Won’t you come into the confessional with me? I admit, it’s a little weird to be inviting a bunch of folks into the confessional with me, and I’m not sure any of you are a priest, but I need to get something off my chest. Please be my confidante. Don’t worry, you can have the high ground. For the next couple weekends, I’ll gladly take the low road. You should know I’ll be taking the low road in jest, but we’ll get to that….
Are you ready? No, it’s fine. Don’t worry with the collar and black priestly attire. Only one of us needs to walk that line of sacrilege, and I’m already there. I’ll try to pull you down with me, but I’m hoping you’ll be able to appreciate it down here like I do.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…
(it’s alright if you’re technically a lady, it’s the Internet. Be who you want to be. For the sake of the visual, I look like Brad Pitt and my voice is that of James Earl Jones. Yeah, this post just got waaaaay more epic, didn’t it? Seriously, go back and read that opening in JEJ’s voice and tell me you’re not already more engaged.)
Anyways Father, like I was saying, I’ve sinned…I drink too much, I swear, I take sports too seriously, I’m not always pleasant to be around. But, on some level I’m sure you get all that. After all, we share a love of Our Lady, and for both of us it’s a “religious” experience. Oh? I just sinned again….well, I don’t apologize, but I understand. It makes sense that fandom shouldn’t equate to core beliefs, but that’s neither here nor there. Honestly, this is my confessional, and I’m not here to talk about all that anyways.
You should understand I’m really here to proactively apologize for the next couple of weekends. I intend to be petty, senseless, brainless, with my jabs towards the Cougar Cubs of BYU and the trees…..or the color….or whatever they are at Stanford. See! It just slips out. I’m hoping to make you understand ahead of time though, that I’m doing this in fun because I’m excited. When I read article after article about paying players and how the NCAA is unjustly exploiting the talented men (and women) who play sports I become a bit disillusioned. It’s not that I disagree with their point. It’s just that we’ve been through all this before.
Father, I’m not sure you enjoy the history of collegiate sports as much as I do, so I need to digress here for a moment before moving on. Collegiate sports has multiple times faced scandal and ridicule about being nothing more than hired guns. The earliest days of college football were filled with moonlighters and players who could be bought on a moment’s notice to help upend the toughest opponents. It’s been a breeding ground for gambling, fixes, and seedy behind-the-scenes deals for those looking to make a quick buck. Somehow though, college sports has also become a beacon for those searching for “love of the game” competition. Maybe this is naïve, that’s undeniably a possibility. I still grasp to the notion though that college sports can be more than just a money grab. I’m not trying to divorce the sport of its monetary potential, but there can still be a degree of purity, can’t there?
Sometimes it’s better to avoid dissecting an issue too closely. I get that I could probably be swayed if I listen too closely, but there’s still something to be said for the student/athlete and the institution above the individual. I’m tired of the Johnny Manziel’s, the Reggie Bush’s, and the like. It might be the way of the World, but we don’t need to lump everyone together. Notre Dame’s tended to stand for something more, and there are concessions it can make without losing its sense of identity. That really gets me back to what I was saying…
When I look at the opposite sideline from ND this Saturday, I’ll see BYU. Perhaps the only institution in major college football whose identity is even more tightly associated with religious conviction than Notre Dame’s. This is no hedonistic university like USC. It’s not a major state school funneling off public funds to fuel its own sense of self-worth like Michigan. BYU doesn’t deserve my ridicule, but I intend to give it to them. Mormons are a funny, idiosyncratic bunch. Same as Catholics. Father, I know their faith and identity are more deeply engrained than any jab and I can throw their way, and that’s why I’ll do it. Because I can do it embracing the joy of fandom for a change. It’ll all be in fun because it’s a University whose purpose I can actually respect. The ire won’t be there, just the words, and that’s a welcome change.
Oh sure, they’re no “rival” in the sense that term’s been given in the collegiate world. However, there are increasingly few opportunities for good programs with a sense of identity that extends off the field to face one another. This is one of those valued few. So Father, when I take my shots at what the Mormons are drinking during the game or the irony of the vernacular use of their nickname Cougar, I need you to understand that it’s one of the few times I do so out of respect. Because, BYU like Notre Dame, still embraces their religious foundations in the ever-increasing professional college sports environment.
But it’s not just this coming weekend I need to proactively confess about, it’s also the following weekend when we face Stanford. I’ve already forgiven that the school embraces the anti-mascot yet places a premium on student/athletes. They, like me, are all talk when it comes to that. Sure, Stanford pretends they’re above on the field results. I’ve yet to see that university fail to recognize their all-around athletic team performance. Then again, the same can be said for Notre Dame. Stanford’s a game about peers in student/athlete competition. I’ll give their fans crap for lighting up their new iPhones instead of a #1 atop Grace Hall. I also will have remarks about their smug coach David Shaw, and their stupid tree mascot. I mean, really? A tree. I know you won’t even make me say one Hail Mary for making fun of that being their rallying image. I’m not promising I won’t say or wish for a Hail Mary though depending on how that game goes.
What BYU means to Notre Dame in religious equal, Stanford means to Notre Dame in taking the notion of student/athlete seriously. I have an Irish fan sin to confess to you as well, and that’s that I root for Stanford any week we’re not playing them. After all, the cynics, “realists,” and self-righteous get most of the pub for suggesting we’re no longer in the age of the student/athlete. Watching Notre Dame and Stanford is one of the few times I get to fight back. These arguments were made in the 40’s and 50’s as well, and it was schools like Notre Dame whose devotion to fostering the higher image got college athletics through that time. I welcome an ally in that cause…except for the week we’re playing them.
So, forgive me Father for I intend to launch insults the Trees way as well. Just understand I’m going to be working on it now because I need to be. Without the assurance that their “scholar athlete” will have a 3.1 in weight lifting, I won’t get the ammunition that so many SEC schools afford. Furthermore, I know they’ll be ready to come back at me. It’ll be a scholarly debate of pettiness, and I for one look forward to it.
I know what you’re thinking…that my apology is late. Where was I for those weeks versus our service academies? Well, Father, I distinguish them, set them apart because their mission is of a different kind. Those men made a commitment that led to them playing football and not the other way around. Not even from my lax Catholic perch can I suggest that the Notre Dame…or BYU….or Stanford experience is quite on par with those men. They’re part of the resistance, just on a different plain.
As I enter these final few weeks of the 2013 season, I invite you down into the rungs with me. Please, think of what my penance should be, but while you’re thinking about that, think of a few insults to throw the way of BYU and Stanford as well. Hopefully you’ll find the enjoyment of pettiness for its own sake, as opposed to the more divisive battles that tend to litter college football, to be as enjoyable as I do. I’ll have fun with it, not apologize in the moment, and feel comfort that at the end of the day I’ll be watching true collegiate match-ups and not just the kindling used by those who wish to see the final remnants of college athletics burn.
Get back to me about the punishment….I’m going to go sing the Alma Mater.