Thursday, December 23, 2004

On the verge of...something | by Jay

At Christmastime, you generally know what you're going to get: a sweater from grandma, twenty bucks from Unlce Phil, egg nog and ham, and some good holiday cheer. This year there's another big present under the tree for ND fans that should be cause for celebration: a new football coach, and with him, a new attitude and direction for Irish football.

But out on the Christmas cocktail circuit this season, I've noticed an little uncertainty in the mood of ND fans. Amid the comfortable predictability of the season is a sense of bemused caution: I mean, we're pretty sure that stocking's going to be stuffed with goodies this year, but we've gotten lumps of coal the last couple of times out. We know what it's like to run downstairs on Christmas morning to an empty living room; instead of leaving presents, Santa ate the carrots you left for the reindeer, stole your stereo and drank all your beer ("By George..."). So forgive us for not exhibiting unbridled exuberance just yet. "Cautious optimism" is usually cited to describe such a period, but I think I'd rather characterize it as optimistic caution.

That said, there is a sense that unlike the last two coaching regimes, something is happening. The waters are moving; there is a restless energy and a feistiness within the program that we haven't seen for quite a while. And for most of us, just knowing that things are in motion makes us nod and smile and keeps us warm.

In a way, the energy and spirit reminds me a little of being an exchange student in Europe in the fall of 1989. In early November of that year, the Berlin Wall came down, and all of Germany seemed to explode with passion and pent-up euphoria. Potsdamer Platz was an around-the-clock party as rock bands played and people chipped their own souvenirs from the most visible and oppressive symbol of the Cold War, now reduced to a playground of rubble. West Germans reunited with family members left behind in the East, and East Germans roamed the produce aisles of supermarkets on the western side, marveling in the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables that for all this time had only been a few miles away.

Amid the celebration, however, was a real sense of uncertainty about the future. Things were in motion, sure, but where was it going? While Germans partied, the rest of Europe worried about the hard practicalities of reunification, and what kind of impact that would have on Europe's economy, security, and culture for years to come. The chaotic enthusiasm and passion of the Germans were infectious, but the future was still very uncertain.

While the ramifications of Notre Dame football are relatively minor compared to this example, I do find the zeitgeists somewhat similar. We've got more energy invested in the football program than we've had in over a decade, and we sure hope things are moving in the right direction. In fact, it's hard not to think of this as another momentous transition in the vein of Kuharich->Ara or Faust->Holtz. Recent ND message board activity reflects this: lately we've had inquiries about Ara's "rally at Sorin" and the mood on campus when Holtz was hired. If we're not overtly making Weis out to be a football savior, we're at least obliquely wishing it.

While the comparison of Charlie to Ara and Lou is premature, it's completely understandable. And while the direction we're heading isn't exactly clear right now, maybe there is more emphasis on the optimism rather than the cautious in the usual phrase used to describe the expectations of ND football fans. We might not know exactly what's under that festive wrapping, but when we shake it around, and listen, and let our imaginations go, it's hard not to get our hopes up.

Merry Christmas from all of us at BGS to all of you.