The question, "Why are you a Notre Dame fan?" usually takes center stage after people find out I didn't attend college there. Nor my parents. Nor grandparents. Nor anyone I know that closely.
"So, why are you a Notre Dame fan then?" they ask, smugly, their lips curling up into an evil Grinch smirk.
My response to this question doesn't matter. It's never good enough. The masses of Irish loathers aren't satisfied. It doesn't matter that I've been going to South Bend yearly ever since I can remember, watched almost every game on NBC my entire life or grew up a mere two hours away -- a full hour and a half closer than Champaign-Urbana. (The closest school to me with a D1 football team is Northwestern. But, come on. Really? Northwestern? No way.) I'm an Irish (baptized) Catholic Chicagoan with a father who raised me to like the team his father raised him to like.
Yet I get harassed by Michigan fans who also happen to root for Michigan State. Or USC fans because that's where their parents went. My parents didn't go to D1 football schools, so I've never had that luxury. But I think it goes further than that to some kind of nostalgic hatred for something that used to be Duke basketball. A deep detest for elitism and whiteness and Lou Holtz.
Some friends like to think that I'm some kind of fair weather fan, -- like I rooted for the Yankees (post-1995) or watched Entourage (after the second season) -- but that's not my experience. My two greatest memories as a kid (I was three in 1988 -- their last national championship) are as follows: 1) An offensive series in 1997 when Ron Powlus was substituted for by Jarious Jackson, leading to a TD and victory over West Virginia. 2) When the Irish moved into the top 25 after losing to Nebraska in 2000. Yep. Awesome.
As an adult, it was the Irish's victory over Utah in 2010 and rushing the field with my dad/student section on senior night. Other than that, everything else has been a massive disappointment, reaching its natural climax last season when I attended the USC/99-yard-fumble-for-a-game-altering-TD-part-deux game. My true Irish experience has been the latter Lou Holtz years, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis and, now, under Brian Kelly, two disappointing 8-5 seasons. All I know is false hope and despair. In all honestly, I wish I wasn't like this; a Notre Dame fan, that is.
I went to Miami (OH) University. It's a great place with decent sports. I will never turn my back on my alma mater. I brag about our hockey team fairly aggressively (sans this year). Losing to BU in the national championship game with a two goal lead and two minutes left in regulation easily fits into my top five worst sports fan moments. I will also gladly watch our football team on random Wednesday nights on ESPN2. Life would be so much easier if I just focused on Oxford, OH based teams. But RedHawks sports weren't part of my childhood. RedHawks sports are not what I connect with, both in sport and culture. I love Notre Dame football and I love my Irish heritage. Notre Dame is part of me. Not just the team, but the idea of an Irish nation.
There are a lot of haters who point to ND fans possessing some kind of undeserving superiority complex that stems from successes in forgotten times -- more commonly referred to as the B.B. (Before Berman)* years. (I think that is how we will remember sports in the future; pre and post-Chris Berman mush-mouth mumblings). But I think the sensation people are really feeling is not of Irish football prowess undeservingly exemplified in Irish fan complacency, but rather the feeling of being part of something bigger than a football team. More like a mini society of our own. A nationwide** tryst shared between strangers at a pub, both knowing the outcome is predestined to disappoint. But that's only singular to the game. The culture of being a proud Irishman is greater. It's a bond. Like being a Spartan in 300 or coming from a public high school in the NESCAC.
Notre Dame football is what I relate to on more than a football level. It's who I am to a degree. Before you judge or criticize me, ask yourself Indiana-grad-who-likes-Michigan-because-that-is-where-you-are-from, are we really that different?
Then again, maybe. After all, I will be spending my September in Dublin watching my Irish take on Navy at Aviva Stadium***. So, I guess, we are a little bit different.
*When ESPN won the partial rights to the NFL in 1987, it began forming into the powerhouse it is today. 1990 was also a landmark year, as the World Wide Leader bought MLB rights for $400 million. This is when ESPN started to dominate the sports landscape. Thus, 1990 is the beginning of Anno Domini Nostri lesu Chrisi Bermani (In the year of our lord Chris Berman) or A.B.
**Thank you, NBC!