BCS National Championship Game: Yes, it’s real, Irish

In the words of Natalie Merchant, "These are days you'll remember."

Not 10,000 but rather twice that number of maniacs appeared on Saturday for a Notre Dame pep rally in Miami, a pep rally in which no members of the Fighting Irish football team were present. But what did the fans care? Notre Dame football has come so far, so quickly (we're looking at you, Mr. Reilly, and your article from Aug. 16) that those who support the program don't quite know how to manage their exuberance.

Notre Dame, unranked at the start of the season, is both No. 1 and playing for the national championship? Really?

Notre Dame is the first school in the BCS era to hold a No. 1 ranking both in the BCS standings and in graduation rate? Really?

Notre Dame has, according to Rivals.com, the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation after the verbal commitment by five-star safety Max Redfield of Mission Viejo, Calif.? Really? What about the inclement South Bend weather and the difficult academics that were supposed to frighten away recruits?

Such is the bounty that on Saturday the No. 5 ranked women's basketball team journeyed to Storrs, Conn. ("Over the river and through the woods…"), to Gampel Pavilion, and toppled top-ranked UConn and Domers just yawned, mostly. Heck, the men's hoops team beat Seton Hall by 19 to move to 13-1, but who cares? The No. 21 Irish have a game at No. 14 Cincinnati on Monday, and coach Mike Brey has joked that he will be ejected early in order to watch the national championship game versus Alabama.

And that's another point worth being made: This is no anti-climactic national title game, as was West Virginia in January of 1989. The Mountaineers were at best the fourth-most difficult game for the '88 Irish after Miami, Michigan and USC. This time, however, the Crimson Tide are quite figuratively the high-water mark of this Irish season.


All of which is to say this: Enjoy it, Domers. No matter what the outcome of Monday night's contest is, realize that moments like this rarely if ever happen. In a world in which ESPN constantly puts out "Next" issues and scribes ask coaches if they are headed to the NFL (he's not, by the way; at least no time soon), pay attention to "Now." Because now is a pretty damn good time to be a Notre Dame football fan.

Also, take this season of Notre Dame football, this resurrection if you will, as a lesson: Anything is possible if you have faith, no matter what your religion (which, when you put aside all the ribald humor and hilarious songs, is the theme of "The Book of Mormon", which is funny since the Irish defense is led by one).

This writer covered the Irish in person from 2006-2010 and witnessed all the misery: The 0-5 start to the 2007 season, one in which the Irish did not score an offensive touchdown until the fourth game; the two losses to Navy; the Jimmy Clausen black eye (interpret how you will); inconceivably embarrassing home losses to Syracuse and Tulsa; and the deaths of both incoming recruit Matt James and videographer Declan Sullivan.

Notre Dame football was a nostalgia act — that the College Football Hall of Fame decided to up and relocate from South Bend to Atlanta during this period was perfectly symbolic. Most scribes who covered the program, and even more of those who did not, gave the school little chance to rebound from its moribund state. Why would any talented high school kid attend Notre Dame when he could play in the SEC, or in the sunshine of USC, or for the Nike-powered 22nd century program in Eugene? Hell, if it's academics AND great football that you desire, why not Stanford (we still wonder that ourselves; have you lived in that weather???).

And yet, here Notre Dame is, and nobody did them any favors (except for perhaps Manti Te'o, who has always behaved against logic in his unabashed loyalty to this school, from his recruitment to his delaying his two-year mission to remaining in school for one more season). Brian Kelly and his staff simply recruited top-flight defensive studs AND hard. Landing Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams and Aaron Lynch, the last of whom may have been the most talented but who has also since transferred, was the turning point for this program.

Kelly's Irish endured no small amount of humiliation in their first two seasons, from contests that they simply gave away ("Little Giants", anyone? The Michigan game in 2011?) to ones in which they were outclassed. Fumbles at the one-yard line by Jonas Gray (USF) and Dayne Crist (USC) that turned into touchdowns. Who does that? Winning teams don't, that's who.

And yet, here Notre Dame is. On the eve of a national championship game. Relevant and real. This is not a smoke-and-mirrors squad, despite narrow wins versus Purdue, BYU and Pittsburgh. This is a defense that led the nation in points allowed, one that surrendered just nine touchdowns in 12 games, and only one of them a rushing touchdown. No matter what transpires tomorrow night in Miami Gardens, this program matters again.
Always believe, whether you play for Notre Dame or New Mexico State. Nothing happens that does not begin with faith in what you are attempting to accomplish. Nothing. Let the 2012 Notre Dame football season be that lesson to you.

"These are days that you'll remember/When May is rusing over you with desire/To be part of the miracles you see in every hour/You'll know it's true…"