Monday, November 21, 2005

College Football

PSAYINGS.5S.9-11. This is a week in which some of the great old rivalries of college football are played. Ohio State vs. Michigan. Yale vs. Harvard. South Carolina vs. Clemson. Pitt vs. West Virginia. These are the games that transcend national polls, conference standings, and season won-loss records. An otherwise terrible year can be redeemed with a victory in a single contest. Last Saturday, the rivalries lived up to their grand traditions and history. Ohio State came from behind in the closing seconds to overtake Michigan 25-21. Harvard trailed 21-10 in the fourth quarter but stormed back to beat Yale 30-24 in triple overtime. Clemson weathered a disappointing early season to defeat a high-riding South Carolina team 13-9. Pitt won't take the field against West Virginia till Thursday night, but we don't have to wait for the outcome of that game to pick the finest of this year's great games. It took place Saturday at Notre Dame, where the Fighting Irish outscored Navy for the 42nd straight time.

Huh? What's so great about that? Well, read the column about the game that appeared in the Notre Dame student newspaper (h/t Hugh Hewitt). Here are a couple of key excerpts:

We all know the routine; these two teams face each other, Notre Dame wins, Navy loses, dance a jig, yadda yadda yadda. It's been that way for 42 years now, and Saturday's game was no different. Save a 7-7 tie in the beginning of the game, the Irish had their way with Navy, to the tune of a 42-21 final score...

However, the most impressive event in that stadium was when 80,795 people did no cheering at all. No yelling, no talking, not even an odd sneeze. Dead silence. That's what the Navy band received at the end of the game while they played their alma mater.

Well, it wasn't entirely silent where I was standing for the game. Just a few rows behind me, a couple Knievelesque Navy fans had made it into the student section with the help of some erroneous ticket booklets and a Notre Dame senior. And while Navy played their alma mater, one of their fans sang along. An opposing student, singing his alma mater in our student section. Surely he must have a death wish. But on this day, no jeers, insults, or contentious voices were heard; thousands of opposing fans simply listened as a solitary voice in a crowd of thousands rang out and sang for the Navy Blue and Gold. That silence, that voice and the goose bumps on my arm after it was all said and done is what makes this rivalry special.

And this:

Remember when we were looking for a football coach, seemingly eons ago? One of the things that is always listed in the job requirements is a guy who gets Notre Dame. He has to get "it." Notre Dame may not be able to describe in words what "it" is, but the coach has got to have "it." If people weren't convinced yet, the end of Saturday's game proved Charlie Weis has "it" coming out of his ears. After convincingly crushing the opponent, Charlie led the team over to Navy's corner of the field to sing their alma mater. Just minutes before, these two teams walked on that grass as dire enemies, but now they walked across as one.

There's a history behind these courteous displays, and it's worth reading in full. Congratulations to Notre Dame and, of course, to Navy.

NOTE TO TIGERHAWK. You see? You made them overconfident. Small consolation, I know, but thanks anyway.

UPDATE. We've had some emails inquiring about the source of the wartime relationship -- alluded to in the newspaper story -- between Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy. In the context of today's highly publicized hostility between prestigious universities and the military, the history of Notre Dame during World War II is striking. Here's part of the larger story told here:

The modern military era at Notre Dame was the product of World War II. On campus it was to become known the "occupation." In September of 1941, three months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps became the University's first ROTC detachment. The Army declined President Hugh O'Donnell's offer of facilities. The Navy expanded its presence with the Midshipmen's School and the V-12 Program, which began in 1943 and included the United States Marines. By mid-war, civilian undergraduates totaled only about 250 students who were housed in Sorin and St. Edward's Halls; the remainder of the campus was given over to the training of naval officers.

Thomas J. Schlereth, historian and professor of American Studies at Notre Dame, has written, "The war years inextricably changed Notre Dame. Contracts came from government research. A speedup cafeteria system in the South Dining Hall replaced the form of family-style dining, feeding twice as many men in half the time, with much less than half the former intimacy and civility. The public 'caf' overflowed with military brass, WAVES, and recruits whose campus stay often extended only months rather than the usual four years. Vacation periods were abbreviated, classes accelerated, semesters shortened, and one year there was no Christmas holiday. Women appeared all over the previously all-male, semi-cloistered campus, replacing undergraduates who formerly had done part-time jobs in offices, dining halls, laboratories, and the library. Sentries patrolled the campus perimeters at night; long blue, white and khaki lines tramped the quadrangles by day."

An estimated 12,000 officers completed their training at Notre Dame between 1942 and 1946. Many of them undoubtedly became casualties of war, as did 333 students and alumni. Each day during the war, Mass was offered on campus for the growing list of University connected casualties. At the same time, in installations and battlefields around the world, 25 Holy Cross priests serving as chaplains were administering the sacraments.

Hard to imagine? Well, try.

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