Saturday, 6 April 2013

Why I like Notre Dame football

Not what you may think
You'd think with my grandfather and his twin brother being born on their Dad's birthday, and 86 years later my niece being born on that same day, and that day being St. Patrick's Day – that's why I would be a fan of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Yet March 17 is not a big date on the calendar of your typical German. Nor is it because I was raised in an ardent Catholic family and subsequently raised to love  Notre Dame, a Catholic university.

Why then?
As the Notre Dame Fighting Irish continued preparations for their improbable appearance in the American college football national championship team just before Christmas, I asked myself: why do I like Notre Dame football?

It was not always so. When I was young, the only college football games we got on the farm were the bowl games on New Year’s Day. One day a year and that was it. That meant the Cotton Bowl (on CBC), the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl (both on CTV). No Fiesta Bowl, until a bit later, and never the Sugar Bowl. So essentially three games a year.

Based on that limited exposure, I came to like the Oklahoma Sooners. They played in the Orange Bowl it seemed like every year. The first time I saw them, they had an exceptional runningback named Billy Sims. He had won the Heisman as a junior, and had a great senior year, but not as good as the year before so the Heisman was awarded to Charles White of USC.

But it was never Billy Sims that did it for me. It was the Sooner quarterback – JC (Julius Caesar) Watts. He is still one of my favourite players of all time, and I will devote an entry to him some other time. After Sims graduated, Watts still kept the Sooners winning. The best was the Orange Bowl, where he rallied the Sooners late to come from behind to defeat the Florida State Seminoles. They even scored a rare two-point conversion.

After Watts, the Sooners rebuilt with various good players – Marcus Dupree being the best example. Then, led by California quarterback Jamelle Holieway, they won the national championship. Two years later, they had another shot, but fell to the Miami Hurricanes, thus beginning a dislike I have for the Hurricanes that I still have today.

A funny thing happened to the Sooners then too. They developed an attitude and an arrogance, led by linebacker Brian Bosworth. I never liked that blustering. It was too much like the Hurricanes who were all about talking trash and humiliating their opponents.

So I was ripe for another college team.

Tim Brown won the 1987 Heisman Trophy
The return specialist
It was 1987, and along came return specialist Tim Brown. The man electrified college football games and vaulted him to the Heisman trophy. Notre Dame played in the Cotton Bowl after that season, and I remember watching the game in Vining’s living room. It was not Brown’s best game, but I liked what I saw in Notre Dame.

The next year, they challenged for the national championship. They were still unbeaten when they hosted the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes. A mistake by security meant the two teams entered the field through the same tunnel, and a fight started. Someone grabbed Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice's face mask and tried to punch him. It set the tone for a wild game. At one point during the game he came to the sideline and wiped a big gob of spit on his forehead.

In the first quarter Notre Dame scored first on a touchdown by Rice. Notre Dame would go on to beat Miami, and win the national championship that 1988 season after defeating West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl. That team boasted some great players. On defence they had Chris Zorich, Jeff Alm, Pat Terrell, Mike Stonebreaker (with perhaps one of the best football names ever), and Frank Stams. On offence, they had Rice, Ricky Watters, Derek Brown, and Raghib "Rocket" Ismail.

The next year, Michel Ouellette became a mentor of mine and he was a big Irish fan.

My love for the Irish was cemented.

More than football
Tony Rice is more than a national champion:
he is a college graduate.
Tim Brown would be their last Heisman trophy winner, and 1988 would be their last championship. It has been a long time in the wilderness – not 40 years mind you – but a long time. It does not matter though, because Notre Dame is much more than a football program. Winning is important, but it is more important to develop good men. Where Oklahoma had become arrogant, Notre Dame was humble. Bosworth was suspended before the 1987 Orange Bowl for testing positive for steroids. Tony Rice, who was a long shot to graduate, graduated. So did Tim Brown and most of the rest of the team. That speaks volumes for me.

1 comment:

  1. They are really a great team that have the will and the determination to win the crown. They are really a great example for the others.

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