With the 12th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish set to begin the 2015-16 season at home against the Texas Longhorns, it will be another season of lofty expectations for an overrated and under talented team.
Before I begin this column, and get a bunch of “anti-ND, “ND hater” and anti-Catholic” comments, let me first say that I am Roman Catholic and a life-long fan and family alum of the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.
Ohio State and Notre Dame don’t share a long and storied history—but do have some common rivals—such as Michigan and Michigan State. That being said, I also grew up a big fan of Lou Holtz and his championship team of 1988, so again I am not a hater, and have nothing but respect for such a fine and upstanding school that values academics over athletics, as I penned on this very site here.
That being said, while Notre Dame—and it’s long history of gridiron glory and championships—has for the better part of the last 20 years been highly ranked over teams that are more deserving such as in the recent ESPN Way-Too-Early Top 25 Poll, which has them over the likes of Florida State, Auburn, a very underrated Utah squad and LSU—whose freshman tailback in Leonard Fournette made Notre Dame’s defense look like ‘The Invisible Horsemen’ in rushing for 143 yards and two touchdowns in a narrow 31-28 win in the Music City Bowl?
Again, the above ranking is from January, and will be sure to change, but to rank a team such as Notre Dame that high after seeing their starting quarterback transfer to Florida State in Everett Golston and tight end Ben Koyack, to the 2015 NFL Draft is one reason many fans loathe ND for getting such a pre-mature high-ranking over better teams.
Unless Malik Zaire channels his inner Joe Montana or Joe Theismann, then Notre Dame will either struggle or he will be pre-ordained as the next great Irish quarterback—and instant Heisman Trophy contender—by the ever-obsessed national media that will fawn over him a la Rick Mirer, Ron Pawlus and Brady Quinn.
Which brings me to Notre Dame’s recent championships and bowl game struggles.
Again as a Ohio State fan and family alum, I get it that the Buckeyes were—until recently—the scarlet-and-gray punching bag of the SEC in losing to Florida and LSU in back-to-back BCS title games, but while many outside of Ohio can try to malign Ohio State’s past failures, they still have two national titles—cue the hate mail from still-bitter Miami fans for the pass interference flag—while the Fighting Irish, for all their annual-generated hype and prestige, is only 17-17 in bowl games, including a nice big, fat and juicy O-for-bagel during the BCS era in bowl game losses to Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and the all-mighty Oregon State Beavers, oh my!
For a school that loves to talk about it’s past tradition and glory, Notre Dame has been—at best—an average to mediocre, media-manufactured entity that has been the bane of college football for over the last 25 years. No major bowl wins since the turn of the new millennium and a delusional, arrogant and smug fan base that feels some sense of entitlement because of their shiny gold helmets, make them the Duke of college football, but last time this writer checked, the Blue Devils just cut down the nets on their fifth national title in hoops.
While many can point to programs such as bitter arch-rival USC, Texas, Ohio State and even the SEC as part of the problem of the BCS and sacrificing high graduation rates for national titles, at least these teams won ON the field, and didn’t make excuses after getting trampled in BCS bowl games about having higher graduation rates AFTER bragging about being undefeated and whine ad naseum about the system being fixed or not getting a fair shot because of perceived media bias, yet they have had NBC broadcast their games since 1991, and just signed a new 10-year deal that runs into 2025?
When I hear Notre Dame fans whine and cry about the system being fixed against them, or not getting a fair shot in the title game due to their “tough schedule”, I proverbially laugh because during the BCS era, they lobbied—and got—special treatment proverbially called ‘The Notre Dame Rule’ which awarded them an automatic spot in the BCS if they finished in the top eight.
Funny how only Notre Dame “fans” seem to complain or have a problem when things don’t go their way, yet recently more successful mid-major programs such as Boise State, Utah—who have a valid case—don’t?
After years and whining and complaining, Notre Dame—thanks to the heroics of Manti Te’o and his invisible girlfriend—marched all the way through the 2012 season undefeated before running into a crimson buzzsaw in Alabama, 42-14 down in South Florida.
Not sure if Te’o’s “girlfriend” got lost in one of the main South Beach clubs, but that Irish luck was a no-go as they were thoroughly manhandled by a superior Alabama team, that exacted some overdue payback for 1966. Even in the new College Football Playoff Era, they—along with the university presidents from all 10 FBS conferences serve on the College Football Playoff Board of Managers, so directly or indirectly, Notre Dame will always have a way to influence college football.
Lastly, why I think many feel that Notre Dame is overrated is because of the loud, vocal and delusional fans—subway alumni—who are fans, but have never attended the school, yet constantly boast about their 882 wins, 11 national titles and seven Heisman Trophy winners as if they were instrumental in the Fighting Irish’s greatness, history and glory.
For the record, I have no problem with any person rooting for a team, as they have a wide number of reasons why such as family ties, religion, region or a loyalty to a certain player or coach.
Being Catholic, Notre Dame holds a very special place in my heart for a wide variety of reasons, but when you have such a number of fans from outside the school that antagonize other fans—and all fan bases have them, Ohio State is no better—than it leaves a very bad impression and lasting impression of the school and team being overrated.
According to The Observer, the student-run daily of the University of Notre Dame, the origin of the term ‘subway alumni’ comes from the Irish Catholic fans from Chicago who rode the South Shore Line to South Bend to watch Notre Dame, “Dubbed the “subway alumni,” the fans of this era earned their lighthearted nickname from the South Shore Line train that wound its way through the immigrant boroughs of Chicago and Northwest Indiana on its way to South Bend, the Basilica and Touchdown Jesus – a football fan’s paradise and a transplanted Catholic’s holy grail.”
As with many big-name schools, all have fans all over the country, but none have the cultural and religious cult-like following that Notre Dame does in large Catholic immigrant cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. It is this special fanhood, which is passed down by generations from father to son, like their beloved shillelagh, in watching their Irish upset the likes of Army, Michigan and the hated Trojans, which is most likely why so many non-ND fans are easily rubbed the wrong way by some subway alums, as they are fans—and in some cases, fanatics—who for better of worse let their devotion and fanhood cloud their logic and reasoning in various sports bars and pubs around the country.
To close, while THIS Buckeye fan has no real issue with Notre Dame and nothing but the utmost respect for their history, tradition and admirable stance on academics, Notre Dame is in this new era of college football is nothing more than a mediocre independent, that if not for it’s distinctive brand, storied history and national appeal would be another mid-major or borderline average program.
Playing under the Golden Dome with Touchdown Jesus helps the school sell itself both on and off the field, and while they have lost a bit of it’s charm in failing to win a major bowl game, the fact that they have their own exclusive TV deal—curse you, Longhorn and SEC Network!–are often ranked higher than they deserve and are the object of much adoration by the media all-season long, makes them not only overrated, but an easy team to root against.
Perhaps if they manage to change their storied fortunes on the field, then they will be able to truly wake up the echoes and continue on their victory march to glory.