Friday, November 24, 2006

This is the day (And you are the fans)

Rock wanted to win more than he wanted to live. --Francis Wallace, from his book Knute Rockne
"THIS IS THE DAY AND YOU ARE THE TEAM," proclaims this year's official Fighting Irish T-shirt, designed by the Notre Dame students and worn by as many as half the fans in Notre Dame Stadium, plus countless others outside. And today, the 2006 T-shirt could not have been more prophetic.

On the back of the shirt is also the world "TRADITION" accompanied by pictures of Coaches Rockne, Parsegian, Holtz and Weis. As understanding tradition is a key to understanding the teachings of the Catholic Church, so tradition is a key element in comprehending how a particular Catholic order or institution spreads the one true faith. And at Notre Dame, football has long been a key component of that tradition.

It is useless to argue that football is too trivial a thing to truly be an apostolate; for in each of those coach's careers, I could show you several cases of how Notre Dame football brought young men (or women) into the Catholic Faith. God has used this Mother to spread Christianity many times and in many ways, and if She decides to use football as one of the ways to draw people to Her Son, who are we to question Her Wisdom? Whether She uses Notre Dame football in this way this Saturday remains to be seen; however, it is important to remember that Mary's use of an apostolate always depends greatly on how much we pray.

As the pro-Notre Dame blog "The Blue-Gray Sky" accurately pointed out, this game is a defining game for Coach Weis, not to mention the legacy of this year's senior class, led by Brady Quinn. This class, despite some great moments and impressive statistics, has never beaten its California arch-rival. On the other hand, while Weis has crushed all the teams with lesser players as well and snuck by these (UCLA, Michigan State, Georgia Tech) with equal talent, he has not beaten a team with greater talent, of which Michigan and Southern California certainly qualify. It is these games which lifts a coach's career to the "legendary" level, and a win in this game could permanently earn Weis a place on the T-shirt.

But back to "Rock." Coach Rockne, already four years a convert to Catholicism, was facing a late season game on the road against an undefeated thoroughly talented Carnegie Tech team that had beaten Notre Dame by 20 the year previous. The doctor urged Rock to stay home, for Knute had developed phlebitis in his leg and if the blood clot spread to his head, Rockne could quickly be dead. But Knute knew on that day his boys needed him, and although Rockne had to be carried into the locker room like a baby and was laid flat on the locker room training table, he had to be there, for "he wanted to win more than he wanted to live."

To Rockne, this was not risking his life for a silly game, it was living his life fully to show he would do anything for the boys, the team that had given Rock the Catholic Faith. To Rock, his presence showed them "There is no greater love than this, than to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). His pre-game speech, which started with a whisper but rose to a crescendo, ended with the words "Crack 'em. Fight to live. Fight to win. Fight to live! Fight to win win WIN!

Still a scoreless tie late in the third quarter, the game came down to a first and goal for the Irish at the Tech 7. Notre Dame gained 3 yards on 1st down, 2 on 2nd, 1 on 3rd, and on 4th and goal at the one, everyone in the stadium and listening on the radio knew Knute would call another straight ahead run, yet Rock called the play anyway. Both teams came together, crashed, collided. And yet somehow Notre Dame, fighting to live the Faith, fighting to win for Rockne and Our Lady, surged across the goal line. Notre Dame won 7-0, on the way to another undefeated national championship.

I have confided in some of the "original" FIT readers that Notre Dame would not win another national championship unless it was used to glorify God and magnify His Mother. There is never any shame in playing one's best and coming up short -- I heard more compliments about Notre Dame's play in last year's last second loss to the Trojans than from many of their wins in the past ten seasons. But a win today sets a special tone, that the Irish are ready to be Mary's chosen instrument of evangelizing once again.

Today is the day. You are the team ... but many traditions say that. At Notre Dame, the tradition is much greater, for at Notre Dame, they are the players AND we are the pray-ers.

GO IRISH! Beat Trojans!

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