Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Never Has My Love For A Flattop-Wearing Man Been So Strong | by Pete

Weis Guy, Charlie Weiser: the King of Coaches, Tom Brady’s Mansion Payment, however you want to refer to Charlie Weis, we all now know that the man can coach. I’m trying very hard to temper my enthusiasm, but the optimist deep inside me refuses to be tempered, because he saw what I saw Saturday night at Heinz Field.

As a student, especially as a senior, I was part of a mandatory road trip to Pittsburgh to see my Fighting Irish take the field with a new coach and a fresh outlook. Even as we made our way to the Iron City, I knew things were going in the right direction. As we drove across the Ohio Turnpike, we saw quite a few cars sporting the official window sticker of a Notre Dame fan. We would honk and exchange glances, and we shared an unspoken bond: Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Could it really happen? Is it okay to believe the hype this time? Seeing the chunks of cars headed from South Bend halfway across the country to Pittsburgh made me so excited, it took the Ohio State Highway Patrol to slow me down; a $95 speeding ticket is a small price to pay to see the game we saw Saturday.

When we pulled up to the exit from the turnpike in Pennsylvania, we got further evidence that something special was coming the next day. As we pulled up to pay our toll, the operator yelled to his buddy one booth over, “Hey, we got some more of those Notre Dame guys!” We were going to be part of something big, and people everywhere were coming to see it happen.

We headed into Pittsburgh early, parking at the stadium at 1 o’clock. You want to know what we saw when we got there? Notre Dame fans, lots of them. Nobody really knew what to do seven hours before kickoff, but we all wanted to be there, because quite frankly, none of us could stay away from the stadium that long.

Headed to a tailgate thrown by the generous parents of my housemate, we really got a flavor for what makes Notre Dame special, and what makes Pitt sort of like everybody else. In the lot, we were lucky enough to be set up across the way from a Pitt fraternity. No case for refusing Greek Life at Notre Dame has ever been made more proficiently than by these guys. Later on, some Pitt fans parked next to us, and noting our presence next to them, wrote on a paper plate, “NOTRE DAME SUCKS.” I’m not sure why, but that cut me deep.

The fraternity, after some extreme consumption of Busch Light, started to get a little rowdy. We all knew what was coming next; we’ve heard it at Michigan, at West Virginia, all over the country. In order to make this a family friendly entry, I’ll edit the chant as best I can: “F[UDGE] THE IRISH! F[ROOT LOOPS] THE IRISH! F[UZZY KITTEN] THE IRISH!” I must mention that one of the chanters had pasty white skin and bright red hair. Of course, there was also the “RUDY SUCKS!” chant, but when will people realize that Notre Dame fans agree? Isn’t the whole purpose of Rudy the fact that he sucks, but manages to overcome his suckiness through dedication? You’ll never see a Notre Dame fan hear that chant, turn beet red with rage, and retort, “Huh uh! He was awesome! That’s why he sat the bench every year and played in only two plays!”

Now that you’ve heard about the Pitt side, let me tell you a Notre Dame Tailgate Tale, a physical manifestation of that Notre Dame “something special.” As we sat in the trunk of the car watching cars drive past, we saw one car go past where the driver was shirtless. My friend commented to me, “You have to wear a shirt when you drive past. How else are we gonna know to cheer you or boo you?” It soon became very evident where this man’s allegiances were. After finishing setting up his tailgate, he walked out of the lot to use the port-o-john. As he approached us, we saw a Notre Dame Leprechaun tattoo on his arm. So he’s a Notre Dame fan. As he walked past us, we saw his entire back was covered with the infamous Four Horsemen picture, with the Irish Blessing underneath. So he’s a Notre Dame FAN. As he walked past, we saw several Notre Dame heads turn, and we all thought the same thing: “Won’t see that anywhere else.” Talking to him later, we found out his grandfather attended the University years ago, and the tattoo was a tribute to him, complete with his birth and death dates. Screw shots of students in labs or in the classroom; for the next Notre Dame commercial, just show 30 seconds of this guy’s back.

Then it was time to head into the stadium. I didn’t know how the game was going to go, but I knew that Notre Dame was going to have a presence. As the crowd filed into the gates, there was an instant camaraderie between all the Notre Dame fans. Chants of “It’s Our Home Game!” and a variety of other ND cheers filled the air, as the Pitt fans seemed more intent on cursing at the Irish than supporting their own team.

As we took our seats, we saw a lot more green shirts to join us in the upper deck. The teams took the field to much celebration on both sides, and the game got underway. Flashbacks of last season and Tyler F[oot Massage] Palko couldn’t be avoided as he hooked up with Greg Lee to start the game, but we all knew to let Weis show his stuff. On the screen pass for our first score, it was one of those plays where it started out looking like nothing special, continued to look like nothing special, and before you knew it, we were in the end zone. Just like that, the game was back to square one.

We all knew what happened next. Field goal for Pitt, about 8 million points for Notre Dame, junk TD for Pitt, much rejoicing amidst the empty seats of Heinz Field. Here’s just a couple of things I noted throughout the rest of this fantastic game:

  • When Samajfdka; was absent on the extra point, resulting in a time out, I saw Weis pull him briefly to the side before he ran onto the field. I hoped he was saying, “I hope your ass is ready for practice next week.” And you know what? He may have.

  • Kudos to Samajamm-- "Smarj" for canceling out for the error with one sweet catch.

  • By about the middle of the second quarter, my high-fivin’ hand was getting chafed.

  • Rashon Powers-Neal deserved those touchdowns for all the hard work he’s put in over the years.

  • Reminder: Darius Walker has played only one full season + one game in his college career. He’s got about 73% of his career left.

  • Tom Zbikowski is the kind of punt returner that makes opponents wish they were playing two-hand touch.

  • At halftime, the fireworks Pitt launched from the river to honor the returning Pitt greats. Seemed like they were for us, weren’t they?

  • As the game progressed, it started to look like a Playstation NCAA 2006 matchup. I kept waiting for Charlie to start faking it on extra points and kicking onside kicks after every touchdown to pad Brady Quinn’s stats for his Heisman candidacy on his Dynasty.

  • Be honest: Didn’t you almost, ALMOST start to feel bad for Pitt? It got to the point where you nearly wanted Charlie to say, “OK, that’s enough boys, let’s pack it up. Haywood, you’ve got the reins on this one, send the second team out there and try not too run it up too much. If you want me and the starters, we’ll be on the bus breaking down Michigan tape. Tell Diamond Dave, 'thanks' ."

  • By the end of the game, I uttered, in complete seriousness, “My God, this offense belongs in the Louvre.”
The excitement after the game was unabated, and as I walked out of the stadium, I was surrounded by my people, cheering and chanting all the way. We all felt like we had just seen the beginning of something special. Michigan is going to be a real gauge for how far Charlie has already taken this team, but is anybody worried anymore about how far Charlie will take Notre Dame football down the road? Welcome home, Chuck, we’ve missed you.