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True fans stand out

Sheila Flynn | Friday, November 7, 2003

Try listening to 80,000 people jeer as you struggle to get your game back on track. Try dealing with instant celebrity and crushing pressure when, as a freshman, you become quarterback of one of the most recognizable college football teams in the nation. Try playing hard-core, top-ranked teams in the middle of a season that has been far from the best, boasting nothing more than injured players, glaring mistakes and a coach still getting his feet wet at the University.

I’ve heard a lot of students say that they could do better on the field than the current Notre Dame football team. They claim the players aren’t trying – one of their flimsy excuses for leaving the Stadium early in disgust.

So you try it, I say. I’d like to see you do better.

Yes, our football team has been disappointingly atrocious this season. They know it, we know it, and anyone who follows college sports knows it. But that doesn’t mean they’re not trying. The majority of these guys waited their whole lives to play Notre Dame football, and, for them, it hasn’t lost its mystique, appeal or honor. They’re trying their best for the school that they love – unfortunately, their best is not good enough at this point in time.

But that weakness motivates some fans – not the true ones – to lose faith in the legacy that is Notre Dame. One terrible season has separated, quite obviously, the fair-weather fans from real ones. The fair-weather fans leave. They boo their players. They shirk the Notre Dame sense of family and support that differentiates our University from all others.

They give reasons for this behavior, arguing that they, in actuality, are the true fans. They claim they’re the ones who love Notre Dame football too much to watch it being disgraced. The current team is not fitting for a Notre Dame football program, they say, and it hurts them to see the Irish lose so embarrassingly.

The real fans feel the same way. But their respect for Notre Dame football – the historical pinnacle of college sports – is bigger than the game, bigger than the team and bigger than themselves. The real fans are the ones who stay and suffer, supporting the team despite the fact that every moment of the spectacle is almost physically painful. They stay until the end, when the players present their helmets and the band plays the alma mater, so the team – their friends, classmates and roommates – will not have to bear the additional blow of facing an empty section after a horrible game. They stay, knowing that thousands – millions – of people would give their right arms to see a game in Notre Dame stadium. They stay because they know that Notre Dame is a family – unconditionally supportive, through good times and bad.

The team has struggled before. It has overcome. It can again, and the true fans will be there when it happens. The fair-weather fans, though, may have sold their tickets.