John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


God, Football and Notre Dame

Posted on January 9, 2013

I told my office, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that I was going to the BCS championship game with John Boehner.

And I was.   He was going to the game and I was going to the game.

We didn’t sit together, and I didn’t see him the whole weekend, which is probably for the best.

I usually go to big Notre Dame football games with my brother Jim and two of his old roommates from college.   Brother Jim actually graduated from Notre Dame, a task made somewhat more difficult by the two ex-roommates who joined us for the game.

We are getting old.   But that doesn’t mean that we weren’t willing to have as good a time as our bodies would allow as we wandered around South Beach the night before the game.  That is why I was pretty happy that I didn’t run into John Boehner over the weekend.

Boehner was rooting for Notre Dame, as was I, though neither of us attended that prestigious university.   We are both part of Notre Dame’s famous subway alumni, Catholics who loved Notre Dame even though they didn’t get a diploma from there.

My grandfather played baseball for Notre Dame and somebody told me he was actually in its athletic Hall of Fame.    I think that is true, although I have never verified it for myself.  My father attended Notre Dame but did not graduate.   My Uncle Bob did graduate from there, as did my brother.

My grades in high school weren’t good enough to get into Notre Dame, so I went to Marquette (the only other school I applied to).  I was very happy with Marquette, and I like our basketball team more than I like Notre Dame’s basketball team.  But Marquette doesn’t have a real football team, which works out fine for me, because I can root for the Irish, even though I didn’t go there.

The Notre Dame-Alabama game last Monday night was going to be the biggest game of the century, up until it wasn’t.  When your team gets wiped out as swiftly and as convincingly as my team did, you can’t really say much.

I had a bad feeling we were going to lose.  Alabama has an unbelievably talented roster and they have a coach who has been there before.   Notre Dame has some talented players too, but they didn’t have the big game experience.  Of course, even though  I had that feeling we were going to lose,  I still made some ill-considered bets, one with my father-in-law, who used to like Notre Dame, but now has turned against them.

He will get his money, but it will take me some time for me to rustle up the ten bucks.

Since I had the feeling we were going to lose, I cheered extra hard before the game.  “Here we go Irish!”  “Go Irish, Beat Bama.”   You know that kind of thing.

There were a lot of people like me at the game.  The crowd was overwhelmingly pro- Notre Dame.  Yep, there were some folks wearing Red and yelling “Roll Tide” on occasion, but half the crowd was wearing Blue and a quarter of the crowd was wearing Green.  Notre Dame’s official colors are blue and gold, but because they are the Fighting Irish, lots and lots of people wear green.

If the game had been decided by who had the biggest number of fans, Notre Dame would have won in a blow-out.  Sadly, the game was played on the field, and it didn’t turn out very well for the Irish.

That John Boehner would root for Notre Dame, as a Republican Speaker of the House, says a lot about his somewhat unsteady position at the top of the Hill.   I bet you among the Republicans in Congress, a bigger percentage would be Notre Dame haters than Notre Dame lovers.

It may be a coincidence that Alabama wears red and Notre Dame wears blue, but there is no mistake that Alabama is a red state and while Indiana can be classified as leaning red, the bulk of Notre Dame fans live in Blue states.

Tom Price, the Georgia Congressman, made the observation that the bulk of the House Republicans who voted against the New Year’s Day tax package came from Red States and Republicans who voted for it hailed from Blue States.    I bet you that if you did an analysis of the vote breakdown, the folks who voted against it hate Notre Dame, while those who voted for it were Notre Dame fans.

That’s just an educated guess.

Boehner wears his heart on the sleeve and he bleeds Notre Dame blue and gold.  And I would make this observation.  Republicans don’t have a majority in the House if they don’t have seats in blue states.  They won their majority in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania.

And there were a lot of people from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania at the game on Monday.

And a few people from Alabama.

For the most part, the two sides got along fine.  There was some gentle ribbing, but I didn’t see much anger or bitterness, before or after the game.

The last time these two teams played in a National Championship setting, in 1973, there was plenty of anger to go around.  Bear Bryant was a symbol of the old South, with his fedora, his southern drawl and his recently concluded policy of not using black players.   Notre Dame, with its activist President, Father Ted Hesburgh, wore its Catholicism proudly.  In 1973, football was another way to fight out the civil war.

Back in 1973, Notre Dame was a regular contender for the National title in football.  They had won it in 1966, an were regularly in the top 5 with Ara Parsegian as the coach.

Today, the Irish are struggling to get back the glory.  They haven’t won a national championship in 24 years, and they haven’t truly contended since 1993.

That is probably why so many Irish fans showed up in Miami and why so many Alabama fans didn’t bother.  For Crimson Tide, a national championship is old hat.  For the Irish, even contending for one is a modern miracle.

Sadly, the Irish showed that they have some work to do if they truly want to contend, as the SEC once again showed its dominance.  This is 7 years in a row the SEC champion has gone on to become the national champion.  Either the SEC is doing something right that nobody else is doing, or they are doing something wrong, than nobody else would think of doing.   And I don’t know which one it is.

I do know that Notre Dame once again led the nation in graduation percentage of its players.   Alabama was ranked number 7, far higher than I thought was possible, given the fact that they so roundly kicked ND’s butt on the football field.

We Irish fans can used that old argument that our players are smarter than their players, but it would be more fun if we can use the argument that our team was better than their team.  We couldn’t use that argument on Monday.

The Tide rolled over us.  Oh well.   There’s always next year.

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