Friday, November 09, 2007

Notre Dame Football 2007: My Irish vs. Air Force Prayer? Have a "Hughes" Day

“Everything I stand for today was because of my brother.”
–Robert Hughes

“You know who did it. Don't be blaming the police. Look in the mirror ... if you don't turn these individuals in, you'll be marching for the rest of your life.”
–Mayor Richard M. Daley

It was Monday, two days after the battle ended, and the Academy was still celebrating. Classes were cancelled, freshmen were given leave, and officers were making speeches, as if the Navy had won a decisive sea victory in Iraq, if not a worldwide win over the forces of terrorism. While I suppose the Naval Academy's (over) reaction to beating the 1 and 8 Fighting Irish in football for the first time in 44 years was understandable, I think it's also safe to say that after seeing that display, it will be another 44 years before the Holy Cross Fathers wish another sympathy victory for Notre Dame's long-time rival.

But before letting the dust on the Navy game settle, one more word to the Weis decision about not attempting a winning field goal at the end of regulation. Many expletive-deleted blog reactions to the game said that having Weis send freshman Brandon Walker in to attempt a 41-yarder into the wind (instead of going for it on 4th and 8) was a no-brainer. After all, had not Walker booted a 48-yarder earlier this year in the Irish's lone victory against UCLA?Yes, he had. But since his boot against the Bruins (which included a luck-of-the-Irish bounce off the goal post), Brandon had missed 4 out of 6, including a horrible looking kick earlier in the game from the 40 that barely made it to the goal line. And THAT one was with the wind. Only Weis knows for sure if Walker's leg was at full strength, but if Weis had tried the field goal, and it was blocked and returned for a touchdown ... well let's just say that, given the limited talent on Notre Dame's 2007 team compared to its previous two (or 102!) seasons, I still refuse to proclaim myself Weis-er than the head coach.

But now it's time to forget Navy and get down to the business of Air Force. Of course, I would like nothing more than freshman Robert Hughes, who lost his best friend and brother to a bullet last week, to have a huge game. In the Navy contest, Hughes, having not slept in two nights after hearing (from Coach Weis and his assistants) of his brother's death, could only play a token role. Granted, Charlie made sure it was a powerful token, giving Hughes the ball on the Navy three, and we cheered as Robert brought it home for Notre Dame's first touchdown. But according to assistant coach, Mike Haywood, Hughes is feeling stronger every day, and I'm sure Robert would like nothing better than to honor his brother by having the game of his life in rare Notre Dame victory.

On the other hand, honor and closure are two different things, and I also pray for Robert's plea, that, "anyone with information about [his brother] Tony's killer" come forward. "Not just for the personal matter, but I don't want to see anyone else go through what my family went through," said Hughes. "He did it once, he could do it again."

Although Mayor Daley was speaking to the Back of the Yards community after the death of Leticia Barrera, a young mother who was killed by gang cross-fire while taking her two children door-to-door on Halloween, he could have easily been speaking to the residents of Robert's neighborhood, too. Whether it is not trusting authority, or being afraid of retaliation, much back-street murder information remains unspoken. But just as I must not only still trust the coach, but not forsake Our Lady's team during its most trying season, Chicago residents have to have the courage to come forward or street violence will never cease. As I heard Fr. Corapi say on the radio Monday (at a moment I really needed to hear it), "We are in a war, and in war people get wounded. There is nothing shameful with getting wounded in battle. But it is wrong to desert your teammates while the battle rages."

On Saturday, the battle continues. And I want Robert Hughes, Coach Weis, and all the other Notre Dame players to know that I, as well as the cloud of Notre Dame witnesses in heaven (especially that blazing new arrival, Ryan Shay) stand with you ... forever.

Go Irish!
Beat Air Force!
Our Lady Queen of Victory,
Pray for us!

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