Notre Dame Stadium is quiet now, its bones chilled in the winter winds, its ghosts sitting on hard benches and looking with longing eyes at a snow-covered field.
There will be no new banner for them to gaze upon this year, no new statue or monument. For the Fighting Irish finally met their match and lost to Alabama.
We all wanted to believe there would be no burden too heavy for the broad shoulders of Manti, Theo, Tyler and Kapron. We all wanted to believe that their indomitable wills would mean no stumbling on the climb to the top of the mountain. But there are times when the knees of our heroes buckle, when the weight they have borne with such success becomes leaden and overwhelming. We are powerless to help them when they fall. All we have ever had are our cheers, chants, and songs, which are not enough when what are really needed are faster legs and stronger arms.
Too long, perhaps, was their journey, with the magnitude of a quarter century dragged to the summit to fight for supremacy with someone already standing there. The chains were called Davie, O’Leary, Weis and Willlingham; the weights labeled 2000 Oregon State, 2002 Boston College, 2005 USC, 2006 LSU, 2007 Navy, 2010 Tulsa and 2011 Michigan.
Our personal champions held their heads high and did not stop fighting until they fell; but fall they did. And so a new group will join Rockne’s Greek chorus in a field outside of South Bend, Indiana.
We must remember our own suns to stay warm, be it a long spiral, a sure tackle, a galloping run, or the quiet dignity of a young Hawaiian who helped us in his despair far more than we were able to help him. What can shine the brightest now, if each of us makes the choice, will not be that last failure, but the days and weeks when an ultimate victory was finally possible again.
In the hours before the game, the Notre Dame family gathered in Florida fields to celebrate that. Standing between or on top of cars, with music blaring and grill smoke choking the air, we were all 18 years old, by the mailbox with an envelope and letter from a building with a golden dome. Those weren’t Orange Bowl parking lots anymore — they were the Five Points and the Radio Tower, the Linebacker and the Library, and a thousand different dorm rooms in Sorin and Walsh and Morrissey and Lyons and Cavanaugh and Keenan and Siegfried and Pasquerilla East.
All that you could feel in that crowd was possibility; all that you could see was a future; all that you needed was the never-ending embrace of a school founded on the dogged resistance that defeats are never truly final.
Scoreboards do not make nor destroy the idea of Notre Dame. Our broken places do not just get stronger — they turn to steel. In the ashes, we do not see a failed experiment. We see a chance to build even bigger and dream even larger, and we will celebrate the audacity of our vision by having it reflected in gold.
Soon, very soon, winter will change to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall. The snow will melt and we will all come back to a stadium waiting to be filled with our faith. We will sit there with Jesse and Knute, Gus and Harry, George and Frank, Tony and Raghib, Tim and Brady, and Lou and Manti.
And together, we will all again know that — someday — the top of the mountain will be ours.
Liam Farrell is the alumni editor of this magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.