Growing up in an Irish Catholic family and attending Catholic schools, superstition is all too familiar. I heard every legend and lore there is to hear, from a bird flying into one’s house is a sign death is coming to a red face means someone is speaking poorly of you. And my response has always been the same: utter nonsense. On my high school baseball team, I was the guy who didn’t go out of his way to step over either foul line before the game commenced (to the chagrin of those on my team), or to tell a teammate, “Hey, did you know you’re throwing a no-hitter?” late into a game. It wasn’t done out of cruelty – I simply have never taken much stock in luck or coincidence. I believe we’re largely the authors of our actions, and while good and bad breaks do happen along the way, generally they’re naturally connected to whatever courses we’ve set for ourselves. However, Notre Dame’s ascent to number one in the country this past weekend managed to raise even my skeptical brow.
Kevin Hogan, quarterback for Stanford, pumped his fists furiously while embracing his teammates after throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 1:35 left in the fourth quarter against Oregon. That game-tying touchdown pass would force overtime and eventually be the game winner as Stanford defeated the Oregon Ducks, 17-14. But how many knew Hogan is the nephew of former Notre Dame quarterback and 1966 national champion, Coley O’Brien? Even stranger, Coley O’Brien’s first start as Fighting Irish quarterback occurred as ND headed to USC undefeated and with a #1 ranking. Notre Dame won 51-0 and ultimately won the national title that season. But the strange Irish connections were just beginning.
Anthony Barr, outside linebacker for the UCLA Bruins, celebrated with his teammates after drilling USC quarterback Matt Barkley shoulder-first into the ground with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, cementing UCLA’s 38-28 defeat of the USC Trojans. Barr’s sack would prove extremely costly, forcing Barkley to miss the Trojans’ upcoming match with #1 Notre Dame. In another interesting twist, Anthony Barr is the son of former Notre Dame running back and 1988 national champion, Tony Brooks. Brooks, a star player, was forced to sit out in 1988 as the undefeated #1 Fighting Irish traveled to Los Angeles to take on the Trojans. Fast-forward to 2012 and Brooks’ son, Anthony Barr, has now forced USC’s star player to miss the USC/ND game as the undefeated #1 Fighting Irish travel to L.A.
These strange occurrences have only added to ones that have been building throughout the season. Notre Dame has beaten Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford and Miami in 2012. If the Irish manage to beat the USC Trojans on Saturday, it will be the first time since 1988 they’ll have defeated each of those teams in the same year.
With the come-from-behind victories against BYU and Pitt, the goal line stand against Stanford, the jarring fall of Oregon and Kansas State within hours of one another and the bizarre Irish connections helping clear ND’s path, is Notre Dame a team of destiny? If Notre Dame wins this Saturday against USC and ends their season undefeated, should I turn partly red after my father and I share drinks of Jameson to celebrate (as we have agreed to do), maybe part of me will wonder whether my facial redness is due to my Irish grandmother speaking badly of me for my years of denying the existence of Irish lore. But only part of me.