As my opening contribution to this worthy effort, I thought that it was most appropriate to discuss the decision that made today's press conference announcing Charlie Weis as ND's next football coach possible. It's a decision derided by many with limited knowledge of the school or the football program, and it's one that I firmly believe will be looked back on years from now as the dawn of a new and better day in the history of the University.
So I'd like to share the letter that I will send to Father Jenkins, Executive Vice-President John Affleck-Graves and Board of Trustees Patrick McCartan and Phillip Purcell, mostly comprised of my thoughts prior to the aforementioned dismissal of Tyrone Willingham...
Dear Father Jenkins:
This is the letter I had been composing to send you in the immediate aftermath of the Notre Dame football team's regular season. I present it now because I believe it would be foolish to ignore the recent state of the program and the administration's maintenance of it, as well as inappropriate not to acknowledge the positive, forceful measure you have taken since that time and offer you my most heartfelt thanks and encouragement in continuing your leadership in a similar vein:
It's often said that the historical fortunes of this football team are marked by a natural ebb and flow, but the current status of the program is not indicative of the tide merely receding in predictable fashion. This is a matter of erosion. And that is why it is imperative that you do everything in your power to act now in an effort to reverse the damaging trend, not merely in the replacement of a football coach but also in the restoration of the spirited flame of a beloved institution that is weakly flickering before our very eyes.
I didn't grow up in a Catholic household, nor did I spend my Saturday afternoons as a young child watching and rooting for Notre Dame. Like so many other subway alums across the country, my father developed a lifelong attachment to the team and the school at large based on their gridiron exploits in the years immediately surrounding World War II. While that fanaticism never overcame me as a youngster, I knew a good opportunity when presented with one and gladly accepted an invitation for undergraduate admission to Notre Dame in the spring of 1990.
Once I arrived on campus that fall and first watched the Irish play at Notre Dame Stadium, vanquishing rival Michigan to open the season, I morphed from casual spectator to true believer literally overnight. It wasn't simply the happy result of the game that transformed me. What resonated just as much was soaking in the electric gameday atmosphere, watching the band march with precision and purpose from the shadow of the golden dome to the edge of the stadium and seeing the campus grounds saturated with legions of alums and other Irish fans who treated their visit less like a weekend respite than a mecca. My devotion to the team and the University was rooted in the overwhelming spectacle glimpsed on that day, a growing feeling that I was part of something special and entirely different than an 18-year-old freshman might experience at practically any other school. Anymore, I wonder if the incoming Notre Dame freshmen of today are treated to even a fraction of the happening that captivated me not all that long ago.
In recent years, the unmistakable fighting spirit and unbridled thirst for greatness that scores of Notre Dame supporters fell in love with throughout the course of the past century have taken a backseat to revenue streams and political correctness. We talk of softening the football schedule because other, less-demanding programs do it. We consult with various conferences about gridiron membership because we fear the most pessimistic ramifications of continuing to stand alone. We crack down on tailgating and other gameday activity with increasingly draconian measures because we have as little respect for the responsibility of our own students, alumni and fans as we have for the unique, invigorating flavor of the Notre Dame football experience. We engage the BCS in discussions to "streamline" our piece of the pie because we no longer have the confidence or even the desire to do what is necessary to earn a full share. We have the tradition, the stature and the resources of a dominant male lion, but we treat our legacy as bad reputation and conduct our business as if merely another sheep in the herd. It's half-past time to take back our rightful place in the jungle.
The football program, the athletic department and the University in general have reached a critical crossroads. You have the power to to finally tip the scales in the other direction, to undo the neglect and mismanagement burdening our beloved old school, to restore our legacy of excellence on all fronts. It all begins with you. I pray that you possess the courage and conviction to do what is both necessary and just to reconnect the possibilities of our future with the glories of our past.
Now almost two weeks removed from the above missive, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking that critical and difficult first step in the right direction. Thank you for having the strength of character to make an unprecedented and generally unpopular decision. Thank you for showing the world that it's acceptable for Notre Dame to care deeply about football as more than a simple diversion and cultural curio. Thank you for demanding greatness in that pursuit as much as we would any other. You have the unwavering support of thousands upon thousands of alums, students and supporters just like me. And at the risk of speaking on their behalf, I hope that your exacting expectations will not be restricted to the leadership of the football team as you continue to guide the University through the 21st century.
Theodore S. Peterson
Class of 1994