September 20, 2012

Notre Dame - Michigan: Bring It

The hour draws near.  Regardless of what Mother Nature lends to the atmosphere, Saturday figures to be a special day.  Victory over the despised Wolverines awaits as a pot o' gold at the end of a double rainbow college football Saturday. Yes, it will be that intense.

A full day of merriment in the lots kick starts the party.  Once the team runs out of the tunnel and DJ Rockne launches into his Jock Jams set and Grampa Alumni heeds the StaND decree, the Wolverines will wish they could still be bailed out by the refs for perplexing reasons.  (Why someone thought too much crowd noise should penalize the home team with an automatic timeout for the visitors and warrant a flag remains an unsolved rule book mystery).  Oh yes, pandemonium will be on the precipice of ensuing at several moments.

We haven't even mentioned the enormous expectations last week's Sparty surprise created for BK's third season under the Dome microscope.  Exponential revenge is due Michigan after 3 consecutive losses, each feeling like a Kano fatality nightmare stuck on repeat.  It's no exaggeration that Denard Robinson has amassed a career's worth of stats in two games against the Irish keystone kops defense.  But Bob Diaco's revamped and inspired front seven is a different beast this season and will be hell-bent on tripping up Shoelace.

Oh yeah, and parietals be damned, everyone gets lei'd.

Discussing the hugeness of this game at the office, I was surprised by a few associates unaware of the intensity of Notre Dame-Michigan.  The off-the-field feud history between ND-UM is largely unknown to the general public.  Piggybacking on Mike's whetting the rivalry appetite post, and with a tremendous nod to John Kryk's detailed narrative, (seriously, if you visit this blog, Natural Enemies was written for you - do yourself a favor and read it), I offer a brief summary of what triggers the animosity and vitriol that defines ND v. UM.

1887-1888
Michigan, having started playing in 1879 and immediately asserting their claim as "Champions of the West" (distinguished from literally a handful -maybe not even 5 - of Midwest schools fielding teams) teaches the sport of football to Notre Dame.  To help get ND's nascent program off the ground, Michigan visits South Bend three times between November 1887 and April 1888.  Not surprisingly, teacher beats pupil handily in all 3 contests (44-10 combined).

10 Year Hiatus
Notre Dame tries in vain to schedule Michigan for more games.  Teacher doesn't have time for, nor cares to foster the growth of pupil.

1898-1908
The schools play five times, all in Ann Arbor, save for one neutral site game in Toledo.  UM dominates every game in lopsided fashion (77-6 combined score).  Teacher embarrasses pupil, on teacher's terms.

1909
Notre Dame finally draws blood and surprises UM with an 11-3 victory, also in Ann Arbor.  Pupil beats teacher.  Teacher cries no fair, refuses to play for 3+ decades.  Petty insecurities and religious persecution from the top of Michigan's athletic administration prevail as primary reasons for the 33 year hiatus.  Knute Rockne never gets the pleasure of matching wits with Michigan.  Blame Fielding Yost.

1942-1943
After significant efforts from ND, as well as a groundswell of public opposition in Ann Arbor to the athletic administration's cowardly and illogical stance, the series resumes. #6 Michigan bests the 4th-ranked Irish 32-20 in '42, followed by a #1 vs. #2 matchup in Ann Arbor that ND dominates 35-12.  By this time, teach and pupil are both well-established and on equal ground, though Michigan cannot admit such.  After "teacher" loses to "pupil" again, Yost passes the proverbial baton of spite to Fritz Crisler and history repeats itself.

1944-1968
The Freeze Out.  For the same tepid reasons/excuses, Michigan shuns Notre Dame for the better part of 3 decades once again.  How non-existent was the relationship?  Fr. Joyce, the main man in the ND athletic department from the '50s through the '80s, says he never had a single conversation with Crisler, longtime Michigan coach and AD.  Even Americans and Soviets enjoyed diplomatic discussions during the Cold War.

Crisler's reign in Ann Arbor bears the scourge of an intentional boycott of Michigan scheduling against ND football and basketball teams, while also influencing other Big 10 schools to blackball the Catholic school in Indiana.  Purdue and Michigan State have the gumption to ignore such prejudices. This period witnesses some of each program's greatest teams.  Alas, despite the advent of televised games, fans of the sport are denied the enjoyment of watching the two programs compete.  Blame Crisler.

1969
The Summer of Love sweeps the nation, and even bridges a union between these two star-crossed programs as Michigan AD Don Canham irons out a 4 game series with Fr. Joyce, to be consummated 9 years later.  Interesting tidbit from these negotiations: standard practice at the time was for non-conference tilts to split the gate 50-50 between the schools.  Instead, ND and UM agree to let the home team keep the lion's share of the gate, paying the visitor a modest guarantee for making the trip. This revolutionary deal soon becomes standard practice across the country.

1978-present
Resumption of the rivalry in earnest.  Since then, the programs have collided in September on 28 occasions, often spoiling the other's season with the result.  Michigan holds a tenuous edge in the head-to-heads since '78 with a 14-13-1 record.  Remarkably, 19 of the games (nearly 70%) have been decided within a score.

Until 2006, one (or both as was often the case) of the schools came into the contest ranked every single year (nearly half the time, at least one team has been ranked in the top 5 for the matchup).  2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011 stand out as the lone outliers when neither of the two titans of college football were ranked, though that certainly hasn't detracted from the drama in the games.  This year's edition notches another tally for both teams being ranked.

Hold on to your butts.  Another classic is coming our way.

Go Irish!  Beat Wolverines!


Weekend Picks

As a part of the Michigan week festivities, I have decided to resurrect the weekly picks segment. These predictions, as always, are being made for entertainment purposes only.

Clemson (+14) over FSU: Noles have looked like world beaters against inferior competition, but this line seems too high. Clemson is a talented outfit that, unlike FSU, has been battle tested. If the Tigers can protect Tajh Boyd, they should be able to score enough points to cover this one.

Florida State 38 Clemson 28

Oregon (-23.5) over Arizona: Arizona is receiving way too much national respect for an overtime win over Toledo and a home win over a middling (at best) Illinois team playing without their starting QB. Oregon has curiously eased off the gas pedal in the first few games after jump out to huge leads, but I think they’ll stay engaged enough to prove a big point this weekend.

Oregon 55 Arizona 17

Georgia Tech (-14) over Miami: Miami’s defense has been gashed by two awful BC offenses (Boston College and Bethune-Cookman) and their offense isn’t much better. On the other hand, Georgia Tech seems to be clicking on both sides of the ball. This could, and hopefully will, get ugly.

Georgia Tech 49 Miami 21

Kansas State (+13.5) over Oklahoma: Oklahoma is a bit of a mystery this year, so this pick is a bit of a flyer. The Sooners have lost some key players and they struggled in their only game against a BCS opponent in an unusually scheduled road game in El Paso. Collin Klein for Kansas State has improved as a passer and it appears that the Wildcats will have a respectable defense with Arthur Brown set to return this week. I look for a close one in Norman.

Oklahoma 27 Kansas State 24

Auburn (+19) over LSU: Pity Kiehl Frazier, but Auburn has to show some pride on defense, don’t they?

LSU 27 Auburn 10

Washington State (-18) over Colorado: Although Wazzu has a long way to go, Colorado is simply awful. I will be quite surprised if CU does not go winless this year.

Washington State 44 Colorado 14

West Virginia (-28) over Maryland: Geno Smith should be able to carve up the green (get it?) Terrapin defense with ease. As for Maryland’s offense? Horror show.

West Virginia 45 Maryland 10

New Mexico State (-7) over New Mexico: Just when you thought the “Land of Disenchantment Bowl” couldn’t get any better, the Lobos went and hired Bullet Bob Davie. Of course they did.

New Mexico State 20 New Mexico 10

September 17, 2012

Michigan Week

Before I get to this week's abominable opponent, I would be remiss if I did not commend the Irish on a superb road victory in East Lansing.  I have been a vocal critic of Brian Kelly and, while he has not won me over yet, he and Bob Diaco deserve plenty of credit for an excellent job on Saturday.  It is clear that Kelly's defensive recruiting has started to pay dividends, as the Irish front seven has been simply dominant over the first three games of the 2012 season.  Kudos to the players and staff for beating those low rent flag planters to the north.

With Sparty in the rear view mirror, it is time to focus on the hated Wolverines.  Ordinarily, I like to start my Michigan week by chewing on some barbed wire and reading John Kryk's acclaimed book, "Natural Enemies," which details the history of the ND-Michigan feud.  Unfortunately, I let someone borrow the book last year and he still hasn't returned it, but I will give the Cliffs Notes version from the top of my head:

• Michigan taught Notre Dame how to play football during the 1800s
• After losing the first 8 contests, the fledgling Notre Dame program eventually broke through to beat Michigan in the early 1900s. Michigan, in true sportsmanlike fashion, responded by criticizing the referees and cancelling the series.
• Under Father John Cavanaugh, Notre Dame sought to join the Western Conference (now the Big Ten), but was rebuked by Michigan's virulent anti-Catholic bigot leaders, Fritz Crisler and Fielding Yost. Despite fancying itself as a beacon of progressive education, Michigan still allows Crisler's name to grace its basketball arena and Yost's name to grace its hockey arena.
• Michigan's actions backfired badly, as the exclusion of Notre Dame from the Western Conference led legendary Irish head coach Knute Rockne to adopt his famed "barnstorming" strategy, in which the football team would travel throughout the country to play all comers as an independent. Rockne's approach galvanized a nation of Catholic fans, launched the famous USC rivalry (with an assist to Betty Rockne according to legend) and allowed Notre Dame to become the most storied program in college football, as well as the last great independent.
• Once Notre Dame started winning national championships with regularity in the 1940s, Michigan cancelled the series, leading to a 35 year hiatus
• Beginning in 1987, Lou Holtz beat Bo Schembechler three years in a row, sending Bo into retirement with a tidy losing streak against the Irish, who he loathed as evidenced through his infamous "To Hell With Notre Dame" quote (more on Bo later)

Given this history, it is easy to see why Notre Dame fans harbor animus toward Michigan.  For me and many others, however, the real source of enmity stems from haviing to interact at some point with a Michigan Man™.  The Michigan Man™ likes to tell you that Notre Dame and Michigan are very similar because they both "do things the right way," are "great academic programs" and are "comparable in terms of football success."  If you are dumb enough to believe any of these myths, then you are probably dumb enough to ride shotgun with Gary Moeller sans seatbelt.  Time to deconstruct these fallacies, again with bullet points:

Academic Equals?
• Notre Dame is a much better school than Michigan.  Notre Dame accepts about 24% of undergraduate applicants, compared to 42% at Michigan.  Likewise, Notre Dame incoming freshman have higher SAT and ACT scores on average.  It really isn't a close call.
• For football players, the difference is stark.  Notre Dame perenially tops the charts in graduation rate at around 99%, while Michigan consistently lags behind.
The differences in graduation rate are accentuated when you consider that Notre Dame student athletes actually attend the same classes as the rest of the student body.  As exposed by the Ann Arbor News and confirmed by former Michigan QB Jim Harbaugh, the overwhelming majority of Michigan football players are herded into joke majors to ensure eligibility.  In other words, UM uses the players for their football skills and kicks them out on the street without a meaningful degree after their eligibility expires.  Progressive indeed.

Doing Things The Right Way?
• Notre Dame doesn't recruit predicate felons.  Michigan does.
• Notre Dame doesn't bankroll its athletes with funds from illegal gambling rings.  Michigan does.
• Notre Dame doesn't exceed NCAA mandated practice restrictions.  Michigan does.

Gridiron Equals?
• Since the advent of the AP poll, Michigan has won 1.5 titles, while Notre Dame has won 8. 
• The lion's share of Michigan's "national championships" took place just after the turn of the century  when there were few teams playing college football and when there was not an accepted methodology for ranking teams.  This is also why Michigan has the most all time wins. 
Regarding the .5 title, Michigan was fortunate to play a pedestrian Washington State team in the Rose Bowl rather than an undefeated Nebraska team that obliterated Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.
Michigan fans revere Bo Schembechler, which is quite appropriate because he embodies Michigan football :  bitter, biased and overrated.  The "legendary" Schembechler won precisely zero national championships and rationalized losses to Notre Dame as being "exhibitions" since they were not conference games.
• Speaking of the Rose Bowl, Bo was 5-12 in bowl games and a robust 2-8 in Rose Bowls.  His wins include the Bluebonnet and Hall of Fame Bowls.
Heismans?  Notre Dame 7, Michigan 3 (and, let's be honest, Peyton Manning was far more deserving than Charles Woodson)

Must Win Game
Independent of animosity, the stakes are extremely high for this year's contest.  Notre Dame can enter its off week with an unblemished 4-0 record by defeating Michigan.  In addition, although polls are not especially meaningful, a win would likely vault Notre Dame into the top ten of the AP Poll, which would be a noteworthy milestone for a program seeking to reach the elite level of college football for the first time in years.  From a recruiting standpoint, this game is enormous because, as with last year, there will be an abundance of high school juniors and seniors in attendance.  Above all, Brian Kelly is 0-2 against Michigan and falling to 0-3 would be simply unacceptable.  For the sake of his career, and my overall health and well being, we cannot lose to Michigan again.  We just can't.

With respect to the matchups, Michigan enters the game ranked 57th in total defense and 104th in rushing defense. They have notched just two sacks and zero interceptions.  On offense, Michigan is ranked 52nd and the overwhelming bulk of its offense has come from Denard Robinson.  The Wolverines have struggled to run the ball effectively with their tailbacks and the scatter armed Robinson has remained characteristically inaccurate (4 INTs).  In other words, they are ripe for the beating.

Notre Dame should have no problem moving the ball against Michigan, especially on the ground.  Cierre Wood provided a needed shot in the arm for the Irish running game against Michigan State and I expect him to receive a steady share of carries this week, along with Atkinson and Riddick.  Prior to the fourth quarter last year, Diaco actually had a decent game plan against Robinson.  If Notre Dame can just slow Robinson down a bit, they should be able to win the turnover battle and to score enough points to put away Michigan.

This is going to be a long week of anticipation and there will be some sleepless nights, but I intend to leave Notre Dame Stadium in a very good mood.

Go Irish.

September 13, 2012

Aloha ACC...Aloha Big East

Wow.  Don't say we didn't warn you.

Here we were worrying about the hornet's nest Brian Kelly drop-kicked to ignite his latest QB controversy.  Instead, Jack Swarbrick delivered a roundhouse kick to the potentially divisive situation that would make Chuck Norris blush.  A headache of headlines became mere afterthought in the wake of the sensational news that Notre Dame bid adieu to the BEast for the greener pastures of the ACC.

Pick your cliche decision-making rationale: conference stability, brand market exposure, bowl game options, Olympic sport competition, academic fit of peer institutions.  At the end of the day, the whole package proved too great to pass.  A standing ovation is due Swarbrick and his staff for having the creativity and cajones to orchestrate this deal.

The move is terrific on many levels for ND, which we'll dig into deeper in the coming days.  Too bad this news cycle completely dwarfs a top 10 vs. top 20 matchup with a historic rival.  Sorry Sparty, but whatever extra hype and bluster this year's Rose Bowl-caliber squad is due has been usurped by the Bolting Conference Boogie.  We all know the music never stops at the NCAA Realignment Dance Marathon.  Thankfully, our new do-si-do partner is in great shape, sexy as hell and looking to settle down for a while.

A match made in program heaven.  


September 07, 2012

Go Jays Go: A Religious Conversion

With college football season in full swing, this is obviously an unusual time for a baseball post. Furthermore, it is especially odd for a post on two second division teams, as opposed to a discussion of the exciting pennant races.

Nonetheless, I thought I would use this opportunity as a sacramental “rite of publication” to memorialize my formal repudiation of my former team, the New York Mets, and my wholehearted acceptance of my new team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Through this post, I reject Mr. Met and all his false promises, while professing my belief in Ace (the little known Blue Jays mascot). In doing so, I realize that I am breaking one of Bill Simmons’s cardinal rules of fandom. Still, I think the following reasons are sufficiently valid to justify an exception to this rule.

Why Give Up On The Mets?

Before going into details on why I have quit on the Mets, please understand that I have not been a casual fan. Rather, I have been a devoted, as in someone who watches over 100 games per year, Mets fan since approximately 1992. While a student at Notre Dame in 2000, I left the Stanford game after a quarter to watch Game 3 of the NLDS. I have enjoyed the limited good and suffered through the substantial bad, but now it is time to make a clean break. Why?

A.  The Wilpons

The overwhelming factor in this decision is my complete, irrepressible disdain for the Mets owners, Jeff and Fred Wilpon, both of whom are tried and true Michigan Men™. Simply put, the Wilpons are dishonest, incompetent, disgusting criminals, who, with the help of Bud Selig, continue to cling stubbornly to the franchise they do not deserve. During the salad days (by Mets standards) of 2006, the Wilpons were able to mask their fecklessness by using their Madoff money to create a massive spending advantage in a sport that suffers from a competitive imbalance. Unfortunately for Mets denizens, the Ponzi-fueled well has run dry, leaving only bad hiring decisions, a galling lack of awareness (e.g., adorning Citi Field with Dodgers regalia and failing to include any recognition of Mets history) and backhanded comments at star players. I do not want to be a part of this.



B.  I (Only) Love (Upstate) New York

Professional athletes, unlike college athletes, are essentially paid mercenaries. To cheer for a professional team, therefore, there must be some sort of nexus or shared connection between fan and team to stir the passions of the former. Logically, this takes the form of civic or regional pride.

The problem for me? I hate New York City. It is a stinking, crowded, expensive, unfriendly dump of a city, surpassed only by Boston in its terribleness. I adore my hometown of Rochester, and it is of course located in New York, but it is as close to NYC as it is to at least 5 other major league cities. More importantly, Rochester has far more in common with other rust belt cities such as Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Detroit and even South Bend than it does with Gotham. In fact, I would wager that most New York City residents could not spot Rochester on a map.

With an ownership group, fan base and city that I don’t like, there is no justifiable reason to continue supporting the Mets. It’s not like I’m giving up on championships either.

Why Support the Blue Jays?

A. Historical Affinity

Despite being a Mets fan primarily, I have always had a soft spot for the Blue Jays that was suppressed primarily by a lack of television coverage in a pre-MLB Extra Innings world. My first vivid World Series memory is jumping off the couch after Joe Carter buried the Phillies with a game winning home run in 1993. Also, with Toronto being the closest major team to Rochester, I have been able to attend several very enjoyable games at the Rogers Centre (nee Sky Dome).  While the Rogers Centre tends to get low marks as a venue, mostly for its sterility, it embodies everything that is awesome about Canada: clean, friendly and unique. Toronto rocks too.

 

Beyond that, the Jays are objectively awesome. The iconic uniforms, the underdog ethos in a division with two deep-pocketed behemoths, the proud but short history, “Go Jays Go,” the use of “centrefield” on a scoreboard, etc. It all works, and spectacularly.

B. Surname: Can(ada)field

Although I am an American, my Canadian roots run deep (cue Ice Cube). Through the magic of ancestral research performed by my father, it turns out that my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was the first Attorney General of Prince Edward Island, an amazing provice from where my grandfather hails.  As soon as I can get the paperwork in order, I will proudly finalize my application for dual citizenship.  Hell, I even tried to convince my fiancee to get married in Charlottetown. 

Oh, and the coup de grace?  The provincial bird of Prince Edward Island is the blue jay. 



I love everything about Canada. I love Tim Horton’s, poutine, hockey, snow, maple trees, the QEW highway, the unique font on Kit Kat bars made in Canada, Labatt, the French language, “O’ Canada,” the beautiful Canadian flag, the British Commonwealth and corresponding orders of merit, colo(u)rful currency and the overt sexism of Alex Trebek. It all works, and spectacularly.

The Upshot

2012 is obviously a lost year for the Jays, but they have gained a loyal, diehard fan for life, which makes it a net win. As winter hits, I will be glued to the hot stove in the hopes that the Jays can upgrade their team, heal themselves and get ready for a run at the AL East in 2013.

Au revoir Mets and, of course, Go Jays Go!

September 06, 2012

Notre Disney

Despite our inactivity on the blog in recent months, I wanted to expound upon my brief mention in this South Bend Tribune article regarding Jack Swarbrick’s misguided efforts to improve the environment inside Notre Dame Stadium.

The Background

As mentioned in the article, I was given a “blue card,” which was just an index card replica of the large code of conduct signs that grace the outer fa├žade of the stadium, at last year’s South Florida game. To add some context, I had left the game disgustedly after the second quarter, but I was able to reenter after lightning storms forced the more patient patrons to evacuate the stadium. Following this storm, the crowd had thinned out considerably, so my friends and I were able to sit right behind the USF bench.

After the Irish scored to cut USF’s lead, the Bulls took over on offense and, naturally, we started to yell loudly to hinder their ability to communicate. While we were vocal, and we stood out a bit more given the lack of fans, we were not profane or visibly intoxicated. Given my general loudness and my propensity to cuss, the moments when I show restraint tend to be more vivid in my memory. Anyway, at that point, an usher approached us and asked us to step away from our seats to talk with him. We initially refused and prompted him to explain why we were causing a problem, but he insisted that we leave. Thereafter, he told us we were “being too loud” and handed us the blue card, which he explained as the equivalent of a yellow card in soccer; i.e., any more problems and we would be ejected. I pointed out that the card did not mention any prohibition on loudness and I asked him whether anyone had complained, but he did not respond. We returned to our seats, kept our voices lower and watch the Irish destroy their season.

My story, while ridiculous, is far from unique. To the contrary, plenty of Notre Dame fans can tell their own tales of having their experience ruined by heavy handed ushers on a power trip. Despite receiving complaints about this type of behavior for years, however, the University has done nothing to correct this problem, such as training ushers properly and punishing those who have extended their authority. Rather, the University has appeared to condone and encourage this conduct, right down to the disingenuous and patronizing “Welcome to Notre Dame” greetings from stadium personnel. When “being loud” is cause for reprimand, it is rather easy to see why the terms “raucous” and “intimidating” are rarely, if ever, used to describe The House That Rockne Built.

Draconian ushering, while one symptom of the problem, is not the only reason for a quiet, docile crowd. Let’s explore some of the other root causes and some basic solutions:

Pervasive police presence on campus

As with ushers, many Notre Dame fans have come forward with their own horror stories about the Gestapo-like behavior of the officers from the Indiana Excise Police, who have spent their Saturday afternoons arresting students, busting up tailgates, forcing 60 year olds (including well heeled donors) and generally abusing their power. Since Notre Dame is a private campus, the University must be inviting the IEP to campus, or at least allowing them to enter. Naturally, this type of enforcement outside sets the tone for the day and does not lend itself to a wild crowd. The IEP needs to be told that the Notre Dame Security Police can handle their bailiwick just fine.

“Big Brother”

For years, the tyrannical office of Resident Life, which has historically been staffed by adults who reveled in charged punishing college students and who could not be bothered to learn the concept of in loco parentis, has maintained a video camera on the student section to spot misbehavior, such as drinking. Think this might be an absurd way to kill the buzz? Me too.

An older, wealthier fan base

The demographic profile of the ND fan, though not exclusive to Notre Dame, is unique. Other colleges do not have this problem and it’s unrealistic to expect Patrick McGillicuddy, an attorney from Bethesda, Maryland, to be as vociferous while watching his beloved Irish as, say, Joe Taylor, an out of work mechanic from Parkersburg, West Virginia while watching his beloved Mountaineers.

Having said that, there are possible solutions, such as creating a special “senior section” where sitting down will be encouraged and/or creating a “young alumni section,” which would be an extension of the student section. The senior section could even be closer to the field since the older alums have earned that right. In other words, quarantine those who don’t want to be a part of a rollicking setting. For the rest, tell the ushers to back off unless there are serious breaches of decorum. On that note, nobody should be bringing young children to games, so ushers need not give credence to any complaint that young Seamus is being scarred for life by nearby fans.

The bizarre tradition of awards during commercial breaks

Nothing drains the energy quite like sitting around for 3-4 minutes during each stoppage while trotting out 75 year old French professors and Grab N’Go ladies to honor them from their service. Announce scores during the breaks, make announcements, play audio clips of great Notre Dame moments and, if you want, play some music.

The team sucks and so do many of the opponents

The simple, most glaring problem of all is that the team has sucked for almost 20 years. ND can make all of the changes outlined in this post, but nothing is going to generate excitement for a 5-4 Notre Dame team playing in late November. If Notre Dame is in the top 5, or even in the BCS hunt, the fans will show up and they will want to be loud. Anyone who attended the USC-Notre Dame game in 2005 can confirm that the stadium was beyond electric.

The corollary is that the home slate must be interesting and challenging. Again, folks aren’t going to be rambunctious if ND is playing some tomato can (e.g., Western Michigan).

Sell beer

It would never happen, but it's a cause that's near and dear to my heart.  Plus, we all know that ND would love the money.

Swarbrick’s Response

Against this backdrop, it is incredibly disappointing, but entirely expected, that Jack Swarbrick’s proposed modifications to the stadium miss the mark worse than a Jim Sanson field goal. Instead of addressing the factors outlined above, Swarbrick intends to rely on cheap fixes, such as Ozzy Osbourne and the eventual installation of a Jumbotron. In addition, although were reports last year that the police presence had waned after some particular egregious excesses against fans, the South Bend Tribune recently reported that the Indiana Excise Police will be back on campus this year. This, of course, is entirely inconsistent with Swarbrick’s avowed need to change the overall game day culture.

In true recent Notre Dame fashion, these “improvements,” will have the magical, deleterious effect of trammeling over the Notre Dame tradition and further cheapening the stadium experience, while doing nothing to create a noisier atmosphere. Put differently, there is no way that a Jumbotron will elicit a response from a sober, old, overly monitored crowd at a game to determine whether Notre Dame to sneak into the Belk Bowl. It will, however, probably play well with our “corporate partners,” but that’s another story altogether.

It’s simple: tell the ushers to back off, tell the police to get out, separate the old people into their old playpen, build a compelling schedule and, for the love of all that is good and holy, just win, baby.

Go Irish.

August 31, 2012

ND Football 2012 Season Kicks Off

So umm, yeah, having kids is awesome and the best thing ever since they're so gosh darn cute, even when they cry or don't sleep when they should because the joy they bring is limitless.  But one thing kids absolutely do not bring is more time to keep a blog current.  Several of the WeIs posse have entered the fatherhood stage and we're still learning to juggle the new responsibilities.  As soon as we can add one more proverbial ball to the juggling mix without dropping everything, you'll see more consistency on these pages.  Thanks for understanding.  Until then:

Go Irish!  Beat Midshipmen!



Not sure which promo I like more: the Adidas shield with the Guinness harp and gimmicky "Emerald Isle Classic"








Or the simpler Dublin bridge scene contained in a translucent football. 









Whichever your fancy, pretty sure ND has never played in a cooler venue than Aviva Stadium.  Look forward to the stories that trickle over across the pond.

March 08, 2012

The Mock Delivers When We Least Expect...Again

Hello Friends.

A quick look at various Levels of Tardiness: TV repairman waiting purgatory; 2 week overdue library books; one aunt's Christmas present that dependably arrives in March.  Then there's We Is ND's acknowledgement of the fishes and loaves season unfolding before our disbelieving eyes.

Mea culpa on joining the praise party late.  Plenty of thoughts to unload on the eve of ND's first postseason game.  Apologies if I veer off topic in a few spots.

Preseason expectations were so below sea level that rallying to produce our annual roundtable preview in November seemed futile.  Abro's season ending injury after Game 6 (his 2nd game in uniform, thanks to a No Clue About Anything imposed suspension) all but anchored this 2011-2012 campaign to a dismal fate at the bottom of the BEast.

A small, yet vocal, part of me envisioned the bottom falling out and The Mock not surviving the fallout from a 13-19 train wreck of a season.  It wouldn't have been the first time Brey's tenure was called into question on these pages: Exhibit A & Exhibit B.  Maybe he'd lose control of the locker room amidst the noxious stench of losses piling up like soiled boxers in the corner of the Joyce Center.  Maybe he'd respectfully step aside and let someone else (Martin Ingelsby?) perform program triage.  Suffice it to say, my misplaced rumblings to oust The Mock blew up in my face.

Alright, where's Doug's petition to name the court after Michael Montgomery Brey?  I'm finally ready to sign.  (Sadly, the petition page and all of its signatories have been sucked into a cyberworld vortex of no return.  If the petition resurrects itself this Lenten season, I'll gladly throw my support behind it, even if Muffett McGraw has a few lengths lead on earning said naming rights). 

As the team prepares to tip off in MSG versus fellow surprise Big East story, South Florida, it's worth taking a closer look at how the Irish got here.  To say crashing the Big Dance this year was a long shot is an insult to the term understatement.  The improbable odds of Notre Dame finishing 3rd in the toughest conference in America and already stamping their ticket on Selection Sunday are mind-blowing.  About the same odds of this shot finding nylon.  Or this shot - I can't decide.    

Let's wrap our head around this season timeline:

4-0 vs. the Brey Non-Conference Pu-Pu Platter (198 avg. RPI): Very little litmus test of any sort, though Detroit ended up winning the Horizon League tournament bid.  Otherwise, an accumulation of wins with little merit playing with the team's best shooter in street clothes.

0-2 vs. Thanksgiving Tournament opponents: Missouri makes a big statement that they've backed up since; The best win for a mediocre Georgia; Abro tears his ACL in practice after these games and is reduced to street clothes on the bench for the rest of the season.

4-3 vs. the Abro Aftermath Adjustment stretch of games where the team learns new roles and Brey juggles lineups with the desperation of a street performer looking for his next meal. 4 wins vs. 297 avg. RPI (mind you, there are only 344 teams...this is the dregs of Division I); 3 losses vs. name brand teams with a 48 avg. RPI.  Overwhelmed by Gonzaga in Spokane; a tantalizing winnable game only to go sour against a rebuilding Maryland; and a worse than the score indicated in-state clash with a let-down-waiting-to-happen Hoosiers fresh off their win heard round the world vs. Kentucky...the letdown didn't happen.

Christmas brought an 8-5 team about to enter a brutal opening conference salvo with 4 ranked teams looming (Pitt, Louisville, UConn & Cuse) in the first 7 contests.  Thus far, not a single win to hang their hat on as a building block for success.  Squeaking by Detroit at home was the best RPI win at 135, while breaking the century mark in the last game before the holiday break was a welcome sight.  The Burn Offense looking spontaneously combustible.

If the Irish emerged as a .500 team after the Syracuse game, most fans probably would've taken it.  With a backloaded conference slate of weak teams, the NIT looked like an optimistic landing spot.  The opportunity to play another home game or two and give this young team a few extra games of postseason experience sounded reasonable.

3-3 Pre-Syracuse game, first 1/3 of conference schedule.  The Irish welcomed a reeling Pitt team who had just lost on their home court to Wagner.  Little did anyone know at the time that Jamie Dixon's squad were impostors this season.  But knocking off the Panthers was a refreshing jolt nonetheless.  Back to reality with a spanking on the road at Cincy, followed by the first shock of the season, a double OT nail biter in Freedom Hall.  The Irish dictated the flow with the Burn and, for the first time, gave fans a wild thought that Brey found a magic lamp on one of his Middle East desert trips and was using all three wishes this season.  Beating South Florida at home didn't seem like a good win at the time.  That was one of the few W's confidently circled on the schedule to start.  Following it up with a stinker vs. Connecticut and an even worse loss on the road to Rutgers had everyone reaching for the panic button again.  And then #1 visited South Bend...

9-0 Post court rushing mayhem and subsequent record-tying conference win streak.  It's still weird to look at Syracuse sitting at #2 in the polls with one tally in the loss column.  How in the name of Todd Palmer did that happen?  Shooting the lights out with your opponent's best defender out of the lineup makes for a memorable "were you there when" story.  Team confidence soared and the wins avalanched in every shape and size, as if Dr. Seuss were writing the year-in-review.  Road wins, home wins.  Crazy come from behind wins (Nova), equally crazy grab an early lead and never look back wins (Marq).  Freshman making a name for themselves wins (Naughty Time!) and previously unheralded players stepping into the spotlight and relishing the moment wins (Jerian Grant & Jack Cooley). By the end of the streak, Notre Dame was ranked and slotted comfortably in any bracket magic 8-ball exercise.  A glorious run that saw The Mock go multiple personality on us as he introduced (and continued for good luck) The Don, as well as the streak-busting The Bow.

1-2 All good things come to an end ending.  For whatever quixotic reason, Madison Square Garden has plagued Irish shooters for years on end, and a putrid day behind the arc halted the winning streak before it reached double figures.  As bad as they played vs. St. John's, the Irish still had a shot at the buzzer to tie.  Things were not as hopeful on their Hoya visit and the better team triumphed.  Thankfully, the boys saved one last shooting display to beat Providence and secure a double bye in the BET (and inadvertently score the easiest possible quarterfinal matchup vs. #6 seed South Florida).

Add it all up and The Mock delivered a 21-10 campaign with 6 wins over top 50 RPI teams and a couple signature victories to tell the grandchildren, doing so with the team's returning leading scorer and best shooter playing in 2 games.  This year more than any, Mike Brey soared past everyone's expectations, figuring out a rotation with 3 new chief contributors (Grant, Connaughton and Dragicevich) and changing the team's offensive mindset on the fly with an emphasis on post production from the criminally underrated Jack Cooley.  For all his flaws (which I'll delve into in a follow-up post), it's hard to argue with the results of the self-described "loosest coach in America."

Come Thursday night, we'll see if the team can conquer their fear of MSG's rims, as well as what fashion choice Brey opts for to extend this unlikeliest of feel-good seasons.