Returning the mystique
Letter to the Editor | Monday, December 8, 2008
I was watching a sports program this past weekend in which one of the talking heads proclaimed that in the minds of today’s athletes, Notre Dame was no longer a special place to play football. While the reporter was a much older gentlemen who seemed unlikely to know much about the inner thoughts of young athletes, his comment caught my attention.
To our critics, Notre Dame football is a privileged program living on past performance. The mystique that attracted a national following in the past is gone. And there really has been nothing special about the on-field performance in some time.
Maybe so, but I think the mystique goes much deeper than wins and losses. The spirit of those who went before us is real – perhaps in need of some nourishment, but real all the same. Notre Dame’s mystique began in a time when religious affiliation mattered. Catholics perceived themselves as underdogs – the first Catholic President was not elected until 1960. Notre Dame, a small school, was also an underdog to bigger, wealthier programs. Yet, the Fighting Irish usually found a way to win, endearing the University to its fan base. I am told that when radio emerged as the internet of its day, Knute Rockne gave away the national broadcast rights to Notre Dame football for free. Nationwide broadcasts brought a great product to the country and cemented the mystique in the minds of its fans.
Today, we are at a crossroads of sorts. It is uncomfortable to think that our critics have a point. Is Notre Dame still a special place to play football, or have we become too comfortable with benefits earned in the past? Here is a modest proposal for re-energizing the mystique to a national audience. Just as Notre Dame’s football team has struggled, so too has Catholic education in America. Every year, underdog Catholic schools struggle to survive financially, while winning major victories in student performance, especially in poor urban areas.
The University should take a sheet from Knute Rockne’s playbook and convert all of the revenue from the NBC contract into scholarships for poor kids to attend Catholic schools. This would remove a major criticism of the University and its football program, while building a whole new image of the Fighting Irish as champions of the underdog. While I am getting older as well, I think it would be truly special for any young person to know that they played or cheered for something more than their peers. Wake up the echoes.
class of ’97