A year ago I wrote this in my Notre Dame KYF:
… two of college football’s most storied and successful programs meet in cute little model of Michigan Stadium in Northwestern Indiana on Saturday. It will be broadcast on the Notre Dame Broadcasting Conglomerate and most of the football watching country will tune in, if only to see how bad both teams really are…
The 37th version of the Michigan / Notre Dame game has the familiar feel of big rivalry showdown between two competent college football teams. For the first time in years, this game is actually drawing some national respect and attention. For us, this game offers the opportunity to take another step towards respectability. For them, it is another chance to beat a hated rival. Michigan holds an all-time 20-15-1 advantage in the series, losing last year in embarrassing fashion. Here are some things about Notre Dame you can use to dazzle your friends and family.
History: The farm land on which the University of Notre Dame currently resides was originally purchased in 1831 by the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States, Stephen Badin. Badin acquired the land with the intention of establishing an orphan asylum. He abandoned the asylum idea four years later and left the land in trust (to the local Bishop of Vincennes) for anyone who would build a school on the site.
After a series of transactions and failed attempts, the land was offered in 1842 to French priest named Edward Sorin, under the condition he build a university in two years. The 28 year old Sorin quickly travelled to the site, and started teaching two local boys in the log chapel left by Badin. He named his newborn institution “L’Université de Notre Dame du Lac” (The University of Our Lady of the Lake). Though the word Lac is singular, the land actually contained two lakes. According to a legend, when Sorin arrived at the school, everything was frozen and he thought there was only one lake, and named the place accordingly. The early version of Notre Dame was a university in name only. It was primarily a religious preparatory grade school with a manual labor department. The collegiate curriculum never attracted more than a dozen students a year in the early decades. The institution was also only open to men. Women had to attend the nearby female only St. Mary’s College.
The Roman Catholic association and influence on this place is still very strong. A vast majority (80%+) of the current students identify themselves as Catholics. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart sits in the center of campus, a statue of the Virgin Mary stands on the top of the famous Main Building Golden Dome, and of course there is the omnipresent Touchdown Jesus on the Hesburgh Library.
Location: Contrary to popular belief, the campus is not in South Bend, it is in Notre Dame, Indiana. I have been there many times and the best thing I can say about the location is that you can be back in Michigan in about 5 minutes, depending on the lights and traffic flow.
South Bend derived its name because it lies at the south bend of the St. Joseph River. It was officially incorporated as a city in 1865 and now has a population of about 250,000. Like most Midwestern cities, heavy industry has always dominated the local economy. The Studebaker Corporation, a famous, now dead car company was once headquartered there. Other than the university, the key tourist sites for this place is the local Mall, the Studebaker National Museum, and the College Football Hall of Fame. The Arizona Diamondbacks have a minor league baseball team there.
The actual campus area has a traditional college feel, with a series of beautiful quad areas. There are no fraternities or sororities at Notre Dame. Dorm associations make up a large part of the social structure. There really are no convenient off-campus housing options. As a result, about 80% of the student population lives in the 27 campus dorms, including roughly half of the senior class. Many students live in the same dorm their entire collegiate career.
As a parent, Notre Dame is a safe place to send your kids because it is pretty hard to get into trouble here. Ask any Notre Dame alum about their fun times on campus – and they will talk football games or hanging out with the co-eds from St. Mary's or going to Chicago. Chicago is a 95 miles away.
Nickname: They call themselves the Fighting Irish, but I can’t find an official reason why. During the era of the famous Four Horsemen (1920's) they were sometimes called the Rovers. Other times they were called the Ramblers. Reportedly this was because the football team would travel anywhere to play anyone. Neither one of those names stuck.
At one point they were even called the Terriers, because a local priest had an Irish Terrier on the sidelines during games. Perhaps the Irish came from that?
My favorite theory regarding their name comes from the the Civil War and the Union Army's Irish Brigade. This decorated unit was filled with Irish immigrant soldiers fighting for their adopted country. If you have ever walked the battlefield at Gettysburg you will see along the union line a statue of Father William Corby (a Detroit Native) giving the Irish Brigade general absolution before the 2nd day of the historic battle. Corby later became Notre Dame’s 3rd (and 6th) President.
Maybe it was the 1899 game against Northwestern. Notre Dame was winning 5-0 at halftime causing the Northwestern fans to cry "Kill the Fighting Irish".
Then again, maybe it was the 1909 Notre Dame-Michigan game. Legend has it a ND player yelled to his teammates (who had names like Dolan, Kelly, O’Brien, and Ryan) "What's the matter with you guys? You're all Irish and you're not fighting worth a lick." Notre Dame came back to win the game (of course they did, some things never change) the newspapers reported the game as a victory for the "Fighting Irish".
Perhaps the most interesting is the violent 1924 confrontation between students and faculty from Notre Dame and the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan. Todd Tucker wrote a book about the clash. Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan
I said this before and I will say it again. I don’t understand is why the NCAA considers a Native American nickname like the Fighting Sioux or Redskins offensive, but turns a blind eye to the equally as racist and offensive moniker Fighting Irish? I can only assume the NCAA does not know that Ireland is a sovereign nation and characterizing the good citizens of this nation as fighters is patently offensive.
Mascot: The Leprechaun was named the official Notre Dame mascot in 1965. Each year they actually conduct and a Notre Dame student is selected to play the part. It is considered a great honor to dress in a Lucky Charms outfit and hop around the sidelines of a Notre Dame sporting events. The student Leprechaun brandishes a shillelagh and supposedly brings good luck to the Notre Dame team. Clearly this has not been enough luck to deliver a recent victory over arch rival USC.
Colors: Notre Dame’s official colors are blue and gold, although many people associate the color green with the school. Throughout the Dan Devine era (1975-80) Notre Dame wore green uniforms almost every game. Today they reserve the green jerseys for special occasions. Typically they will warm up with their traditional navy blue, quietly switching to green before the kickoff. That quick change tradition was started in 1977 USC game. Notre Dame has even switched to green jerseys at halftime, as they did during the 1985 USC game. In 2006 Coach Charlie Weis engineered an end to a painful four game “green jersey” losing string, against college football super power Army.
Logo: Notre Dame uses a classic interlocking ND as its primary logo. This has been the Notre Dame logo since at least the 1960s. At times, a green or blue shamrock as appeared behind it. It is one of the most recognizable logos in American sports. As with most iconic logos, the ND logo is simple and effective.
Helmets: Notre Dame plays football in gold helmet. No logos. No stripes. No “good job” stickers. Instead they rely on the simple and effective brand built over years of excellence. The ND helmet has become a symbol of the university as famous as the golden dome. The Irish are one of the few schools to never change from the original grey color of their face masks. As with so many things about this school, they have made a big tradition and honor for the student managers to spray paint shiny new gold paint onto the helmets before each game.
Fight Song: Written by in 1908 by John and Michael Shea, the Notre Dame Victory March is one of the most recognizable college football fight songs in history. Next to Michigan’s The Victors, this is perhaps the best college fight song ever written. Literally hundreds of high schools use it as their own battle song.
Rally sons of Notre Dame
Sing her glory and sound her fame,
Raise her Gold and Blue
And cheer with voices true: Rah, rah, for Notre Dame
We will fight in ev-ry game,
Strong of heart and true to her name
We will ne'er forget her
And will cheer her ever
Loyal to Notre Dame
Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame,
Wake up the echoes cheering her name,
Send a volley cheer on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky.
What though the odds be great or small
Old Notre Dame will win over all
While her loyal sons are marching
Onward to victory.
Academics: Once a popular choice for good catholic boys to attend a safe college, Notre Dame has transformed into a highly selective and respected academic institution. According to the 2009 US News and World Report it is ranked #20 amongst National Universities (down from #17 last year). Michigan is ranked #27 on this list.
Because we don’t play Northwestern this year, Notre Dame is the only school ranked higher than us in the academic ratings. With a strong national fan base and popularity amongst subway alumni (people that associate with but never attended the school) there is no doubt a Notre Dame degree can open a lot of doors.
Football program: The 1887 Michigan Wolverines brought football to Notre Dame shutting them out 8-0. The next year we beat them three times in the same season. But as college football evolved in the early 20th century, Notre Dame’s program got better and better, capturing the national attention with star players, excellent coaching, and compelling stories.
Today not many schools can compete with their impressive history. They have the third most wins and second highest winning percentage in history (cough, both behind Michigan). The school claims 11 national titles, 12 undefeated seasons, and 7 different players have won the Heisman Trophy, both of which are the most of any program in the country. In total, the Irish have fielded 96 All Americans, 42 College Football Hall of Famers, 10 Pro Football Hall of Famers, 461 NFL draft picks and 5 overall #1 selections. If you want to argue with a Notre Dame fan about who has the best tradition, you really should avoid the historical performance angle.
Notre Dame is one of two catholic schools in the country to field a FBS team, the other is Boston College. They were first team to leave the College Football Association (the controlling body for college TV rights) and established its own network TV deal. They set the NCAA record for most consecutive wins over one opponent, beating the US Naval Academy 43 times in a row before finally falling to the Mids in 2007. They are one of only four (out of the 119) teams to have never played a FCS (formerly Division I-AA) team. However, I am willing to bet the 2007 Appalachian State Mountaineers would have crushed the pathetic 2007 Fighting Irish squad.
Once again during this off season there was talk about Big Ten expansion. This conversation tends to always gravitate to the natural fit of Notre Dame into the conference. But like the handsome bachelor that gets laid any time he has the urge, there is absolutely no incentive for them to marry to the Big Ten. The Irish make a tremendous amount of money from their exclusive NBC football coverage and the Big East gives them what they need (opponents) in the non-revenue sports. About the only way the Big Ten is going to convince Notre Dame to join the conference would be to stop playing them. We all know that is not going to happen because Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue make too much money from this annual game.
Other Sports: Notre Dame fields an impressive 26 Division I intercollegiate sports. Over the years they have won 14 non-football National Championships in six different sports (seven in fencing, two in women’s soccer, two in men’s tennis, and one each in men’s golf, men’s cross country and women’s basketball). They compete in the Big East in every sport except football (independent) and hockey (CCHA).
Famous alums: As you expect from a school with the national draw and reputation of Notre Dame they have an extremely lengthy list of notable alumni including many corporate execs, elected officials, and educational leaders. Recognizable names include Condoleezza Rice (former US Secretary of State), Eddie DeBartolo Jr (former owner of the San Francisco 49ers), Alan Page (NFL Hall of Famer and Minnesota Supreme Court Judge), Phil Donahue (former TV talk show host), Regis Philbin (Annoying TV personality), Hanna Storm (TV Host), and Don Criqui (sportscaster). The Notre Dame football team can claim NFL hall of famers Paul Hornung, Joe Montana, Nick Buoniconti, and Dave Casper and many others. Other famous football names include Joe Theisman (ESPN Analyst), Tim Brown, Rocket Ismael, and Daniel Ruettiger (The original Rudy).
There are no former US presidents with a ND degree. They can claim Ernesto Perez Balladares who was once the President of Panama.
They also have a real US President that once portrayed an ND football player in a movie and another actor that played a fictional US President with a Notre Dame degree in a TV series.
There are 2 former astronauts: Michael Good and James Wetherbee. Two other ND guys that helped launch and guide flying machines for NASA.
The Game: I am no longer afraid of getting embarrassed by Notre Dame for a second season is a row. Last week cured me of that. Even if we do lay an egg, I know we can all survive a mind blowing melt-down loss and live to see another day. I used to dread this game every year because we seemed to never play to our potential. Recently, we have blown the doors off Notre Dame in several memorable beat-downs that has forever changed my attitude on this game. Bring 'em on.
Our performance last week was matched by ND’s 35-0 shut out of Nevada. While we are not Nevada -- Notre Dame is also not Western Michigan. I expect a tense, defense dominated first half with both offenses making mistakes. Michigan will come out in the second half and dominate led by a confident and maturing Tate Forcier.
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