Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Is Notre Dame still Notre Dame?

Notre Dame.

An imposing phrase when constructed as such. Our Lady, the translated version, does little to invoke football prestige, unless your CYO team used Our Lady in its title somehow.

But, Notre Dame. Wow, it packs a whallop.

Or does it? Does Notre Dame still carry the same weight as in the 1980s and decades prior? I don't know the answer, but I'm leaning toward the no side of the pendulum.

People pontificate about the Notre Dame head football coach being the greatest, most glamorous, most prestigious and toughest job in the country. I'm not so sure that's true anymore. The toughest part I believe, though. High academic standards, the alumni pressure, the eyes of the world on you every week.

I can't deny the prestige and worldwide appeal of the Fighting Irish, either. And there's a prevailing concept that the Heisman Trophy goes through Notre Dame. USC grad Carson Palmer is a student in that school of thought, and current USC quarterback Matt Leinart has applied for admission with his five-touchdown performance that ultimately put the kabosh on Ty Willingham's coaching tenure at Notre Dame.

But how much of it is people not altering their thoughts under the new sports landscape. Notre Dame has its own television contract with NBC, but with ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, FSN, CBS, ABC, NCAA and any other alphabetic combination you care to generate, I've seen Miami and Boise State play just as much as Notre Dame this season. And I live on Long Island, not exactly the hotbed of college football.

Notre Dame can't attract the same caliber of athlete as the Miamis, the Florida States, the USCs or the Michigans. That's not a bad thing, that's not a good thing. It's just a true thing. And it ultimately contributed to Willingham's firing, the first in a very long time at Notre Dame.

Is Notre Dame clutching at straws trying to return to the glory of its past in a new sports world? I hope not, because seeing the Fighting Irish in the national championship game would be amazing. It would be a solid "Stick it up your patoot, BCS people!" and I'm all in favor of underdogs sticking it to the big dogs whenever possible.

Those golden helmets shining on national television in late November, 100,000 people cheering in South Bend, cold weather outside, warmth inside, Musberger (somehow) announcing (on NBC even though his contract is with ABC), a berth in the national championship on the line against USC. It could be a magical moment.

Or, it could be Auburn or Oklahoma or Miami or Florida State or Ohio State or Michigan or Texas against Auburn or Oklahoma or Miami or Florida State or Ohio State or Michigan or Texas. Would it be that much different?

Help me sort it out