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Notre Dame, We Meet Again For The First Time For The Last Time

Hello my name is Sean and I'm a recovering Notre Dame fan.  It's been twelve years since my last reciting of the Notre Dame Victory March.  It's still hard for me to admit that I spent the formative years of my life rooting for the likes of Chris Zorich and Reggie Brooks but I cannot deny who I was any longer.  I can only seek forgiveness from others and from myself. 

The Twelve Steps as published by Notre Dame Fans Anonymous

Step 1 - We admit we were powerless over Notre Dame folklore—that our lives had become unmanageable.

My father is a Notre Dame fan, just as his father was before him.  He was born in Indiana, where he spent the early part of his childhood before moving to New Jersey.  So it's hard to blame him for his proclivities. But did he have to lead me down such a dark and desolate road as well?

My earliest Notre Dame memory is watching the 1988 Cotton Bowl.  I was nine and Notre Dame wide receiver Tim Brown had just won the Heisman Trophy, whatever the hell that was.  The Irish were playing in this important game against some magenta team from Texas with army cadets lined up in the crowd, seemingly ready to open fire if the Irish got too cocky.  I had no idea what A&M stood for (and even now I think I know but I'm still a little iffy) but I knew this was a big deal.  Apparently, Notre Dame didn't and they got throttled 35-10.  To this day I don't know how this instilled a rabid fanaticism within me for all things Notre Dame football but somehow it did.  I was in.

The following year was The Year of Tony Rice.  I collected all the magazine covers, followed the team's rise to the top of the rankings and savored my first (and not last) experience of watching West Virginia lose an important game as Notre Dame beat the Mountaineers in the Fiesta Bowl and won the National Championship.

Between the Giants winning the Super Bowl, the Mets winning the World Series and Notre Dame winning the 1988 National Championship, I had peaked as a sports fan.  I was ten.  Disappointment was not a feeling I was familiar with.  Ah, to be young and naive.

Years came and went, as did some pretty good Notre Dame teams.  Namely, Raghib Ismail's 1990 team that came within a holding penalty of beating eventual national champ Colorado.  The Holy Trinity of Rick Mirer, Jerome Bettis and Reggie Brooks.  And of course, 1993's team that was "robbed" of the National Title.

All due respect to my time at Syracuse University and the many football games I've attended, but I don't think I will ever have a better time than my one and only live Notre Dame experience.  #1 Florida State versus #2 Notre Dame on November 13th, 1993.  To this day I don't know how my Dad got tickets.  Frankly, I don't want to know (I never did see my sister Abigail again).  But I do know that when we arrived that morning in South Bend and I walked into Notre Dame Stadium, it was the greatest moment of my life.  Seriously, I was 15 at the time and this is how I would have ranked my life up until this point:

  1. Getting Chip and Dale's autographs at Disneyland
  2. Hitting a base-clearing triple to win an All-Star Little League game.
  3. My Bar Mitzvah after-party. 
  4. Getting to 2nd base with Judy Smigelski in 7th Grade.
  5. Attending #1 FSU vs. #2 ND in South Bend

If you're too young to remember, you can't overstate how big this game was.  FSU was on the precipice of becoming the FSU that you now know and Notre Dame was the mighty traditional powerhouse standing in their way.  They were the only two teams in football that year that mattered.  It was assumed that no matter who won and who lost they would play each other again in a bowl game anyway cause no one else could match either of them. 

Even Bob Costas thought it was a big deal:

Chills, people.

As I'm sure you know, the game was a bit of a classic.  I'm sure it seemed that way watching from home.  But from the actual stadium? a young Notre Dame who has never been to a Notre Dame game and gets to watch his team upset the #1 team in the country in a game that came down to the last second?  It was, um, enjoyable.

Afterwards my Dad and I walked on the field, past the band and the crazy guy in the kilt and through the tunnel towads Touchdown Jesus.  We pass the catatonic Florida State fans on the way out, which only made the experience that much better. 

Of course, it's urban legend at this point that Notre Dame went to lose the following week to BC, simultaneously jump-starting that rivalry in the process.  I didn't actually get to watch the game.  My mom dragged me to some kind of family affair and it wasn't until the car ride home that I heard the radio announcer tell me the one thing I didn't expect to hear. 

Step 2 - We come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I distinctly remember my love for Notre Dame beginning to wane as of 1994.  I was still a big fan but, much like the career of phenom Ron Powlus, I stopped living up to expectations.  Work had a lot to do with it.  I lifeguarded on weekends, which conflicted with my ND watching.

Eventually it came time to move on from my suburban life and find an institution of higher learning that would have me.  I still had aspirations to attend Notre Dame and even went to one of those informal meetings where a Notre Dame rep seemingly belittled everyone in the audience with stats about their enrollment and SAT score averages that couldn't possibly be true, could they?  I applied anyway but somewhere along the way my interest had deteriorated and I didn't even know it.

I instead decided to attend Syracuse, a school that I knew little about football-wise and had passionately disliked in basketball for reasons I'm not quite sure I could explain now.  I think it had something to do with one my childhood best friend's liking them. Hooray friendship.

Step 3 - Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

I met God on September 7th, 1996.  He was from Chicago and very nimble. 

Let's step back for a second.

Despite my declining interest in the Irish I still saw fit to bring a Notre Dame Calendar with me and put up in my freshman dorm room.  Blasphemy, I know.  But I hadn't met God yet.

September 7th, my first Syracuse football game.  I don't know if there's a better policy they can put together but making you buy your football tickets before you arrive at SU is really dumb.  You end up with a ticket unto yourself, as do all of your newfound friends, and then you spend the entire first half finagling and tricking your way down into a section where you can all squeeze together while the ushers are none the wiser.

I had heard of Donovan McNabb before the game.  I knew of him but was unfamiliar with his work.  I would come to learn over the course of this one evening that he was Syracuse's savior and shining light, leading into the mouth of madness. I was hooked.

Syracuse lost that game but it won a fan that night.  I'd love to tell you that as soon as I got back to my dorm room I tore down the Notre Dame calendar and immediately pledged allegiance to Syracuse from that moment on but, well, I highly doubt that.  But I can say that in a metaphorical sense, that's what happened.  I no longer counted the days according to photos of Kevin McDougal's touchdown dives.  From now on, I would only let James Mungro and Rob Konrad tell me when the summer solstice was coming.

Step 4 - Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

I spent countless childhood hours...HOURS...learning the history of Notre Dame football.  From Knute Rockne to Ara to Lou, memorizing every national title and memorable victory therein.

To this day, the scrapbook I made to follow the 1992 season still sits in my mother's garage, filled with newspaper clippings, polls, photos and assorted other items related to the season, which did not actually deserve a scrapbook.

I owned a #3 Notre Dame jersey that I bought because of Rick Mirer.  When Ron Powlus came to Notre Dame I told people that it was actually for him.  When we realized he sucked, I went back to telling people that it represented Rick Mirer.

For a time, I could have reciting the entire film Rudy from heart.  "We're gonna go inside'm and outside'm, inside'm and outside'm, and not we're not gonna stop til we get across that goal line..."

Step 5 - Admitted to God/Donovan McNabb, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Well that's what this is.  I admit to all of you that:

  1. In my former life, I pledged allegiance to Notre Dame football.
  2. I was wrong.
  3. I was looking for comfort and joy in the wrong places to fill the void in my heart.
  4. Syracuse football (somehow) now fills that void.  I am whole again.

Step 6 - I am entirely ready to have God/Donovan McNabb remove all these defects of character.

Sophomore year, I'm on the bus to South Campus and Donovan McNabb gets on.  I'm staring at him like a twelve-year-old girl eyeing up her favorite Jonas Brother.  He looks at me and sees that I'm staring.  Before I have a moment to avert my gaze, he smiles.  I smile back.  My soul is now clean.

That, or I just flirted with Donovan McNabb.

Step 7 - Humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings.

Wait, I thought that WAS Step 6?

Step 8 - Make a list of all persons I have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

To my Mother, who does not like football nor has ever liked football.  For all of the crisp Autumn days that I spent inside subjecting myself to Notre Dame - Navy football games or Lou Holtz interviews, I am sorry.  I knew not what I was doing.

To my #3 Notre Dame replica jersey.  We had some great time in high school.  But when I gained 30 pounds during freshman year and refused to admit that you now clung to my gut like you were holding on for dear life, Touch football wasn't fun for either of us those days.  I lost sight of what was important.  I am sorry I put you through that.  Rest easy, friend.

To my Jewish relatives.  Sorry for supporting a Catholic University for my entire youth.  Oops.

Step 10 - Continue to take personal inventory and when you were wrong promptly admitted it.

It's a hard road even today.  The Notre Dame Victory March has been known to get stuck in my head for hours at a time.  It's a tune not easily drowned out.  When Rudy comes on the TV I can't help but be reminded of the three times I paid money to see it in theaters.  Three times! The only other movie I have ever done that with is Star Wars Episode 1.  Clearly, this shows a deficiency in judgment that I battle even to this day.

Not to mention appalling taste in cinema.

Step 11 - Seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God/Donovan McNabb, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure of this one anymore.  Since his recent "what's a tie?" comments I feel like Donovan is testing my faith and I'm not so sure I want to pass. 

I fear that Donovan's time has passed and I might be led astray once again.  I hope against hope that the prophecy is true.  That a new quarterback will rise up from the ashes and carry high the word as he brings glory and resurrection to the people of Orange. (Book of Csonka 3:11)

Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I try to carry this message to other former Notre Dame fans, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Let those who once laid with the Beast (a.k.a. Charlie Weis) reach out and take my hand.  Let those among us who have argued in favor of Notre Dame's conference independence come forward and ye shall be saved.  Let those who still argue Ron Powlus wasn't that bad know the truth. That there is a plan for all of us and it doesn't have to include televised primetime games against Purdue.

Wake up YOUR echoes.

Sing YOUR own glory and sound YOUR own fame.

Shake down the thunder from the sky within YOU.

Onward to YOUR victory.

I found salvation within the Carrier Dome.  Wherever you might find yours, I wish you well.