Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Notre Dame: You've Changed But....

Football offers a reason for alumni to make the pilgrimage and return to the motherland, every fall. When they/we do, the topic of discussion inevitably focuses on how much the campus has changed. This is however not new. David Marsh '82, Vice President for Facilities and Design reports, "The thing to remember is that Notre Dame has always been growing. We're always building Notre Dame." Still, as reported in the Notre Dame's 21st Century Building Boom, "the current building boom is the biggest in its 175-year history. By decade's end, 20 new buildings totaling $2,487, 715 square feet with a cost of $1.1 billion will have been completed. In just the three new buildings around the stadium, they have laid more than 1,650,000 bricks." Wow. 

Figures such as these suggest Notre Dame's participation in some sort of an arms race. Furthermore, "People have an enormous passion for this place, and in people's minds, we represent a certain ideal. It's hard because everybody's perception of ideal is slightly different." We want tradition, yet we ought to welcome modernity. We want Notre Dame to keep what we hold as dear and yet we must change. And, I believe we must consider these tensions in light of one other truth: it's not just Notre Dame who has changed, we have too. 

It's not easy to measure how a person has grown in—ideally—wisdom or compassion. Some of us have become cynical or despondent, others more resilient and kind. We return to the Grotto with new prayers—differnt prayers. We walk the quads with new friends and family as well as old ones; family too. Yes, the students look young because when you are 18, 19 and 20, you are young. As an adult, a teacher and a coach I see Notre Dame through a much different lens today than when I was running out of Farley Hall. I like much of what I see. So here are but a few of my observations from South Bend, Indiana. Some are reflections on the change and growth on campus and other insights are how I understand what Notre Dame is and who it is to me, my classmates, friends, fellow alumni, and the world.
The New Scoreboard
In what was considered an ardent break from tradition, Notre Dame added a video scoreboard on the south end of the stadium. This digital signage offers all fans a chance to see the game itself, replays, messages from former players, information about events and programs on campus e.g. Mass times after the game. Video shorts tell the story of the teams honored on the field. (the USC game recognized the 1977 National Championship football team and the Fencing Team). In addition to what you do see, I want to be very clear about what you do not. 

After a football player makes an impressive tackle or catch you will not see his player profile on the screen. One will not see a still shot of Brandon Wimbush next to his percentage of passes completed or total yards passing. No highlight reel of Josh Adam's running game will be found. Unlike some venues in college football, the individual achievements of the home team are not promoted during the game, though I am sure many fans would love to see them.  
The decision by Notre Dame to not wear last names on the back of the jersey has been extended to the video screen; the focus is the team. Therefore, yes, you will see the O-line. This group of guys stands as one unit, but what team captain Mike McGlinchey has done can only be found through a different media.

Notre Dame stadium is a sacred space for many people. Alumni have been ever proud that the University has sought to keep this one space pure—meaning unadulterated by public ads. In a world driven by a dollar sign, one would naturally conclude the addition of a digital scoreboard would lead to public advertising. Truth be told, there is adverstising—a lot of it, but it has one focus. 

Every message during a Notre Dame football game is supporting the same company, the same cause: the University of Notre Dame. There's a lot happening at ND. Keep your Irish eyes on the scoreboard, and you'll learn about the history and tradition of the University, the football program, and its greatest assets: students, faculty, and alumni. Go Irish!

How Catholic is Notre Dame?
This is not one of my favorite questions. I find it polarizing. However, I know it's an important question, one that administrators at Notre Dame take very seriously. I would rather discuss the Catholic character of ND. That I can do. In fact, I can point to some signs I encountered during a football weekend to answer that...
I took a photo of the information given by the Office of Campus ministry because I had to wonder how many other college campuses readily avail the Sacraments to faithful fans. 

I would add that for the first time, fans were able to join the team in a pre-game prayer. The Our Father was simulcast and featured on the new scoreboard. Though new and perhaps a bit strange—Should this moment be reserved for just those on the team?—ultimately it brought the crowd of 80,795 to pray as Jesus taught us.

I love that the entire team runs through the tunnel to the south end zone where each person takes a knee, bowing their head while offering in their own individual prayer. I was happy to see several USC players did the same. 

Notre Dame is unsurpassed in its beauty (in October) and its integration Sports and Spirituality. It's everywhere.

In Stereo
There is a lot more noise inside Notre Dame stadium. The world at large is no different, but I believe it can and should be at ND. I love the band of the Fightin' Irish. Their songs, especially those ditties from the drum line that inspire student involvement, have been compromised by the addition of popular music. Fans will now hear Ozzie Osbourne's "Crazy Train" as well as newer hits such as "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weekend. I truly believe music adds to any atmosphere, but so does its absence. 
Football games have their own sound. Cheers, yelling, jeers, hitting, tackling, the whistle of the ref and more. The Marching Band offers a wonderful cacophony. The addition of both the scoreboard and popular music is too much. I'm fine with the band playing "Safe and Sound." I can hear Capital Cities' rendition anytime.

BTW: Who knew that when I bought my tickets for the USC, I would attend a football game and a rock concert broke out?! The band Chicago played with the marching band at halftime.

Coach Brian Kelly
I have been psychoanalyzing Coach Kelly, intensely, since the airing of "A Season with Notre Dame Football." He's been the head coach of the Fightin' Irish for 8 seasons now. He's been under an intense spotlight, he's taken hits and he's deserved quite a few. I have written about him before and been wanting to write about him for again because so many people have such strong opinions on the 29th coach of the University of Notre Dame.

At the Pep Rally, under glorious Indiana skies with Touchdown Jesus as the backdrop, Coach Kelly and the team took center stage. Unlike his players, BK was wearing sunglasses. This annoyed the living daylights out of me. Wearing sunglasses at this late hour, indicated to me that Coach Kelly cared a little too much about his appearance. Most people look better with sunglasses on. As one of those people, I know that trick, but I also know that sunglasses can serve as a barrier. "Eyes are the window to the soul." To shut someone out from our eyes and our line of vision creates a disconnect. Certainly, Coach Kelly ought to be connecting with the audience at a Pep Rally. Fortunately, he removed his shades in time to introduce the speaker for the evening: Sam Bush, the head of WOPU nation. Bush a senior offensive lineman is also captain of those players who are walk-ons. He offered a spirited and thoughtful speech; it was gracious, loud, proud and strong but he also concluded his speech by yelling "Let's kick some Trojan ass."

As a free and open event, the Pep Rally is a family friendly....until you hear those words.

Coach Kelly immediately responded by saying "Thank you Sam, and let's remember we can kick some Trojan butt tomorrow too." I yelled out "Thanks, Coach."

Brian Kelly is many things to many people, but his role at Notre Dame is as a coach, and as a fellow coach, I understand how often part of our work is correcting, teaching and reminding those entrusted to our care how they can be better. BK does this on the field and as witnessed at the Pep Rally, off of it too.

The Beauty of Notre Dame du Lac
I cannot count the number of times I have looked at the Word of Life, the mural that adorns the front of Hesburgh Library. To most people, including students, this mosaic is affectionately called "Touchdown Jesus". No explanation is necessary. Created in its modern art, as a student I recognized its majesty. Its prominence cannot be understated, and yet I let it remain a near afterthought of the campus. Visiting Notre Dame for the USC game weekend this past weekend, however, I found myself gazing at it with a new appreciation. The Word of Life was radiating in its beauty, a vision that Father Hesburgh forever held in his sight.
Yes, it was the backdrop for the Friday night pep rally or the exit point from the stadium after an epic victory, but this work of art signified something more. Now 21 years out of Notre Dame, I return to alma mater and I continue to understand the power of this place with new eyes. 

My friend Jason was the first person who told me "Notre Dame isn't a four-year decision, it's a 40-year decision." I may have graduated in May 1996, but part of me never left. When I return to campus, the changes abound, and I love discovering them. Next time I return to Notre Dame, perhaps I can entertain what changes I carry with me, too.

Photo Credits
BK Hug


  1. what a great post. Now I'm closer to knowing what it is to be a Notre Dame fan.

  2. Thanks for reading Cris! Give me three more rounds of golf and you'll be asking to visit So Bend!