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Gastelum: Irish fill role as Cowboys of NCAA (Oct. 4)

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, October 3, 2013

At AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, there is always a conscious flair for the dramatic. There is always a toasty hot seat for quarterback and head coach alike. There are haunting boos from home fans following losses and echoed cheers following wins.

At AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, there is a lust for the glory days of old. Missed opportunities in the postseason are made brighter by an everlasting floodlight placed on the entire organization.

At AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, there is always an expectation for greatness. Fail to reach that level and the earth opens as all hell breaks loose between picturesque sidelines and a sanctuary of a stadium that wafts in an aura of “we are better than you, and you know it.”

Yet, when Notre Dame hosts its annual beauty pageant (one where it is the only contestant) known as the Shamrock Series on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, will anything have changed from an NFL Sunday to an NCAA Saturday? Maybe just the fact that players aren’t paid, but do we honestly know that anymore?

All jokes aside, the similarities between the Dallas Cowboys and Notre Dame may be more relevant than one would think. After all, if you ran into an NFL fan with zero college football knowledge, with whom would you compare Notre Dame?

Look no further than the quarterback position, which exemplifies it best. The name Rees has been insulted more than it has been chanted over the last four years. Just look at the Twitter insults Rees took during past week (which itself is an entirely other column that can fill this space). Despite throwing for 42 touchdowns and 5,524 yards and compiling a 62.2 percent completion percentage with a career 17-6 record as a starter, criticism has never been far behind and pops up the second an interception is thrown, no matter if he had just thrown a touchdown pass the play before.

But it’s inherent with the spotlight.

“Look, if you’re the starting quarterback at Notre Dame and you can’t handle those things that are inevitably going to come your way after a loss, then you can’t be the quarterback at Notre Dame,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “It comes with the business of being the quarterback at Notre Dame. You have to avoid the noise, when it’s good and when it’s bad. And that’s just the nature of it. It comes with being the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

Here’s the funny thing about that statement: Take out any part that says “Notre Dame” and sub in “Dallas Cowboys.” It never loses its meaning and Tony Romo fills the void. Despite completing 65 percent of his passes with only one losing season on his record, Romo is to Cowboys fans what Rees is to the Notre Dame faithful: a scapegoat.

The same statement could be arranged to refer to the head coach as well. Cowboys and Irish head coaches are magnified even more on the critic’s microscope. Just look at this past week on campus and every Black Monday that follows an NFL season, which puts even more pressure on the likes of Jack Swarbrick and Jerry Jones to make the most informed decision, know when to support their choices and ultimately when to pull the plug.

But of the handful of comparisons, it really comes down to one thing. You either love or hate the Cowboys. You either love or hate Notre Dame. There is no indifference. Tradition and legacy breeds as much scorn as it does adulation. Above all else, the two are polarizing.

At AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, there is always a spotlight bright as can be. That won’t change Saturday.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu

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