash cow for Notre Dame.  So, to hell with principles: Rudy makes us money, and so we love him.

Look, the guy overcame dyslexia.  That's good.  He volunteered and served in the U.S. Navy, while the Vietnam War was still going on, knowing that there was a chance he could be killed in combat, and survived to be honorably discharged.  That's even better.  And he did, however clumsily, achieve his dream.

But Mike Oriard tried to walk-on to the Notre Dame football team at the exact same time as Rudy.  He made it.  He was their starting center in 1969.  He won a Rhodes scholarship.  He was drafted in the 5th round by the Kansas City Chiefs, and played in the NFL for 4 seasons, and was a starter for 3, including a Playoff season.  But has anyone ever offered him the film rights to his life story? Not that I know of.

Actually, if you want to see a good movie about a Notre Dame football player, catch Robert Urich as a Vietnam vet who's told his war wounds would prevent him from ever walking again, but works himself back into condition and helps the Pittsburgh Steelers win 4 Super Bowls.  It's Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story.  Bleier was never even the biggest star in the Pittsburgh backfield (Penn State's Franco Harris was), but they wouldn't have won those Super Bowls without him -- and when they won Super Bowl XIII, Bleier was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  It was then that the movie started to be made.  I guess, once you've been clobbered in war and bounced back to win 3 Super Bowls (eventually a 4th), even The Dreaded SI Cover Jinx can't stop you.

8. The Ethnicity Issue. Another old joke: What do you call five Italians, three Poles and three black guys? "The Fighting Irish."

True, current head coach Brian Kelly is Irish.  And so were coach Frank Leahy, and (I think) Heisman winner Leon Hart and coach Dan Devine, and two of the Four Horsemen, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden.

But, ahem. Knute Rockne was Norwegian. The other two Horsemen? Don Miller was English, and Harry Stuhldreher was German. Their first Heisman winner was Angelo Bertelli, Italian. Johnny Lujack, Polish.  Hornung? Sounds German.  Huarte? I think the name is Welsh, but don't quote me. Theismann? German. Ara Parseghian? Armenian.  Holtz? German. And, oh yeah, Rudy Ruettiger? German.  I don't know how much Irish heritage is in their black players who became stars, although it is possible.

Yet if someone is Irish, and especially Irish Catholic, rooting against Notre Dame is "against your religion." Oy vey.

7. Going 6-5 and Still Going to Bowl Games.  Which, in the era before there were 40 bowl games, didn't happen to a school, unless it was Notre Dame.  One of those examples was in 1983, in the middle of the Gerry Faust years.  They went 6-5 and were still invited to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.  (No, I don't know why a bowl game in Memphis is called the Liberty Bowl.  Maybe "Barbecue Bowl" or "Blues Bowl" or, in honor of Elvis, "Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich Bowl" didn't sound right to them.) At least Faust won it.

Speaking of bowl games, in their history, Notre Dame's record in bowl games is 15-16.  Which wouldn't be a big deal for a second-tier program like Tennessee, or Colorado, or UCLA.  Being 15-16 in bowl games means that you've won 15 bowl games.  A lot of schools would take that, if it also meant 16 end-of-season trips to a warm-weather city that ended up with a losing game.  But when you're Notre Dame (or Alabama, or Penn State, or USC, or Texas, or Oklahoma, or Ohio State), you should be plus-.500 for your bowl history.  Hell, even Rutgers, which just looked awful in their bowl game this season, is now 5-3 all-time.

And Notre Dame have lost 10 of their last 12 bowls -- something to think about, before you assume they will win tonight.  So maybe a few of those Notre Dame teams shouldn't have been in bowl games at all.

6. Ara vs. Herm. In 1966, knowing that a tie would not hurt his chances for the National Championship, Parseghian had his Irish run out the clock in their "Game of the Century" against Michigan State. In all fairness, they'd lost their top two quarterbacks and a running back to injury, and they were playing on the road, and still held the mighty Spartans to just 10 points and denied them the win.  But what was it that Herman Edwards taught us? "Hello? You play to win the game!" (Herm went to San Diego State.)

To make matters worse, Notre Dame finished with the same record as Michigan State, but was ranked higher.  And Alabama was undefeated and untied, and still Notre Dame and Michigan State were both ranked higher.  In those days, Notre Dame didn't accept bowl bids -- why should those cowards risk their ranking? And the Big Ten then had a very stupid rule, that the only bowl game one of their schools could play in was the Rose Bowl.  Which was fine only if you were the league champion -- unless you were also the preceding season's league champion, in which case there was another rule, which would have been fine if the preceding rule hadn't been in place: You couldn't accept the Rose Bowl bid in back-to-back seasons.  So 2nd place Purdue University got the Big Ten's Rose Bowl bid.  So Michigan State got screwed.

But not as much as Alabama got screwed: There was nothing to prevent them from selecting a bowl bid.  As Champions of the Southeastern Conference, they automatically went to the Sugar Bowl, where they pounded Nebraska, ranked Number 6 going in, so they were a pretty good team at the time, if not yet the power they would become as the 1970s dawned.  Going undefeated and winning a New Year's Day bowl game in a blowout should get a team ranked ahead of a team that was undefeated but with a tie and no bowl game performance at all.  But it didn't.  Keith Dunnavant wrote a book about the 1966 Alabama season, and the National Championship they should have been awarded, titled The Missing Ring.

Incidentally, 2012-13 isn't the first time the Crimson Tide and the Fighting Irish have faced each other in a bowl game ranked Number 1 and 2.  On New Year's Eve 1973, they played in the Sugar Bowl at the old Tulane Stadium, and Notre Dame won.  That title, for Notre Dame, was legit.  The 1966 title was not.

Ara is now 89, hasn't coached a down in 38 years, and did win a lot of games, big and small. So when does he get to live down "Tying one for the Gipper"? When Michigan State and/or Alabama are officially awarded shares of the 1966 National Championship by the NCAA.  MSU earned it, every bit as much as Notre Dame did; Alabama earned it more.

5. Undeserved Rooting. Notre Dame makes otherwise sensible, tasteful people root for Boston College. And USC. And Michigan. And Miami. And, dear God, Penn State. That's where I draw the line: If the Tarnished Dome is playing the Nittany Lions, I cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame, holding my nose to hide all my shame.

4. Subway Alumni.  I don't know who came up with that expression, but it's been around for as long as I can remember.  People who couldn't meet Notre Dame's stringent academic standards (unless they can play football, in which case they don't need no stinkin' academic standards), and have never set foot in Indiana, much less in South Bend, "cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame." There have been times when the three biggest football teams in New York City were: 1. Giants; 2. Notre Dame; 3. Jets. And the Patriots were often 4th in Boston, behind Notre Dame, BC and Harvard.

This is where Rudy comes in again: Daniel Eugene Ruettiger Jr. was from Joliet, Illinois, which is 115 miles from the University of Illinois, and 109 miles from South Bend -- but at least UI is in the guy's home State. I could see not wanting to go to the even closer Northwestern University, but they weren't all that bad then: They finished 2nd in the Big 10 in 1970 and again in '71. As for the Illini: What, the alma mater of George Halas, Red Grange, Buddy Young, Ray Nitschke, Jim Grabowski and Dick Butkus (and a few great players since) wasn't good enough for you? (He didn't have the grades to get in without football talent, either, but went to Holy Cross -- a college near Notre Dame, not the better-known one in Massachusetts -- and got good grades there, and was able to transfer to Notre Dame.)

3. Conference Cowards. They say the reason they haven't joined the Big 10 or another league is that they don't want to split the bowl money up with the other teams in the league. Bull fucking shit: They just don't want to get their heads handed to them by Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State every year.

In the last few years, Notre Dame has played each of those schools, and also Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana. In fact, they play Big 10 schools Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue every single season. That's 8 of the... 11. Okay, aside from what to call the Big 10 (and what to then call the Big 12), what's the issue? Cowardice, plain and simple.

2. The God Complex. Notre Dame is not the Catholic university of America. There is "The Catholic University of America," but CUA is in Washington, D.C. and plays a Division III football schedule.

Anthony Davis tells of his amazing performance for USC against Notre Dame in 1974, running into the end zone, and there's an elderly nun waving a crucifix at him, saying, "Nobody does that to Notre Dame! You must be the Devil!" (She would have been more accurate waving it at A.D.'s USC predecessor, O.J. Simpson.)

You don't get this at the same level with other schools still associated with a religion.  The other Catholic schools like Boston College, St. John's, Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette, don't do it.  In Dallas, SMU doesn't remind you every minute of the day that their initials stand for Southern Methodist University.  Nor do their Fort Worth arch-rivals, TCU, Texas Christian University, do things like that.

Even BYU, Brigham Young University, which by its very name reminds you that it's a Mormon school, doesn't have the same effect -- although sending their players on missions, so that they come back older and more mature, and then line up as 24-year-old men against 20-year-olds, while within NCAA rules, is a bit unfair.

I wonder how many Notre Dame fans would react if Jewish schools like Yeshiva University in New York, or Brandeis University in the Boston suburbs, had Division I-A football teams.  Good ones.  I know Notre Dame fans hate Michigan (and vice versa), but I wonder how much they would hate Michigan if they knew that it had (it is believed, although not officially certified) the largest Muslim enrollment of any college in America.  (Then again, Notre Dame didn't care when it had Raghib "the Rocket" Ismail on its last National Championship team in 1988.)

Then, of course, there is the mural on the wall of the library tower, with the Lord raising his hands in a blessing. But since it overlooks Notre Dame Stadium, he's called "Touchdown Jesus." Men and women of Notre Dame, do you really think God or Jesus or any of the saints care one bit about who wins a football game?

It's been said before, and I'll say it here: All those athletes thanking God or Jesus when they win, you never hear them mentioning any part of the Trinity when they lose. (Come to think of it, how come I never hear, "I want to thank the Holy Spirit"? Except maybe at that parochial high school outside Atlantic City.) The only example of it that I'm aware of was in 1951, when Ralph Branca gave up that home run to Bobby Thomson, and he was met by his soon-to-be-wife's brother, a priest. Ralph said, "Why me?" And the priest said, "Because God knew your faith would be strong enough to bear this cross." Well, did Gerry Faust, Tyrone Willingham or Bob Davie ever ask, "Why me?" when they failed to "wake up the echoes"? After all, it's not like they ever got a school put on probation.

Which brings me to Number 1. If the current NCAA regulations had been in place in 1920, Notre Dame's athletic program -- the whole thing -- might have gotten the "death penalty." Because of what they did to protect one man.

1. The Gippers. George Gipp was an alcoholic. He was a compulsive gambler, who bet on anything, including his own team. He attended classes about as often as the Pope lit a menorah. He hardly ever showed up for Mass, too. Yet because he was the best football player Notre Dame had yet seen, Knute Rockne got the administration to keep him on the team. When he died -- in those pre-penicillin days, you really could die from strep throat -- if he said anything to Rockne, it was probably, "Put $100 on the 4 horse in tomorrow's 7th race at Arlington for me." It wasn't, "Tell the boys to win just one for the Gipper."

Twenty years later, the film Knute Rockne, All-American was made. (Rockne was actually a pretty good player himself, at least by the standards of 1913.) Pat O'Brien played Rockne. Playing Gipp was a young actor who'd been a radio announcer, including a recreator-by-telegraph of Chicago Cubs games for WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. His name was Ronald Reagan.

If the truth about Gipp had been told in that 1940 film, Reagan would have been much more likely to have the nasty Richard Widmark role in Kiss of Death than he would to have the kindly role he got in Bedtime for Bonzo. It would have been highly unlikely that he would have been cheerfully called "the Gipper," he probably wouldn't have been elected Governor of California, and it might not have taken the United States of America until 2008, with the year's economic meltdown and never-ending stupid war based on lies and greed, to come to the obvious conclusion that conservatism does not work.

So Notre Dame gave us something worse than hundreds of football defeats, the massive egos of Hornung and Theismann and Holtz, two ridiculous movies, and a bunch of arrogant fans who have never set foot any closer to South Bend than in Toledo: Notre Dame gave us the Reagan Revolution.

Personal foul. Offense. Very offensive. Half the distance to the goal line. Fourth down.

Punt, Irish, punt. (Not a pun on the currency of the Republic of Ireland.)

And if you actually are Irish and are reading this, trust me: There are worthier football teams to receive your cheers.

All of them are.

Except Penn State.

1 comment:

JBsptfn said...

I hate both Alabama and Notre Dame, but I wanted the Irish to win because I am sick of the SEC.

And, I can understand your hate for Penn State(even though they are my team), but they should have defeated Alabama in 78.