Oct 15, 2012, 5:09 PM EDT
And just like that, any hope I had of protecting my heart vanished. There is no chance of managing expectations anymore.
I don’t know why this win felt so different from the others (and by different I mean better). Certainly, beating Michigan was one of the happiest and most gratifying sports memories of my life. That night was special—an outpouring of emotion and gratitude—but it did not feel like this.
My mind was of highs and lows on Saturday. During games, I often catch myself writing the opening of a blog in my head. I must have written the beginnings of fifteen blogs over the course of the Stanford game.
After the first quarter, when we led 3-0 and it looked like we were in for a low-scoring game, I began composing a post on how confident the student body had grown in our defense. It wasn’t just enough to limit the opposition enough to win—Notre Dame hadn’t let in a touchdown in three games, and we expected it to stay that way.
And then came the most horrifying moment—Everett Golson’s fumble in our own end zone, and Stanford’s recovery for a touchdown. My whole body tingled and my eyes glazed over, almost tearing up. Oh God. What has happened? We were trailing. We had never trailed before.
I started planning a different blog post. It was about what a loss would mean. I asked myself, what could the silver lining be? My mind couldn’t produce one.
We set up for a field goal, and I talked myself back down. All right. If we make this, we’re only down by one. Our defense can hold Stanford off. We will win this. Then I could write about persistence and resiliency.
But we botched the field goal. I worked my brain harder to find the upside. What could I write about? What would make this OK?
With less than two minutes left in the half, Stanford kicked a field goal, and we entered half time trailing by seven. I sat down with the student section, rain-damp and scared. We were all scared.
The fear stayed with me all the way through the third quarter. But then, right before the start of the fourth, I made a decision. I told myself to stop preparing for a loss. Stop trying to find the silver lining. Stop writing the beginning of the end. If I allowed myself to expect the worst, I wasn’t having faith in my team. I didn’t truly believe.
So I started to believe. And the unthinkable happened—Tyler Eifert caught a seemingly impossible 24-yard pass from Golson to tie the game. The stadium erupted. In all my games in Notre Dame Stadium, as a child and as a student, I can never remember hearing a crowd that loud. We were all yelling at the top of our lungs. You couldn’t hear anything but the sound of your own scream in your ears.
Believe. Believe. Believe.
We went into overtime. The rain came down harder, but it didn’t dampen us. The harder it rained, the louder we screamed. The rain made us hungry, it made us angry, it made us vicious. We were one with the defense—their viciousness was ours and ours was theirs.
Tommy Rees to TJ Jones. Oh we were close. We were so close. But Stanford was on the one-yard line—they were close, too. We had faith in our defense. We screamed out to them. They heard us.
There were two celebrations at the end of the game—as our defense stopped them on fourth down and when the referee informed us that we had really won. I can’t distinguish them in my head. They were both—together, cumulatively—the greatest Notre Dame football moment I have ever experienced. My row of friends dog-piled into a giant, wailing, squeezing hug.
I have never felt more a part of a community—never felt more a part of Notre Dame. I started off by saying that this win was different. Maybe it was because it was a close game or maybe it was because it was our first truly significant win. I don’t know. I don’t.
But the sky opened up and poured down on us, and as I walked up that famed tunnel, I promised I would never forget to believe in this season again.
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