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Struggling team disheartens some fans

Katherine Gales | Monday, September 29, 2003

The unseasonable cold seems to have sent some fair-weather Notre Dame football fans scurrying for cover, as the 1-3 start prompts some spectators are losing faith in their team.

Last year, head coach Tyrone Willingham made national headlines by turning around the program with eight straight wins at the beginning of the 2002 season. The solid defense left behind by Bob Davie and the discipline and authority Willingham brought to the team contributed to the Irish’s early success.

This year, the team’s record “is frustrating,” said Alumni sophomore Adam Staats, “but you have to take into consideration that it’s only the second year Willingam has been here. I don’t think anyone thought he would do what he did last year, and the fact that he’s struggling at the start of this year [has people discouraged].

“A lot of the starters aren’t his recruits, so you can’t really say that it’s anybody’s fault,” he added. “It’s a new system, and we have to give it time.”

Sorin junior Jim Mooney agreed.

“At least it’s not Bob Davie,” Mooney said.

This season marks only the sixth time in the last 20 years that the team has started 1-3. Gerry Faust (1985), Lou Holtz (1986) and Bob Davie (1997, 1999, 2001) all posted dismal early-season records that cast a pall over the entire season.

For last weekend’s game against Purdue, 500 tickets – 10 percent of Notre Dame’s allotment-were returned after the school was unable to sell them. They immediately sold out to Purdue fans in West Lafayette, according to a school press release and the Lafayette Journal and Courier.

However, according to senior Erin Horne, spirit was not lacking from those student fans able to attend the Purdue game.

“There were a lot of students tailgating – it didn’t seem like there were less than there would usually be at an away game,” she said. “The students I was with were standing on the bleachers, doing cheers the band played. I didn’t notice a huge decline in fan participation.”

Despite this, students did not appear to be interested in watching the game. As the fourth quarter began, students were more interested in pick-up football on South Quad than in watching their team.

“I think we’re still 100 percent behind the team despite the slow start this season,” said Jeff Serpas, a Dillon senior and band drum major. “Especially the band; we’re there playing the Victory March no matter what the score is. We’re just trying to motivate and inspire the team and the fans as best we can.”

Although some people are less enthusiastic about the football team as they rebuild, most fans appear to be just as fervent about the sport that made Notre Dame famous.

“As far as losing faith in the football team, fans of Notre Dame football are notorious for being overly critical of players, coaches or entire teams when they don’t play up to the high expectations everyone has of them,” said Jim Theiss, a Knott freshman. “It’s easy to assume that we’re going to be upset after a 1-3 start this year, especially after last season’s success, but that is one thing we can’t forget through these tough games, the success of last season and the reasoning that if we’ve had success in the past, we can and will achieve it in the future.”