Duranko’s Digest: 42-14, The taste of ashes. What’s Next?

Jan 7, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Davonte’ Neal (left) and Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Landon Collins (26) dive after a muffed punt as it goes out of bounds during the first half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. Notre Dame retained possession on the play. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

12 victories.  One defeat.  Wide world of Sports coined it decades ago: “The thrill of victory; the agony of defeat.”

Alabama, the better team, won. A numbing, total defeat after twelve wondrous victories. But it was the correct football result. The fantasies, the possibilities began in Dublin:  ” Your young men shall see visions and your old men will dream dreams.”  And so we did, as the magic carpet ride  began, survival against Purdue, ending the Michigan streak, a perfunctory romp over Miami in Soldier Field, rainy goal line glory against Stanford, vindication in Norman,  a sweet November culminating in the Coliseum.  We drank deeply of the goblets of kool-aid, believing we were all the way back.

And some day, years from now, when this all makes sense, we’ll realize that the “Luck of the Irish” really came AFTER our win over Wake, on November 17th.  The lucky axis began in Waco, where Baylor was handing it to Kansas State, the “Lucky” axis ending in Eugene, where Stanford was edging out Oregon.  For had those losses not occured, we would have played either Oregon or Kansas State.  We would have beaten either one, and “won” a National Championship.  But it would have been Pharasaic larceny, it would have been a cowardly illusion, it would not have been the Notre Dame way.  It was a moral imperative.  It HAD to be the SEC and it had to be Alabama.  If you do not see that, then I can not help you.  The Notre Dame way was to play the Tide.

So, who are we, the 12-0 team or the BCS bowl loser?  Well, we are each and both.  “The truth will set you free.”  In the BCS universe including all fiefdoms except the SEC, we are the best football team in the land. Challengers like SC, Oregon, Stanford,  Michigan, Oklahoma, Kansas State,  Florida State, Clemson are simply not as good as Notre Dame, at least in 2012. But Alabama and some of their SEC confreres are, by a margin, better than we are. That is the painful truth, the tincture of merthiolate which first sears the wound before the healing can begin.  Oh sure, the emotionally dwarved will descend into envy, animosity, what ifs,  attacks ad hominem, on region, academics, referees, layoffs,  overrecruiting, or the most dangerous of all: DENIAL.  But the better team, the better program won.  DEAL WITH IT.  Justice was served on January 7th.

And, with that merthiolate still burning, let us begin the salve, the ointment, the soothing  cocoa butter.

Justice was served when we won 12 in a row.  We are at the very top of the non-SEC BCS universe.

And we have come some long distance since that  nightmare:

11/22/2008-11/21-2009.  Within a calendar year, our Fighting Irish lost to Syracuse, Navy and Connecticut, AT HOME.  It has been three years since that nadir, under an incompetent, undisciplined, self-sbsorbed coach.

So we have made progress and 2012 is just a taste of what is to come.  But we have miles to go before we sleep and enjoy LEGITIMATE championship dreams.  I’d like to refer to a painting, a visual, which first stunned me when I saw it in the quaint little St Louis Art Museum nestled in Forest Park in St. Louis. It is “Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion.”  Our hero, with the muscles straining on his back, is just climbing atop one challenge, but is now seeing that there are more precipices and more arduous work before he reaches the top.  Our Irish, like Sadak, have struggled mightily, and nobly to reach their current plateau.  But more effort and courage are required.

The next plateaus are more difficult, more gut-wrenching.

Oh, Notre dame has done this before.  Rockne struggled with Nebraska.  After beating SC in ’65 and ’66 Ara had to wait the biblical seven years before his next victory, and the USC wins in ’72 and ’74 were as agoninzing and disemboweling as Monday night was.  From ’84-’87 Notre Dame scored 20 points against “Da U” while giving up 113 points.  That’s an average of Miami 38-Notre Dame 7. a wider margin of victory than the horror of January 7th. Ugh. How did Rock, Ara and Lou turn it around?  The Old Fashioned way, they earned it. Notre Dame style.

First, raise the bar. I mean RAISE THE BAR.   Increase expectations, goals and the level of excellence demanded.  We can no longer compete against our opponents, we must now play against that most dangerous and rewarding of opponents–our own POTENTIAL.  We must recruit better, practice better, coach better, Longo better, play better.  The easy part is behind us, finding a way to beat the Michigan States, Purdues, and yes, even Stanfords, Michigans, SC’s and Oklahomas.  We can no longer measure ourself against the yardstick of the Big X, the ACC ,  our schedule or that fool’s gold called polls.   We have a new yardstick, and it is CRIMSON.

There are areas of the team where we are just not at BCS championship  level.  The difference between Bama’s OL and ours was shocking.  The Tide’s secondary was taller, more muscular, quicker to the ball. (All Hail Zeke  Motta: his last game was his best game.)  We must recruit better. We were the toughest team on the field in every game we played this year (just edging Stanford).

We must become tougher.

Will we do it?  Well, you know, “Pressure makes diamonds,” “sweet are the uses of adversity.”  That nauseous, pained look on Kelly’s face when he politely congratulated Saban was priceless, and pitch perfect.  We have the head coach and the coaching staff to bite down on that bit and never spit it.  They will, like  our buddy Sadak, be realistic about where we are, realistic about the miles and mountains we have yet to climb. IT WILL BE MORE THAN A ONE YEAR CAMPAIGN.  We have  have great kids, NDRKGS, who love a challenge. They didn’t come here, and the new ones are not showing up in August to accept second tier status.

Okay, enough of words; actions speak louder than.

The future begins in three, two, one. Let’s do this! GO IRISH