Saturday, November 27, 2010

Scholastic article: November 11th issue

The following is an article that I wrote for the November issue of Scholastic, Notre Dame's student magazine. I would like to think that it was the turning point in the team's season ;). In all seriousness though, things were looking pretty bleak for the Irish at that point in the year. While the future remains in question, the final three games of Notre Dame's 2010 campaign demonstrated that the Irish are headed in the right direction for the future:

Wake Up The Echoes: Mending a Football Program Fallen on Hard Times

As my classmates and I stock up on marshmallows in preparation for our final home game in the student section, I reflect on four years of Notre Dame football with mixed emotions. From the first game against Georgia Tech in 2007 to the emotional loss against Tulsa during Halloween weekend, football has been a significant part of our college experience.

Yet when we gather to reminisce at our alumni reunions, few of the good memories will relate to games played int he hallowed Notre Dame Stadium.

Though we will graduate with the most losses in a four-year period in the university's history, losing is only a small reason why we were often shaking our heads in disbelief during candlelight dinners - it is rather the stunning nature in which many of these games have been lost.

During our freshman year, we watched Navy celebrate a triple-OT victory and the end of a 43-game losing streak in the yearly series. USC and Michigan each scored 38 points, while Notre Dame could not muster up a single point against either rival.

Sophomore year brought new hope. The season ultimately ended in Hawaii, with Notre Dame first bowl win since 1994. Although the bowl victory was an enjoyable early Christmas present, many students remember the 2008 season for the agonizing four-OT loss to Pittsburgh and the defeat against low-ranked Syracuse in the final home game of the year.

As juniors, the outcome of nearly every game came down to the final possession. Looking back, it is not out of the question to suggest that if a few plays had turned out differently, the Irish may have finished 12-0.

Unfortunately, it was another season marred by tough losses and missed opportunities.

With three games left in the 2010 campaign, this season has not lived up to the great expectations and high standards that Notre Dame fans have for the Irish. Barring an extraordinary upset of Utah on Saturday, the class of 2011 will graduate without ever witnessing a noteworthy home victory.

No matter what happens, 2010 will be remembered as one of the most difficult years in Notre Dame football history. With the arrival of a new head coach and the departure of Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, few expected this to be a stress-free year. Still, no one anticipated that so many key players would be sidelined with serious injuries, and no one could foresee that the Notre Dame community would be struck by such a tragedy as that which occurred last month.

As demonstrated by the wonderful Mass celebrating the life of Declan Sullivan, I have no doubt that the spirit and tradition of Notre Dame is alive and well. The passion that Domers share for this university will not fade. Amid the recent stretch of football mediocrity, what remains to be seen, however, is if football Saturdays will continue to have the same magic of decades past.

As losses have piled up, the student body has developed a sense of apathy. Though we still look forward to the weekends, the reasons why we get excited stray from the core purpose of why thousands of people flock to South Bend on Saturdays in the fall - to watch the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a team once considered the best in the nation. The tailgating, reunions with family and friends, and the incredible pageantry of the college football atmosphere continue to attract visitors to campus, but many wonder if the aura of the golden helmet is losing its luster.

By no means do I believe that football should be the be-all and end-all of life at the university. Notre Dame is about much more than football - that is what separates it from many other BCS schools. At the same time, Notre Dame's Catholic atmosphere and traditionally successful athletic teams, particularly football, are traits that differentiate our university from others of similar internationally recognized prestige.

Having a competitive and successful football team is essential to maintaining the university's unique character. Football always has and always should be part of what makes this Catholic university in northern Indiana like no other place on earth. Today, Notre Dame football is at a crossroads. There has not been a truly great Irish team since Lou Holtz's tenure, and no Notre Dame undergraduates are old enough to appreciate the 1988 national championship run.

Coach Brian Kelly is a proven winner in college football, but he has arguably never been presented with challenges like those he faces both on and off the field today. Although his first season has had its share of disappointments, now is the time to rally behind him rather than call for another rider on the 15-year Irish coaching carousel.

There is no guarantee that Notre Dame football will return to the level of football excellence that once helped build the university's tremendous reputation. For now, however, all we can do is hope and wait. We can hope that Kelly is able to improve a damaged Irish program in the same way that he developed the unheralded Grand Valley State Lakers into national champions and a Division II dynasty.

And maybe part of this process is to wait for my classmates and I to receive our diplomas next May. Perhaps only then will Notre Dame be able to make progress towards becoming a dominant football powerhouse once again.

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