My Facebook friends list is filled with Chicagoans and Domers. A week ago Thursday, half the status updates on my feed were celebrations of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory; the other half were celebrations of USC’s impending NCAA sanctions, evidence that justice reckoned can taste as sweet as victory. In the subsequent days, I’ve watched Fighting Irish schadenfreude spread across the Internet, driven by three primary emotions.
First, there is great joy in seeing arrogance punished. Under Pete Carroll’s tutelage, USC’s football players were as likely to offend with their brashness as they were to astound with their athleticism. A little arrogance alongside greatness can charm (see Tate, Golden), but when that arrogance outstrips respect for the opponent, the game, and even basic morality, it becomes intolerable (see Bush, Reggie).
Considering USC’s documented violations, as well as the ridiculous response to the NCAA’s report offered by USC athletic director Mike Garrett — “Nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans” — it is evident that such hubris is institutional, not just individual. Seeing that institution receive comeuppance for its flippant (and flipping) attitudes is delightful.
While we rarely saw that arrogance defeated on the field, the penalty of vacated wins offers the sideline satisfaction of seeing justice restored to a degree, with the famed 2005 ND-USC matchup at Notre Dame Stadium as a flashpoint for Irish fans. Those fans have believed since the clock struck zero that USC won only because it cheated via the “Bush Push.” The “push” will never be retroactively penalized, but at least now the “Bush” has been.
While the sanctions don’t grant victory to Notre Dame, Irish fans are reveling in finally being able to officially label that play as an act of cheating. Wikipedia’s entry on the game was briefly altered accordingly, filled with such amusing digs as “the Bush Push [was] named one of the greatest college football plays ever, before the play was nullified by USC’s cheating and lack of institutional control.” The devastation many ND fans felt in 2005 will never fully fade away (and Charlie Weis’ signature victory is still a loss), but the righteous indignation has been bolstered at least.
In fact, the altered Wikipedia entry ends by underscoring a third feeling of satisfaction that Irish fans are drawing from USC’s penalties:
“USC’s current winning streak over Notre Dame is unknown, in light of the program’s dishonesty; Notre Dame’s earlier 13-game non-losing streak (12-0-1) over USC spanning 1983-1995 compares favorably to USC’s more recent wins, because Notre Dame’s wins count and are accepted by the sport’s governing body. This illustrates the difference between the teams involved in the Notre Dame-USC rivalry over the long term.”
Many Domers are viewing USC’s penalties as confirmation of Notre Dame’s moral superiority, which (in the Irish eyes of many) ultimately trumps athletic superiority. Indeed, the day before the NCAA disseminated USC’s infraction report, the association released its Academic Progress Rate report, which revealed that each of Notre Dame’s 26 athletic teams exceeded suggested academic standards over the past four years and eight received perfect scores (second only to Duke).
Of course, Notre Dame has NCAA sanctions on its historical record. But a commenter on ndnation.com proposed a comparison of Mike Garrett’s comments to Father Malloy’s in the wake of the 1999 Kim Dunbar scandal: “We are embarrassed by these incidents, troubled that they occurred, and we have taken action to deal with the issues involved. Notre Dame has a proud tradition in athletics, not only for doing well but also for doing right.”
And Rakes of Mallow blogger Chris Wilson describes, “Every major-to-somewhat major college program is dirty to some degree. . . . That being said, there’s nefarious acts done in the dark and there’s nefarious acts done with a middle finger pointed to any and all authority figures. Southern Cal’s constant flaunting and air of ‘You can’t touch this’ make everything that much sweeter.”
If a Notre Dame athletic team is ever sanctioned for infractions comparable to USC’s, the schadenfreude would rebound exponentially more on the Irish because of the school’s truly-holier-than-thou attitude. Barring such an unlikelihood, we can stand on the moral high ground and cheer along with the echoes, “We aren’t SC …We are ND.”
Christine Becker, an associate professor of film, television and theatre at Notre Dame, was recently named by The Wrap as one of 25 TV superfans to follow on Twitter, where she can be found @crsbecker.