Tuesday, September 04, 2007

After the Fall: The State of Fighting Irish Football, Sept. 4th, 2007

How do you recover from the worst opening loss ever?

It's Tuesday, three days after Notre Dame's 33-3 drubbing at the hands of Georgia Tech. And Coach Charlie Weis wasted no time at his weekly press conference naming Jimmy Clausen Saturday's starting quarterback before half the media corps had even found their seats. Weis is keenly aware of the critical juncture his team (and his tenure with it) is at, for while his 20-7 record at Notre Dame is not bad, going back to last season, his Irish teams have lost their last three games in a row by a combined score of 118-41. And while his decision not to start prized freshman Clausen (who is still not 100% after coming off of elbow surgery), last Saturday to avoid getting stung by Yellow Jackets' attacking sacking defense was sound, he now has no choice but to throw him to the lions (Nittany Lions, that is) if he hopes to salvage the season.

Two things are at play here. First no one feels worse than the players themselves about last week's performance. Ironically, last Sunday's Tribune had an article on how Demetrius Jones' Christian faith, forged in the tough streets of the Chicago-slums, was still unshaken despite the loss. Sadly, though, it mentions nothing of the Catholic Church or Our Lady, who seemed to take a back seat Saturday, as half the Notre Dame fans in the stands were booing. Interestingly enough this situation was summed up yesterday by the suddenly struggling Chicago Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano after being booed by his home fans at Wrigley Field. "I can't understand the fans were booing of me. I thought these were the greatest fans in baseball ... but they showed me today they just care about them [selves]. When you're struggling you want to feel the support of the fans ... I don't accept it."

Not only have too many players forgotten what Notre Dame means, too many fans have forgotten who they are rooting for ... or with. It's one thing for Cub fans to boo, but for so-called fans of Our Lady's team to boo when the team needs them the most is like loving your wife when it's convenient or gong to Mass if there's nothing on T.V. Whether they realize it or not, Notre Dame is right there watching them, and we need to acknowledge this if we are ever going to get the (Golden) Dome field advantage back.

By starting the talented but inexperienced Clausen, Weis is keeping an eye on Irish history, when in 1977, after a poor early season loss, Coach Dan Devine elevated a then third string quarterback named Montana to starter, and the Irish did not lose the rest of the way in route to the National Championship. Still, this team is far less talented than Montana's squad, which means that unlike lastSaturday, they have to play mistake-free football to even have a chance. That of course is Weis' department, but the "inspiring the team" part may well be ours. This is not a team that a casual Hail Mary or two will do. This season the true fans may have to pray almost unceasingly for the Irish to survive. And my mesage to the boo-birds is the same as my words to the cafeteria Catholics; if you don't like the team (or Church) and what it stands for, then leave for a college (or congregation) where health and wealth (or rankings and wins) is all that matters. As for me and my household, we will pray for Notre Dame. Indeed the odds (just as they were for the Church of the time of Roman persecution or Protestant Reformation) are great now, but in the end ...

Will Clausen escape the Lions den? Only Her Loyal Sons will know the answer.

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