Friday, April 08, 2005

the Quarterly catches up | by Jay

The new issue of Notre Dame Magazine has a couple of nice football-related articles; the first, a thorough recap of the last year's events and some musings on the importance of the pigskin at Notre Dame (by Kerry Temple); the second, a profile of Charlie Weis as the man to continue that tradition (by Jim Donaldson). Both articles are well worth reading in full.

At one point Temple waxes philosophical about the role of ND in collegiate sports:

...Many Notre Dame people had their first contact with the place through football -- sometimes because of games broadcast nationally on the radio, sometimes because of the priests and nuns who asked prayers for "the boys" on Saturdays and who intertwined Fighting Irish football with their faith. Millions of Catholics -- whether Irish, Italian, German or Pole -- lived vicariously through the wins and losses of Notre Dame's football teams. For that vastly immigrant population Notre Dame football symbolized the triumphs of an ostracized people. It also reflected the ascendancy of U.S. Catholics into the nation's mainstream...

...As college football grew into a big business soiled with recruiting scandals, dismal graduation rates and the misconduct of powerful boosters and rogue athletes, Notre Dame maintained a reputation for doing it right. Its football players met admissions standards. They went to class, got an education, earned a degree. They lived in residence halls like other college students and not in special athletic dorms.

Even those who were not Fighting Irish fans acknowledged that Notre Dame was different, that it kept college athletics in the proper context, that its philosophy and standards may put the school at a competitive disadvantage but its guiding principles had become a hallmark of institutional integrity.

Later, Temple sums up the role of ND football in our lives, and why this game "matters":
It's been a tough time to be a Notre Dame fan. There have been a few sweet victories, but Notre Dame football has surely changed in recent years. It is now the ceremony that matters, the ritual of it all. The game may bring us together, but the tradition, memories and fraternity are the real reasons for pleasure. A certain amount of emotional distancing from the games played by college students may demonstrate a healthy maturation for someone my age, and, as an alumnus who subscribes to the school's philosophy and mission, I have no trouble keeping football in its place. But life is more fun when the team gives you reason to celebrate and feel good...

...I got hooked on Notre Dame football as a kid 40 years ago. Because of football, I came to love Notre Dame and to believe in it. Through the years I've experienced a lot of the history of the sport so ingrained in the University's character. There has been rejoicing and there has been heartache. I'd like to think it's time that the program and institution bring honor to the tradition and give Notre Dame fans reason to feel good again.
Nail on the head: a touchstone observation that describes the crazy hold football has on all of us Irish fans (and probably explains the derision and eye-rolling from the usual corners whenever we get misty-eyed about our beloved tradition).

In the second piece, Jim Donaldson does the Charlie Weis recap, peppering it with some new flavor.
"I'm a Catholic," [Weis] says, "but it's not like I'd grown up my whole life saying: 'I want to go to Notre Dame.' I had a liking for Notre Dame, because everyone I knew grew up watching the Sunday morning highlights show on television, listening to Lindsey Nelson. When I started looking at colleges, there were certain criteria I was looking for. I wanted to go to a good university where I'd be a name, not just a number. That's one of the things I've always treasured about Notre Dame. I left there with a group of friends similar to the friends I'd grown up with in New Jersey, a bunch of guys who would do anything for each other."
Overall, Donaldson puts together a fairly good wrapper around the Charlie Weis story (to-date). One passage struck me as ill-conceived, however:
Weis is not a charismatic man. But he is brilliant when it comes to strategy. As Belichick pointed out, one of Weis's strengths is his willingness, and ability, to make split-second adjustments to a game plan that took hours and hours to prepare. Nor is Weis a handsome man. He's overweight and walks with a hesitation in his step as a result of complications following gastric bypass surgery.
Perhaps I'm getting snagged on the first sentence there, but I think Donaldson's selling Charlie short in the charisma department. Sure, he's portly, he could be a better dresser, he's got the mug of a truck driver (or maybe Al Czervik) and he talks with a rambling, scattershot delivery, but there's nothing I've seen in videos or interviews that makes me think he's not engaging, interesting, and personable. Charisma is hard to define, but to borrow a line from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it", and Charlie Weis -- he's got it.