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The heart of Notre Dame

Observer Editorial | Friday, September 30, 2005

Notre Dame is one of the most-watched Universities in the country. Because of its reputation, every move draws intense media scrutiny, support and criticism. And lately, there has been a little more criticism than support.

After the University fired former football head coach Tyrone Willingham last November, many people around campus and the nation were offended that the University would dismiss a coach only three years into his contract. And the fact Willingham was the first black head coach in any sport ever at Notre Dame made the criticism all the more inflammatory.

The University drew perhaps more bad press than ever before. Former Irish players such as Chris Zorich and Aaron Taylor condemned the school for its action. In a taped interview with Willingham last Saturday, ABC’s John Saunders broached the subject again, with a line of questioning suggesting Willingham’s firing was racially motivated.

So the recent story of new head coach Charlie Weis and his promise to call a play for 10-year-old Montana Mazurkiewicz, who Weis said died Sept. 22 of brain cancer, is a reminder of what this University truly represents. The story was a welcome one for Notre Dame football fans, whether they agreed with Willingham’s firing or not.

It is a story the nation can look at to remind itself why sports are important in the first place.

The firing of one millionaire coach and the hiring of another should not be the focus of sports. But too often the media and the public forget this – they argue about the details and forget to appreciate the reason sports exist.

Sports allow people the opportunity to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. They are here for people who watch a game with their family, to enjoy great athletic performances and spend time together in the process. They exist for people who follow Notre Dame – students, alumni and fans who have no direct connection but admire the school – to claim a sense of belonging.

That community was exactly what Weis exemplified when he honored Montana’s wish and called a “pass right” in the opening play of the game on Saturday. Weis recognized this University is more than just its students, faculty, administrators and alumni. It’s also about those, like Montana, who have never attended a class but still feel like part of the Notre Dame family.

The heart of Notre Dame – and sports in general – lies in kids like Montana, who loved Notre Dame football so much that only a visit from Weis could make him smile.

In 20 years, no one will remember the final score of last week’s game at Washington. No one will recall how many yards Brady Quinn threw for or how many tackles Brandon Hoyte made. Hardly anyone will worry about how Weis compared to Willingham in their much-hyped meeting. No one should care now.

In the light of Montana’s story, everyone will reflect and remember there are more important things in life than the development of the West Coast offense. And because of Weis, everyone can now remember what the true family spirit of this University really means.