Wins are important, too
Adam Fischer | Thursday, October 7, 2010
As a double-domer, former history major, and lifelong Notre Dame fan, I was both astonished and disheartened by your article in today’s Observer (“When the breaks are beating the boys, Oct. 5). Despite your belief that “it’s about the unity … the spirit … [and] the love that people all over the country … feel for this University,” it is, undeniably, about the wins. Without the on-field successes of teams past, the contributions of our many hall-of-fame coaches and players, and the vision of Fathers Hesburgh, Joyce and others, the “unity, spirit and love” you cite would not exist. Before Rockne and Leahy, and Gipp and Hornung, and all the rest of our famed footballers, this place was little more than a missionary outpost; a part farm, part boarding school, part trading post; a place where Holy Cross priests, Native Americans and Catholic youths came together to achieve a very modest, and very limited goal. Today, of course, it is much more. And it is, in very large part, because Notre Dame was — for most of the 20th century — the premier football program in all of America.
By winning on Saturdays, Notre Dame gained respect, prestige and power. It gained the love and support of countless thousands of Irish and Catholics and laborers who — though never having the chance to attend Notre Dame or even visit South Bend — identified with our school’s mission and resolve; who were inspired by our dedication to being the best at everything we do, and our determination to both fight and win … whatever the odds. Often, it was these many people who gave so generously to our school; who, after listening to the Irish on the radio, would boast about “their” boys, and donate to Our Lady. By winning (and winning, and winning) in both this stadium and cities across the country, Notre Dame grew in stature; and, in so doing, gave itself the opportunity and authority to speak out against anti-Catholic sentiment, stand up for civil justice and kick the Ku Klux Klan out of South Bend.
Notre Dame is the place it is today because — at least at one point in time — its administration, faculty, students and supporters, all believed in a unique, and worthy mission: in being champions for Catholicism; in being the best in everything we do, in every way we can — in spirit, in service, in academics, and, very importantly, in athletics. Notre Dame used the football field as a means to spread its mission, and help others. Until roughly 1996, it succeeded. Now, it is changing; morphing into — at best — a kind of Catholic Disneyland; at worst, a place without an identity, another top school, but nothing more — a “Catholic” Stanford, or an Ivy of the Midwest.
Without football — without winning football — the unique unity, spirit and love you and others feel will dissipate. The so-called “Subway” alums will disappear. The television money will dry up. The merchandise sales will decrease, and our Athletic Department will run in the red. Scholarships, service opportunities and general donations will all diminish. And all those traditions you hold dear (after just three home football games) will be rendered meaningless. But most importantly, the voice and influence of this University will fade. When our leaders, students and alumni speak out against the world’s atrocities, and for the betterment of others, fewer people will listen. Football can still be our entre into America’s living rooms, and our spark for change; but only if we win. (Just think: were Notre Dame not a household name and a football power, would Fr. Hesburgh’s noble and brave stance on social justice be so effectual? Would the picture of him, standing arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr., be so powerful to so many? Would he — as the head of just another University — have been appointed to the Civil Rights Commission?)
Winning football was and is a vital part of Notre Dame. And I hope that you — and the rest of this increasingly apathetic student body — can come to understand, appreciate and root for that. Because believe me, the losses, they do stick with you. And they leave you sad.
P.S. I invite you — if possible — to research the history of Notre Dame football and its impact on the current University you are so fortunate to attend. Murray Sperber’s “Shake Down the Thunder” is a great start. But if you really want to inform yourself, invite Father Blantz out for coffee.
P.P.S. I am, by no means, applauding the stance of the upperclassmen you meant to call out. Theirs is an equally disheartening attitude.
Class of 2007