Faith Looms Large Over Notre Dame Traditions
Published: Monday, November 5, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 01:11
God and football — those are the reasons why I love Notre Dame.
The relationship seems strange: I do not go to school there, I am not from the Midwest, I am not Irish nor am I a huge college football fan. And the team has been seriously jinxed in recent years, always tripping over its own feet and choking in close games.
Nonetheless, I somehow feel strongly attached to the school. Three years ago, I went on a campus tour in a February blizzard, and it immediately felt like home. I remember walking past the Golden Dome, looking up at the gothic arches of the Basilica, posing in front of “Touchdown Jesus” and standing in awe outside the massive iron gates of the football stadium. The pageantry was overwhelming.
At the bookstore, I bought a bright green Notre Dame shirt with one of those boxing leprechauns on the front. I was accepted early action, and it felt like a school of destiny.
Alas, it was not meant to be. I wisely turned to Georgetown for academic reasons, and my dad turned my beautiful green shirt into a grease rag.
But I still feel the emotion every Saturday going through three-hour periods when I pretend to be one of the many students screaming wildly in historic Notre Dame Stadium.
Anxiously standing in front of the TV with my fingers crossed, I cracked a huge smile this weekend as Notre Dame scored the game-winning touchdown over Pittsburgh. In the most exciting game of the weekend, the Irish pulled off a stunning, come-from-behind, triple-overtime victory despite a missed extra point and a fumble in the end zone.
With that most recent win, Notre Dame continued its improbable run for the BCS Championship. Winning by the skin of their teeth on numerous occasions, this year’s Irish finally have what it takes. Escaping tight games through goal-line stands and missed field goals, the cards seem to be in their favor; no longer the perennial disappointments of college football, the close calls are actually going their way. They score points despite being led by an inexperienced, jittery redshirt freshman quarterback; they win games even when they’re overpenalized and outplayed.
For the first time in years, Notre Dame is relevant in the BCS rankings. But if it were all about success, fans would have jumped off the bandwagon years ago. Since Lou Holtz retired in 1996, the Irish have been mediocre at best.
It could be about the tradition: The school is decorated with 11 national championships, and having famous alumni like Joe Montana and Tim Brown certainly contributes to the prestige of the program. But these legends are long gone, and many of us are too young to even remember watching them play. A plastic sign that says “Play Like a Champion Today” means nothing unless the Irish actually fulfill that calling.
There must be something more.
Notre Dame is not just about football. It is about God. It is about that Touchdown Jesus that casts its image over the stadium like a beacon of hope. It is about the 57 chapels scattered throughout the campus. It is about the giant carving of the Last Supper in the dining hall. It is about the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes that makes the school look like a pilgrimage site.
You do not have to share the faith to realize that — as the bastion of Catholic education in the United States — the university is intertwined with God. While there are students at the school that are not Catholic, the drum that it beats is still in many ways a religious one.
You can see it in the statues and monuments on campus, in the curfews and in the curriculum, in the demographics of the faculty and students.
Obviously, religion is a very polarizing issue, and it is one of the main reasons why South Bend attracts so much attention. When it comes to the Irish, there is more love than like, more hate than dislike. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion.
On the surface, people hate the football team. They envy their vaunted history, their gold helmets and their giant contract with NBC. They are sick of everyone always talking about the Irish, even when they have consistently underperformed over a series of years.
But there is also love because of what Notre Dame stands for: the independent, religious institution that separates itself from the crowd. Notre Dame could not be more different from the public, religiously unaffiliated state schools that dominate college football.
It is the only Catholic school consistently in the rankings year in and year out, and it proudly wears its identity as a badge of honor. When you root for Notre Dame, you are not just rooting for a football program. You are cheering for a university culture, one that is passionately independent and uniquely religious.
Sure, it looks a lot like football on Saturdays in South Bend. But Touchdown Jesus is always watching, looming over all.
Nick Fedyk is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. MORE THAN A GAME appears every Tuesday.