Gridiron Nation: Deja U. all over again

first_imgYogi Berra must’ve had Notre Dame in mind when he let loose maybe his most famous “Yogi-ism,” “it’s like déjàvu all over again,” because the college football world is yet again welcoming Notre Dame back among the college football elite (some other classic “bonus” Yogi-isms: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” “When you come to a fork in the road…Take it,” “The future ain’t what it used to be,” “Never answer an anonymous letter,” “A nickel ain’t worth a dime, anymore,” “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else”). Following back-to-back road victories against ranked opponents Pittsburgh and Michigan, and the addition of new head coach Charlie Weis, college football writers and pollsters everywhere are proclaiming the rebirth, revival and return to greatness for one of the sport’s most storied programs.Sound familiar? Feel like you’ve whacked this piñata before? Well, you should, because ever since Lou Holtz left Notre Dame after the 1996 season, the same folks in the media have had similar “back to prominence” parties (complete with piñata, of course) seemingly every year, sometimes even multiple times a season.The problem, of course, is that Notre Dame has been very consistent over the past decade; consistently mediocre, that is. They have been entirely un-deserving of the annual hype they get by upsetting a top-ranked opponent, but we’ll get to more on that later. You see, the current Golden Dome hype period isn’t simply déjàvu from 2002, when another first-year coach took the Irish to a top-10 ranking (also the last time Notre Dame has sniffed the AP top-10), but another example of the perpetual déjàvu in which Notre Dame finds itself encased.That doesn’t make much sense now, but give me a second here: Notre Dame is still considered by many to be the premiere college football school in the nation (usually the older crowd, to be honest), and the reason is the rich tradition the Irish have that no other school can touch. What exactly is that tradition, you ask? How about 11 national championships, 22 seasons in the top-5, 35 in the top-10, seven Heisman Trophy selections, winning one for the “Gipper,” hitting a sign en route to the field (“Play like A Champion Today”), a movie (“Rudy”), a football loving deity (Touchdown Jesus), unpainted end-zones, the luck of the Irish and maybe the most recognizable uniforms in sports (at least they used to be).Notre Dame was on top of the college football world, was being the key word in the statement. From 1924-1977 the Irish won 10 national titles, finished in the AP top-5 18 times and produced six Heisman winners. From 1978 on, however, it has been a different story, with the Irish winning only one national title (1988), producing one Heisman winner (Tim Brown in 1987) and having only four AP top-5 seasons. In translation, the Irish have been solid, but not dominant, since their 53-year run as the college football bully, stealing lunch money in the form of national titles.In today’s NCAA, being an annually solid team is more than respectable. Just look at Texas and Michigan, who are always relevant, but between them have won only one national title since 1971. However, since 1993, the Irish’s last true title run, soiled is a better description of the Notre Dame program. Since the 1993 season, Notre Dame has not finished in the top-10 even once and has become alarmingly pedestrian in the college football world.At first, this trend seemed to be just the end of Lou Holtz’s career as he trailed off in his old age, which led to his retirement in 1996 after the pressure hit a breaking point when there was no bowl game for Notre Dame for only the third time in Holtz’s tenure. Enter Bob Davie, and the beginning of the Notre Dame “resurrection watch,” which continued through Ty Willingham’s short tenure and has now carried over into the Weis era.Watching and waiting for the program to be born again is fine, fans can do what they want (look no further then the approximately 11 people who traveled from Philly to watch Temple play Wisconsin last week), but when the fans are the same people who select a national champion, there is something wrong. The problem is that those fans old enough to remember the Fighting Irish as the bullies are in many cases the same people who provide the hype and the votes. The 7-5 and 5-6 seasons Notre Dame has been turning in just doesn’t compute to this crowd. So instead of living in reality, they decide to live in the past, believing Notre Dame is still the dominant team in the country and is currently just under-achieving. Thus, they are in a perpetual state of déjàvu, waiting for Notre Dame to become the prodigal son and return to prominence, believing the likes of Arnez Battle and Brady Quinn to be the modern day “Four Horsemen,” which is like comparing Brian Boitano to Michael Jordan.The real reason for near annual “Back to Prominence” parties, however: the Notre Dame TV contract with NBC. Notre Dame has maintained independent status in today’s power conference world for the simple reason that they receive $9 million a year from NBC for the sole broadcasting rights. How is this problematic? Being independent means you can’t win your conference and get an automatic birth to a BCS bowl game. It also means you can’t play a schedule that includes some conference doormats (such as the Big Ten’s Indiana and Illinois) while still playing a challenging slate of games.Notre Dame has to schedule top-25 teams seemingly every week to remain in the national spotlight and to fight its way up the polls. For example, this season Notre Dame has USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee and Purdue on its schedule. Its “easy” games are no cakewalk either, with games against Syracuse, BYU, Navy and a road trip to Washington, where Mr. Willingham could have a nasty surprise for the Golden Domers.Notre Dame has been playing this sort of schedule for the last decade and it is the root cause of the constant revival talk. When you play seven ranked opponents every year, you’re bound to beat one or two, and when the Irish do, as they already have this season, the pollsters and media lose their cool and begin playing the Irish fight song while they type their columns and fill in their votes. So, here we are again. The Irish are back and Charlie Weis is a savior after two weekends of college football. It seems awfully reminiscent of Willingham’s start (9-0) and Davie’s lead of the Irish to the Fiesta Bowl in 1999-2000. It’s just déjàvu all over again. USC is Tailback U., Penn State is Linebacker U., Miami is Quarterback U. Notre Dame? They can be déjàU. And believe me, it’s the most fitting nickname out there.last_img

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