Friday, August 31, 2007

Notre Dame Football 2007: One more day 'til "Together as One"

I remember back in June being on the Official Notre Dame Athletic Site and chuckling at the "live" time meter, which then read "91 days, 15 hrs., 22 minutes, and 15... 14... 13 seconds" until Georgia Tech. Well as premature as that countdown seemed, it is no longer a laughing matter, for by the time this blog is posted it will be less than 24 hours until the Fighting Irish's initial 2007 showdown with the Yellow Jackets.

This season's Irish slogan, as depicted on this year's official student football t-shirt (now known simply as "The Shirt") is "Together as One." The back of the shirt elaborates on the theme by quoting the Fight Song words "Shoulder to Shoulder, Chanting Her Golden Name," and includes pictures of the Leprechaun leading the student section in cheers, a player raising his golden helmet in tribute to Our Lady on the Dome, and, front and center, the ever present mural of "Touchdown Jesus." Tomorrow three generations of O'Tooles will sit down in front of the set (barring any last minute game tickets, that is!) and will join millions of fans on earth (and, if my insight is right, more than a few in heaven too) to watch, cheer and pray for Our Lady's lads. For Irish Catholics, it is simply the team of teams, and, while there is sadness in realizing that there are still a few at the university and even among the players who, like the heathen critics who love to hate Notre Dame, do not yet "get" their special mission from Mary, this sorrow is far overshadowed by the joy that is shared by the myriad of fans who do.

Unlike last year, the 2007 team enters the season unranked and with little hype, unless you count the negative type such as ESPN analyst Mark May's prediction that Notre Dame will start out "1-7 or 2-6." Almost all of the pre-season publicity has centered on who will replace Brady Quinn at QB, and while most ND blogs have dubbed Demetrius Jones to be "the Mighty Quinn's" successor (although the student newspaper The Observer was still holding out hope for Jimmy Clausen), the reason WHY Charlie Weis has kept it secret shows much about why he is the right man to lead "Mary's Tough Guys." Sure, partially it was to keep Georgia Tech in the dark about our offense, but mostly it was to protect his player(s) from unnecessary pressure. "After you have a guy like Brady Quinn, why would you anoint somebody four weeks ago and have them living under the microscope of being the Notre Dame quarterback before they have even played a down? It has allowed them to be a lot looser in their preparation, which is very, very important." By deflecting the media glare from his players onto himself, Weis has given them extra time to concentrate on plays (and prayers) rather than photos and microphones, which is what any good spiritual leader should do.

Most Irish fans know by now that, due to an off-season switch, Mr. Jones' jersey now bears the number 3, the same number that Joe Montana wore; and that Coach Weis in entering his third season here, the same career year that all the legendary Notre Dame coaches won the National Championship. Meanwhile, in Our Lady's world, the number three signifies the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Three Persons in One God. In other words, the Trinity, "Together as One."

So, whether you are talking faith or football, "The Shirt" got it right. And tomorrow, on the first day of September, during Our Lady's First Saturday celebration (not to mention Fighting Irish Thomas' 23rd wedding anniversary) it all comes together once again ...

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