Sunday, November 22, 2009

Weis' Irish Wake, Pt III: Huskies Halt Hapless Irish in Double OT 33-30

Notre Dame, our Mother
Tender, strong and true
Proudly in the heavens,
Gleams thy gold and blue.
Glory's mantle cloaks thee
Golden is thy fame,
And our hearts forever,
Praise thee, Notre Dame.
And our hearts forever,
Love thee, Notre Dame.
--Notre Dame Our Mother, the "alma mater song"

ND-UConn_11-21-09On yet another surreally beautiful November day in South Bend, the Notre Dame sliding Irish completed the hard-to-believe scene by falling to yet another inferior opponent at home, losing to Connecticut by the final score of 33-30. For although Senior Day had the senior captains coming out of the tunnel with arms interlocked with Charlie Weis' to show their unwavering support for their embattled coach, this embarrassing performance most certainly buried Charlie, and assured he would be exiting the campus with them, if not before. Still, if Saturday's loss meant Charlie would no longer be roaming the sidelines, it also showed that something of Weis would remain.

Gary, Patrick, Charlie Weis, and John O'Toole at ND-UConn 11-21-09.It was the third game I attended this season, the most Notre Dame games I had personally witnessed in an autumn since my student days, and the morning certainly started out on a hopeful note. Not only was the sunny and mid-50's weather spectacular for mid-November, but I was accompanied by all three of my sons, who, after a Crypt Mass and a Grotto visit, were getting an insider tour of the University by my niece, Kathleen Hull. Jimmy Clausen signature on collage in Ryan HallAfter Kathleen, a freshman at Notre Dame, showed us her spanking new Ryan Hall dorm room, not to mention the Jimmy Clausen signature on the collage outside her door (it seems that Jimmy, as well as his black lab, "Magic," have become frequent visitors to Ryan since he started dating a sophomore down the hall) she led us into her new dorm's chapel. While perhaps not as beautiful as the Sacred Heart Basilica, the little church was striking nonetheless. And it was striking not just for the traditional stained glass window that rose behind the altar, but for the fact that, in an era where Notre Dame's ancient dissident theologian, Fr. Richard McBrien's, recent heresy proclaims Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration should be de-emphasized (and less accessible), this architectural decision to include a 24/7 dorm chapel to make such worship even easier for Notre Dame's new residents showed that, after all these years, O'Brien's BS is still not winning the battle for Notre Dame's soul.

As for the game itself, I suppose Chicago Tribune writer Brian Hamilton's story "Song Remains the Same," sums up the secular aspects of the contest rather succinctly. Indeed, it was the all too familiar dirge of recent games, where the offense, defense and special teams played well at times, but not in the moments when it really mattered. After scoring touchdowns on two of its first three possessions, the Irish offense, which ranks 9th in the nation in yardage, then showed why it is a mere 44th in scoring, managing only a pair of field goals the next nine times it had the ball. The special teams initially looked okay for a change, with both punting and place kicking (no missed field goals or PATs) actually performing well, but after the opening Irish drive of the second half stalled after nearly six minutes and forced Notre Dame to settle for three, twelve seconds later UConn's Jordan Todman's 96-yd kickoff return TD through inept Irish tackling not only completely erased a 14 point deficit but seized the momentum for the Huskies. And finally, after some initial holds, the Irish defense came completely unglued at the end, allowing the Huskies to score TDs on both overtime possessions, when the Irish OT offense managed only a field goal on its second overtime attempt. And once again, great individual performances by Jimmy Clausen (30-45-329, 2TDs) and Golden Tate (9-123; which enabled Tate to break the Notre Dame single season mark for yards and receptions, having now caught 83 passes for 1,295 yds) that on a winning team would be worthy of Heismans, were wasted.

We did not stay for the band's post-game playing of the alma mater, for although the player's singing of Notre Dame Our Mother is one of the sweetest tributes to Mary I've ever seen after a tough victory, after a loss it becomes quite painful, and from the sounds of Hamilton's account, yesterday it was like watching The Passion of the Christ. Considering some of the Irish students apparently followed this beautiful ballad up with an irrelevant chorus of "na-na-na-na, hey hey hey, goodbye," aimed not at the opposition but at their own lame duck coach still limping off the field, I'm glad I left before the crucifixion began. Still, although Hamilton's title may have been accurate for what he saw of the saga, he could not have known just how appropriate it was. For as it turned out, I did not miss the "alma mater" after all...

ND-UConn_11-21-09 (University of Notre Dame Grotto)It was now at least an hour after the game, and I was leading my sons on one last visit to the Grotto before our trip home, when we were struck by an incredible (and ultimately very moving) sight. For directly in front of the Dome, we saw a bunch of the band members looking up at Mary, playing "Notre Dame, Our Mother" one more time. They were now in their street clothes, and missing some of the band's nearly 200 members, but this remnant must have felt their last 2009 tribute to Our Lady was somewhat tarnished by the Weis razzing, and had decided to correct this slight to make it right at the feet of Our Lady Herself. To a casual observer such as Hamilton, I suppose this rendition, minus the full complement of musicians and instruments, probably came off as somewhat weak, but in my forty plus years as a fan of Notre Dame, I have never seen it played with such power or purpose. And I realized then this was not only a perfect tribute to Our Lady on the Dome, but a fond and fitting farewell to Her soon-to-be former coach as well.

Just as Kathleen's new dorm, with the Eucharist "built-in," shows that those who oppose the Pope will never "take" Notre Dame, that performance proved that Weis' tradition of honouring Our Lady with Her song after each game will be remembered long after his losses are forgotten. His bluster and bravado may not have always impassioned his players, but on that night, his love for Our Lady most certainly inspired "Mary's musicians." And at Notre Dame, that may be the greatest legacy of all.

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