Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Worst. Game. Ever.

It wasn't pretty. I haven't seen any highlights on TV, but considering how much the media has loved Notre Dame's football struggles this year, I suspect any "SportsCenter" or nightly newscast recaps played up the booing and snowballs more than necessary. But they did happen. The snowballs were early, because there were drunk seniors in the cold who were playing around. And then when the PA made an announcement to stop ... well, that only increased it, college kids being what they are. I suspect stupid college kids at ANY school would've done that. The fact that they kept trying to reach the field (and as a result hit the team on the sidelines) was another level of stupid.

As for the booing, it really only happened once, that I noticed. ND had just blocked a punt and had a first down inside the 10-yard line. Clearly, a sure TD about to happen. But three huge penalties gave them second down and 47 YARDS TO GO. After third and 40, we couldn't even get back into field goal range. That was the only significant booing I heard -- after one series, and, frankly, they kind of deserved it. If there was booing at the end of the game, I didn't notice. As soon as the Irish missed that field goal, I turned to leave. We had to wait a bit to get through the tunnel and back to the concourse, and I did my best not to turn and look at the field. I heard the band play the alma mater and lamented that I was so disgusted by the outcome that I couldn't even stay for that. It was the first time I've ever done that -- left the stands immediately as the clock struck zero, neglecting to stay for the band's postgame performance. I've since heard about some shenanigans involving the Syracuse team and its dead coach walking, but I have no interest in delving into that. It was also, I believe, the first game I've attended since college that we've lost that wasn't a bowl game or against USC. And I've probably been to about 20. Definitely a new low.

The fun part of the weekend? Seeing Jim and Debbie, though it was strange to have just dad and me staying at the house. And that they're selling the house and it may be the last time we stay there with them. They're still planning to get tickets and come back from Cincinnati for the games, but Debbie's hoping to convince various family members to take weekend vacations and leave them a place to stay.

Brad and Tenille were also there. They stopped by on their way to northwest Indiana to spend Thanksgiving with Tenille's family. They have a 3-year-old boy and a 16-month-old girl, so they didn't go to the game. They stopped by our modest tailgate (basically Dad, Debbie and me eating chicken and drinking a few beers and hot chocolate for about 90 minutes before walking campus a little) for a short time, then went to LaFortune, the bookstore and the Joyce Center during the game. Afterwards, I had dinner with them.

I went back to the house for about two hours after that, and then Kregg called when he was finished at the stadium. He and some TV guys were grabbing food and some beers at a new bar at the mall, so I joined them for a couple hours.

And that's what made the weekend -- including the 12-hour drive out through snowstorms on Friday and the 10 1/2-hour drive back on a weary, sunny Sunday -- worth it. An upsetting loss on the football field could cast a pall on the entire weekend, but I won't let it. I refuse to look at it as just a football game. When the Irish play in New Jersey and it's just me and whoever has tickets with me, then it's just a football game. But when it's a long-distance trip, a planned meeting before the game and an impromptu dinner afterward, it's more than the football. The outcome of the game only altered my postgame routine (I left as soon as that field goal fell short, rather than staying through the band's performance), my plans to walk around campus in the cold winter-like night with my camera (I was in no mood to soak it in at that moment, not wanting to be too close to fans I don't know) and my weekly tradition of reading national columns and mailbags. From what I've heard, missing Pat Forde was no loss, since he apparently got none of his facts right and appeared to make no effort to do any research of his own, including talking with even one student. I may still read Stewart Mandel's 'bag tomorrow, but I'm not going to make a point of it like I usually do.

In time, the game will fade as just another bad loss, one of only five since I graduated in 1998. The others were against USC in 2003 and 2005 (the Bush Push game) and the 2001 Fiesta Bowl vs. Oregon State and the 2007 Sugar Bowl against LSU (the last game for Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija). I no longer remember those games as much as I do the weekend or other festivities associated with them. Phoenix/Tempe at New Year's was a blast; New Orleans 15 months after Katrina, with a personal tour from a friend and local reporter, was sobering (and then intoxicating). Another few years down the road, last weekend will be the time Brad and I caught up in South Bend for the first time in years. I doubt it will be the last, either.

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