“Next year” and “weeks away” no longer accurately describe January 7th, the date Notre Dame will finally take on Alabama for the BCS National Championship, though the word “finally” has an appropriate ring to it. By the time the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide kick off in Miami, Notre Dame fans will have waited forty-four days since celebrating their national title clincher at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. The intensely focused media attention – with the kind of microscopic precision that left not one blade of snow-covered grass on Notre Dame’s campus unscathed – was a boon and a first in the BCS era for the Notre Dame program, even if a sizeable portion of the storylines were not ones Irish fans wanted to hear.
The past month has been a shrine to the Alabama program, with coinciding stories discussing the “luck of the Irish” to currently hold the top spot in all of college football. Even Alabama’s players have added to the conversation, with starting offensive lineman D.J. Flucker stating that, while Notre Dame possesses a great defensive line, he “[saw] more from LSU”, and that the Crimson Tide are going to “go right at” Notre Dame captain and Heisman finalist, Manti Te’o.
While Alabama deserves every ounce of respect they receive in the media for heading to their third national championship game in four years, the media’s tone has been so praiseworthy that the Crimson Tide have been tagged as essentially unbeatable, largely ignoring the fact Alabama does not possess an unblemished record, and also squeaked by two games to LSU and Georgia since November.
These bullet points have been hammered home by fans from all areas of college football, and every Notre Dame fan surely has their own stories. This path month I have heard every criticism that can be levied. Notre Dame will be shut out. They’ll lose by three touchdowns. I even had articles sent to me discussing how lucky Notre Dame, led by players such as “Manti Ta’o”, “Siera Wood”, “Tyle Eifer” and “Everett Gholston”, was to make to the title game. In fact, Notre Dame is so lucky, apparently, that basic research as to the actual spelling of Notre Dame’s star players isn’t even worth the effort when discussing the Fighting Irish in an article.
When the claim is made that Notre Dame is only in the title game because Kansas State and Oregon lost, no one points out the fact Alabama owes its BCS National Championship presence to the loss of those teams as well. Alabama was the first of the final four to trip up – they only reentered the picture the weekend the Wildcats and Ducks fell. It never seems to be mentioned how fortunate Alabama is that a 12-0 Ohio State squad is bowl ineligible, either.
While the media talking points have been less than complimentary, the important thing is they exist. As a fan of a professional sports team that has been to the Super Bowl three times in the past sixteen years, the lesson I learned is to cherish every moment of the spotlight, be it positive or negative. No matter how talented or well-coached, great teams stumble, and playing in a championship game is exceedingly rare. Southern Cal went from preseason number one to the Sun Bowl. Florida State, another program predicted to make a national title run this season, was tripped up by the first week of October, and the loss came courtesy of N.C. State, not a major powerhouse. Winning isn’t easy, and the highest levels of success should be cherished every second when it comes. I have seen my favorite professional sports team win two Super Bowls knowing full well I have family members twice my age who have only witnessed their team win one career playoff game.
In less than a week the hypotheticals will have ended and we’ll know the final verdict of Notre Dame’s season. While I will be disappointed if Notre Dame falls short, the moment that will stand out the most to me will be the feeling seconds before either Kyle Brindza or Alabama’s Cade Foster begin their jog to start the game with a boot. I will think back to every moment where I felt my heart had been broken by loving and supporting Notre Dame, from the USC “Bush Push” game I witnessed first-hand with my father at Notre Dame Stadium years ago to the 2011 Michigan collapse when I told my girlfriend in confidence it hurt so much I was unsure if I could continue watching the Fighting Irish play (though there I was, again, the next week). All of the heartbreak, all of the pain, all of the frustration and taunts from opposing fan bases – every second will make that kick to start off January 7th one of my favorite memories I will ever possess as a Notre Dame fan.
I do not know if Notre Dame will win next Monday, but I can make one prediction: I have never been as proud of a football team as I am of the 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Go Irish, Beat Bama.