Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Trap Game: What We Can Learn

A colleague asked me who Notre Dame is playing this first weekend in October. "Virginia Tech," I said, "in Blacksburg." He responded, "trap game." I replied, "there's no trap in this game,. We know what we're in for."
Irish nearly fell into this trap beating Ball State 24-16
A "trap game" is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result, a person or team may not prepare as thoroughly as they would for a formidable opponent. Often this attitude and its attendant lack of preparation lead to a loss. Although a cool term, the Irish have a worthy opponent in the 24th ranked Hokies. Notre Dame, like a lot of teams, has been privy to the trap game in the past. However, humility, a viable commitment to excellence and concentration can keep the trap at bay.

I speak about the trap game because it leads me to reflect on a larger ideal: the power of mindset, preparation, and focus. It causes to me to question how often we can really see things and people for what they are...and want to be. As much as I delighted in the 38-17 victory over Stanford at Notre Dame stadium, I'm not sure I realized the significance of the feat until it was spelled out before me in "Stanford: What I Learned" by Irish Athletics information director John Heisler. He noted, "the impressive Irish win against seventh-rated Stanford in what was Notre Dame's first home-field win over a top-10 opponent in 14 years." 14 years! That extends far beyond Coach Kelly's tenure. 

In this case, I didn't underestimate the opponent. Indeed, it was a great day for the Irish, but traps can come in many forms. Sometimes we assume things to be true without real investigation. Other times we wear blinders which restrict our vision and limit our perspective. Here are a few other realizations I had...traps be gone.
A new respect
I don't even pretend to like the University of Southern California. I seldom, if ever, have to explain my disdain for the men and women of Troy. While I don't apologize to students when they tell me they are going to USC, I don't feign any excitement or admiration. It is what it is.

However, traveling to South Bend for the Stanford game gave me a new insight on the Trojans. I was on a flight out of SFO with a viable number of Stanford fans. That Southwest airliner might have been the largest single gathering of the Cardinal I saw all weekend. Their presence in the visitor section was anemic, which is surprising given their record and ranking (before the game). Calfornia is a long way, but that has never stopped USC from showing up for our storied rivalry.

USC fans travel and they travel in droves. Their obnoxious maroon and gold can be seen and their fight song can be heard. AND, I have to say, I respect them for that. I'm not sure I would have ever written that I respect USC fans. In this instance, I do.

The Heart of Campus
As I wrote in "God Doesn't Care Who Wins, but His Mother Does," The "Dome is the center of campus. It sits as the crown jewel on God Quad. An aerial view of this space reveals a heart, to signify the Sacred Heart of Jesus." Some have expressed concern that the expansion of the campus signifies both literally and metaphorically how the University has moved in a different direction. Time at Notre Dame today might lead one to infer that the football stadium is the heart of campus, and they might be right. I'm sure a few can make a case for that that might not be fitting. Others could argue it's a bigger problem than we realize. When I see Notre Dame stadium today, I see many things.

For one, I have always been struck by the fact that this incredible structure is but a 5 to 10-minute walk, at most, for all students. Notre Dame stadium is ON CAMPUS. It is not separate from, but completely a part of University life. In fact, with the Duncan Student Center, classrooms and meeting space that were added to the stadium's edifice, it might be more integrated into student life than ever. 

As a student, I went to every home game, so I never had the perspective of being in my dorm and hearing the cheer from the stadium but a good stone's throw away. But, those volley cheers sent on high would be loud and proud. Loud because they are on campus and proud, because "We are ND."
Second, the design and attention to detail of the stadium are remarkable. Walking around the stadium, you can't help but see the original house that Rockne built. Those walls and bricks are still in place—where they can be. I love that there are four gates that are named after four historic coaches. From the inside, fans will see a line of the Fight Song underscoring an image of the team. And, as much as I wish we had kept the south end lowered for a full view of "Touchdown Jesus" the vistas from the walkways around the stadium are stunning. One can see "The Word of Life," the spires of the Basilica and the Dome in its glory. 
The location of the stadium and its significance is something I think about often. Returning to Notre Dame and looking at its design and its location amidst the ever growing, ever improving campus, however, has helped me make sense of who Notre Dame has been, is now and wants to be. #appreciation.

Every reflection on Sports and Spirituality will concur that losing can be a great teacher, but I would like to make the claim that is not the only path toward increased self-realization, growth and excellence. Preparation, careful attention to detail, a personal inventory and honest assessment can get anyone to where they want to go...and avoid the trap. In our personal and spiritual lives, we ought to do no differently.

Photo Credits
Ball State
USC fans

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