Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Sugar" and Vice and Everything's Not Nice: The Louisiana (State) Lowdown

Only the most die-hard Tom O'Toole fans would have realized that I borrowed today's blog title from an article I wrote during my student days at Notre Dame, when the Irish and I went down to New Orleans to take on the town as well as the University of Georgia. But in wake of Hurricane Katrina (as well as a growing irreverence toward the teachings of the Church), the stakes seem higher than they did 25 years ago when Dan Devine's last team lost a Sugar Bowl squeaker to the Bulldogs. Both the city and the team have much riding on the game -- and both could use a little Divine intervention to help bale them out.

New Orleans and Notre Dame actually have a lot in common. Both have a rich French Catholic history (indeed, the city's pro football team is nicknamed the Saints) and both have a proclivity toward partying, especially around game day. While Notre Dame hasn't sunk to the depths of bare-breasted Mardi Gras parades or hosting houses of prostitution ("There is a house in New Orleans/ they call the Rising Sun"), welcoming stage plays such as The Vagina Monologues hasn't endeared the University to its more Orthodox members, let alone its namesake. Charlie Weis and Company has already done its share to save the city (the Notre Dame players spent a whole afternoon at the New Orleans Hope Haven Center, working with underprivileged kids and helping clean/rebuild classrooms in some still-damaged schools). But as far as the football team goes, the Irish will have to play its best game - as well as get some help from above - to come away with an upset victory over an LSU Tiger team with superior talent.

When Coach Weis proclaims, "I am happy the University of Notre Dame is here to play Louisiana State, for it seems the perfect match-up to get some cash flow into the city," and then goes on to tell the Irish alumni "to spend some bucks down here," his heart is in the right place. Coach Weis HAS done a lot to restore the Catholic identity to the team, but it will take more than the contributions of rich alumni to get the team to the next level of witness. The team will need more talent, Catholic talent, for with Notre Dame's academic and moral standards staying higher than Ohio State, Southern California and the rest of the elite, it is the only talent Notre Dame can always hope to compete for. So, just as in the days of Rockne, Leahy and Holtz, Weis needs to encourage and actively seek -- Catholic talent. An upset win by seniors Smardzija and Zbikowski and Quinn would certainly help encourage some of the undecided high school seniors to consider attending Notre Dame, but it's up to the coaches and staff (with a little help from the fans) to remember who the school is named after and who they really play for. If they can help the city of New Orleans (whom one Catholic radio personality claimed was punished with Katrina by God for its increasing sexual perversity) reclaim its Catholic identity in the process, so much the better. But first they need to save themselves, and a victory dedicated to Our Lady on the Dome would go a long way in doing that.

Now if I could just get Charlie Jr., Weis' son AND sidekick on the sidelines, to read the copy of Champions of Faith: Catholic Sports Heroes Tell Their Stories I sent to him through his dad, I betcha he would have the time (and innocence) during the game to intercede to Our Lady. So if you are watching the game on TV and see the younger Weis viewing the action with a Rosary in one hand and a copy of my book in the other, I'd say that's a VERY good sign ...

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