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Irish need boost from home fans

Greg Arbogast | Friday, January 23, 2009

Don’t underestimate a crowd’s ability to electrify. To embolden. To inspire. To take a group of athletes and help them reach a higher place. Digger Phelps doesn’t. How could he? On January 19, 1974, Phelps and his No. 2 Irish stood ready when UCLA strolled into South Bend with a videogame-esque 88-game win streak. They had been ranked No. 1 since 1971. With 3:30 left in the game, it was business as usual for UCLA who led 70-59, but then John Shumate scored four straight points. And then the noise turned up. And then came UCLA’s next four possessions: turnover, travel, missed shot, and an offensive foul. The Bruins, renowned for their flawless execution, were so rattled that coach John Wooden had to break from his philosophy of never calling a timeout at the end of the game. It didn’t matter. The Bruins missed their final shot, and the court was engulfed by delirious students.That wasn’t even the most impressive performance turned in by the Irish crowd under Phelps’ tenure.Just over three years later on March 5, 1977, the University of San Francisco was flirting with a perfect season at 29-0 when they walked onto Notre Dame’s floor. They were subsequently greeted with chants of 29 (clap! clap!) and one (clap! clap!). The chorus reigned down on the Dons throughout the game growing in intensity as the Irish pulled away for a 93-82 victory. After the game, NBC’s commentary team of Dick Enberg and Billy Packer made the unprecedented move of giving the Player of the game award to the student body.This Saturday night, the Irish need that kind of boost from the crowd. What started as the most highly anticipated Irish season in decades is suddenly teetering dangerously close to spiraling out of control. Losses at Louisville and Syracuse have given the Irish their first back-to-back Big East losses since 2007. Now, No. 3 Connecticut comes to town followed by No. 11 Marquette and then a game at No. 4 Pittsburgh. Two losses could turn into three losses which become five defeats in a row, and Notre Dame’s No. 9 preseason ranking is a distant memory.That can’t happen.Rarely does a moment of need coincide so ideally with one of opportunity, but the Irish have been blessed by the scheduling gods in the form of a certain college basketball show led by our own Phelps.Digger knows the effect Gameday has. He described the energy during the morning broadcast as a force that carries over to the moment when the prime-time lights come on. Maybe that’s why he’s campaigning dorm-to-dorm in an effort to pack the JACC with 11,000 fans for the 11 A.M. broadcast. Even the administration seems to sense the opportunity to seize the moment. The doors to the JACC will be opened at 9:00 p.m. Friday for students who want to “campout” prior to Saturday’s festivities. Notre Dame’s also dropping their traditional anti-sign stance, offering a subtle encouragement to the student body.So come early. Be creative. And when the first Husky sets foot on that court, shake down the thunder like your life depends on it. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Greg Arbogast at garbogas@nd.edu

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