The sun was shining over a cold and quiet campus this morning as I walked from the parking lot toward Grace Hall for another day of work.
The students and faculty are still on Christmas break and a good many administrators are gone, migrating back from Florida today. The place is pretty serene. It feels empty — like the circus has pulled out of town or the summer vacationers have abandoned the premises, taking their happiness and fun with them.
Those of us left behind, the ones here among the leftover party dishes, surrounded by the boxes and wrappings scattered about the room, will sit a bit longer before taking the tree down. Let’s not let go of the festive feelings just yet.
We had a good time after all. There are memories to savor, even though the heady ride ended with a thud.
Notre Dame lost a football game last night. It was a big game. Given the hype, the media attention, the ticket prices and scarcity, the supposed historical significance and the live television audience, it may have been one of the biggest games ever.
And Notre Dame got bludgeoned.
Whipped, crushed, rolled over, then passed around and through like straw men — not like a 12-0 team ranked No. 1 and with one of the nation’s stingiest defenses.
Losing hurts. It hurts whether you get demolished or have victory snatched away in the final seconds. The game is a competition; the purpose of the contest is to win.
This time the pain may have been worse because it’s been so long since it mattered so much and the expectations were so high and the loss so lopsided we’ll have to endure more taunts and jeers from the people who do not like us.
And, being who we are, we’ll probably plop back down on the therapist’s couch and analyze the hell out of it all.
But today, sipping coffee on this morning after, I’m looking back on what we all had all season long as the party partied on from one week to the next, a new gift opened each Saturday, a different surprise popping out of the box — road wins, overtime victories, close calls, rivals vanquished.
A program mired in mediocrity for decades. A team not thought to be among the top 25 when the season began. And each week, as the wins mounted and the team climbed higher in the rankings, many of us expecting the shoe to drop, for reality to return — and then 12-0 became that reality.
I’m still smiling now remembering those games, the moments of anguish and joy, the leaps of triumph shared with family and friends, the hugging, yelling, high-fiving with 80,000 others in a chilled and darkened Notre Dame Stadium. Singing the alma mater. The family as one. Because of this football team.
This football team brought us together. From 35,000 Domers in Dublin to the thousands who went to Miami without a ticket. From the game-watch parties in cities around the globe to the game-day celebrations on campus. From those had once divorced Notre Dame because of perceived transgressions to those subway alums who shower the place with affection largely because of all the Fighting Irish represent. Young and old, red state and blue, legacy children and those new to the family — we all rode the happy wave.
The football team made everyone feel better about the place. It helped us forget our differences. It helped us put some bad stuff in the past. It helped bring lots of good stuff forward.
Because this team didn’t just win. It won the right way. It showed character and heart and spirit. It represented the University so well that the entire institution shone from the lights cast upon the football team.
So on this quiet winter morning after, when life is beginning to go on, what most needs to be said, I think, is “thank you.”
Thanks to the players for all the hard work, for all you did. Thanks for coming here to play football when it would have been so much easier to choose another place. Thanks for the time you put into the weight room and in the classroom, with the tutors and teachers, all the hours you dedicated and the sacrifices made. Thanks for playing so well this year, for refusing to lose, for playing so well together, for the camaraderie so evident to those of us watching, for being such great ambassadors for a place so many of us feel such a strong attachment to.
Thanks for the terrific memories, for taking us away (even temporarily) from life’s toughest battles, for the excellence of play, for being the willful overachievers who carried us all along with you — and much farther than the rest of us would have hoped when the season began.
Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.