Sep 16, 2012, 12:06 PM EDT
I could tell the story of last night’s game against Michigan State purely in sound bites.
The first comes in the opening montage introducing the two teams. It is a statement made by Brian Kelly.
“You do not come to the University of Notre Dame because you want to be average.”
I’ve learned in my four years of watching away games at Notre Dame that everyone has a different watching style. Two of the guys can’t sit down because they’re too restless, and they are usually completely silent. One sits with a computer in his lap so that he can constantly look up stats, which he in turn rattles off. The girls are varied too—some watch quietly, biting their lips, while others chatter nonstop, asking questions and yelling at the players through the TV.
But everyone is silent during those opening videos. Everyone gets chills. That’s how it was when Brian Kelly said we’re not here to be average.
We were nervous going into last night’s game. The opening plays had us all freaked. What is happening? What’s going on? By the end of the first quarter, I had done damage to all of my fingernails, and then I spent the next three working them all down to the quick.
You could hear the opening doubts in the announcers’ voices, too. They called us young. They pointed out the less-than-beautiful manner in which we clawed to a victory over Purdue. They talked up Michigan State’s strength and power with the sly implication that it would be our undoing in only a matter of time.
And then…it wasn’t. Michigan State surrendered its first touchdown all season as John Goodman made a one-armed catch. Manti Te’o led a defense that put so much pressure on their quarterback that he never had any time to throw the ball. And then the sound bites started changing.
It was hesitant at first.
“The Irish have said they’re a lot faster in Brian Kelly’s third year. I’m seeing it.”
Then it became a little more complimentary.
“The young quarterback is really starting to feel good about what he can do.”
And by this point you could feel it. Like the tides changing. Like the very echoes waking. The announcers were getting excited about Notre Dame.
“This explosion by the Irish.”
It wasn’t even an explosion by a normal definition. There was not a breakout moment that warranted an exclamation of surprise. The explosion was the whole game. The whole game was an exercise in good decision-making, self-control, and discipline. It was what I have begged of the Irish. It was smart football.
And then came the last sound bite of all. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, non-supporter of the Irish, started to give a little monologue. He talked about his normal criticisms of Notre Dame. How he’s always felt that we’re overrated, that we don’t warrant discussion, that we’re a non-issue. And I could feel it coming. I knew what he was going to say. We all did. Because it was what we were saying, too.
“This Notre Dame team is relevant.”
Notre Dame hasn’t started a season 3-0 since 2002. There was something in the air on campus last night after the game. Groups of kids running everywhere, cheering, chanting, yelling, “Bring on Michigan!” I haven’t seen Notre Dame this excited about football, well, ever, since I’m only 21.
We are relevant. We matter. And what’s more, we are playing how we are meant to play. If that holds strong, relevancy is only the beginning.
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