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Recreating history isn’t all that simple

Laura Myers | Thursday, November 18, 2010

In 1913, Notre Dame and its “forward pass” upset Army 35-13. After that game, people started to notice the blue-collar team from Indiana.

In 1924, Notre Dame and its “Four Horsemen” defeated Army, 13-7, on the way to the first of 11 National Championships. After that game, sportswriter Grantland Rice made sure everyone knew about the Irish.

In 2006, 48 games and nearly 100 years after the teams’ first meeting, No. 5 Notre Dame and its green jerseys steamrolled Army, as expected, 41-9.

Not long after that game, people started wondering where the Irish had gone.

Any first-year theology student can explain that at Notre Dame, “Tradition” is spelled with a capital ‘T.’ It is the fabric of the University and, at least in theory, should be consulted as a major factor when deciding how to move forward.

This is true in a lot of areas at the school, but especially football. Traditions have flourished since the days of Knute Rockne (who, in 1928, at Yankee Stadium, against Army, asked his team to “Win one for the Gipper”). But it has been a while since those traditions have been something more than an exercise in remembrance, and fans want the whole thing back.

In a way, fans’ wants have been met. Notre Dame is playing Army at Yankee Stadium. But the Yankee Stadium in question is noticeably shinier, while Notre Dame and Army are noticeably weathered.

The administration is doing all it can, and more, to bring attention to this match up, the 50th meeting between the two teams and the 22nd in the home of the Yankees.

What the administration fails to realize is scheduling games doesn’t mean a return to the past.

This year it’s Army. In 2012, it’s Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago. In 2015 and 2016, the Irish and Hurricanes will play a home-and-home series, another wish granted for all who repeatedly bring up 1988’s “Catholics vs. Convicts” game as the last real testament of Notre Dame’s team and fans.

That win, of course, came soon before Notre Dame’s last National Championship, now nearly 22 years ago.

And it will take much, much more than playing Army or Miami to bring around another one.

Fortunately, Irish coach Brian Kelly knows this. After Notre Dame’s 28-3 win over Utah Saturday, Kelly said his players “didn’t have on their shoulders the traditions and reputations” that come along with playing here.

“We were just playing,” he said. “We’re back to playing the game of football the way it needs to be played.”

It seems hard to imagine an Irish team under the lights in Yankee Stadium, playing Army in green jerseys, and not concerned about the past. But Kelly said there is a distinction.

“We want to know about our tradition. We want to embrace Notre Dame,” he said. “We just can’t carry all of the unfulfilled expectations.”

Expectations were fairly low going into the game against Utah, which could explain why the team’s metaphorical shoulders were lighter. But if the Irish continue to play like they did Saturday, they will probably start to pile up again, and quickly.

But Kelly doesn’t want his team to feel that. He wants them to go out and play.

“Play the game of football,” he said. “Enjoy it. Play it hard, play it fast.”

The burden, then, may fall not on the team, but on the fans and the administration to allow the team to do just that.

Notre Dame’s tradition is special and important. It is right to celebrate that tradition. Asking a team of young men, most of whom weren’t alive in January of 1989, to emulate that tradition is different.

They know about the past, and they love the tradition. It’s why they’re here. They want to win against Army Saturday and against USC next week. They want to beat Miami in two years.

No matter what, though, this team can’t bring back the past, and neither can games against historical rivals.

What this Notre Dame team can do, with its own offensive scheme, its own backfield and its own green jerseys, is win against Army. After that game, with a bowl game in the works, people will start to wonder if the Irish are bringing in the future.

Hopefully they’ll keep those thoughts to themselves and allow the team to keep playing the game of football.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers2@nd.edu