Alright folks, it’s Notre Dame week. That means we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming, and it’s time to delve deeply into hating Notre Dame. Yes, I know Notre Dame fans were great to us Dawgs when we went to South Bend in 2017, and I’m all for returning the favor in the form of fried chicken, deviled eggs or a gifted cocktail. However their hospitality in 2017 doesn’t mean there’s not plenty to hate about the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
First, some background. My Mom is the youngest of seven children, and spent most of her childhood in the Midwest. Her upbringing was as Catholic as anyone you know. She eventually ended up coming down South to UGA, marrying my very Georgian Dad and learning the tenets of Vince Dooley’s brand of football (my Mom strongly criticizes every coach that turns down 3 points to go for it on 4th-and-short to this very day.)
Despite all this, she still can’t say a bad word about Notre Dame. When I spoke with her this afternoon she went so far as to suggest this very article is unwritable. I was sent to a Catholic school from 2nd through 8th grades, so I know this isn’t a unique phenomenon. Apparently growing up Catholic means Notre Dame is your version of Shangri-La. Of course this is false.
As is the notion held by seemingly every East Coast sportswriter that believes the general health of college football is better when Notre Dame is ranked highly in the polls. This is ridiculous. There is nothing particularly special about Notre Dame having a good season. Especially because even when they are, it’s the product of a smoke screen produced through the type of weak scheduling that only an independent can pull off.
For example, last year Notre Dame started the season against Michigan before playing such football powerhouses as Ball State, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Pitt, Navy, Syracuse and Northwestern. They mixed in games against a 6-6 Virginia Tech, a historically bad Florida State and a 5-7 USC team that they beat by only 7 points. That gave them the 61st ranked strength of schedule last year, and even after a 12-0 regular season, the Fighting Irish’s resume was only 10th best in the country. Even the University of Central Florida, a team college football has collectively decided to dismiss from consideration for a CFP berth due to their weak schedule (and the fact that nothing could be more pathetic than fake national title parades in Mickey Mouse land), finished higher than Notre Dame. Yet Brian Kelly’s team went to the playoff last year because they’re Notre Dame and we as a society have decided we’ll find any reason to put them in a high-profile postseason game. Georgia, despite its two losses, had America’s 3rd best resume after playing college football’s 11th hardest schedule, and missed out on the playoffs.
Fortunately, all the folks who consider themselves fans of the New York Yankees, New England Patriots and Duke Basketball got an excuse to wear their Notre Dame hats during the holiday season. Predictably, the Irish got walloped by Clemson 30-3 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score. This is a tradition of sorts. You see, Notre Dame has lost the last 8 major bowl games they’ve appeared in. For some reason, they continue to be put in these games.
I want to take a moment here to talk about Brian Kelly, who is the worst type of college football coach, in that he thinks being a college football coach provides him spiritual license to act like a petulant child when things don’t go his way. Let’s flash back to the night of Georgia and Notre Dame’s last meeting, right after Davin Bellamy and his SEC speed flew around All-American left tackle Mike McGlinchey and sacked Brandon Wimbush, forcing a fumble that gave Georgia the victory. Following the game, reporter Laken Litman asked Brian Kelly a question about how he planned to keep the loss from snowballing into another 4-8 season for the Irish. Instead of answering, he decided to bully Litman.
Much like the Hollywood lie that Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger was lined up legally for his 1975 sack against Georgia Tech, any moment that Kelly appears to be a nice guy is part of a manipulation designed to fool the viewer. Rudy was offside, and even when pretending to be gracious, Kelly always believes he’s the smartest guy in the room.
So far we’ve covered some good reasons to hate Notre Dame, but there’s one that serves as my personal holy grail...
As members of Bulldog Nation, we remember the 2012 season well. For all intents and purposes our Georgia Bulldogs were a few yards away from winning the national title. I have previously addressed the pain of that SEC Championship Game loss here, so I won’t take the time to do it in this space. The reason a conference title game in December served as the de facto national championship is because Notre Dame was the #2 team in the BCS standings at the end of that regular season. Remember, back then the polls were a large part of the BCS formula, so they mattered a lot. The 2012 Irish were lead by star middle linebacker Manti Te’o, and scraped through a weak schedule, pulling out close wins week after week.
Te’o became the darling of every national media outlet after he lost his grandmother and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, in a matter of hours in mid-September. Te’o suffered these losses before going out and leading the Fighting Irish to an upset of Michigan State that weekend. We were then treated to dozens of stories that season about Te’o and his teammates “grit” and “heart” and “will to win.” Remember the polls were a large part of the BCS formula. Writers made up the votes of one of the two major college football polls. They are also a sucker for great stories. With Te’o and Notre Dame they had one. The media attention given to Manti Te’o was so great that it lead to him winning the Lott, Maxwell, Walter Camp, Bednarik, Nagurski, Butkus and Lombardi awards while finishing in second place for the Heisman Trophy. This was all for a player that played middle linebacker and finished tied for 48th nationally with 111 tackles and only registered 2 sacks. Think about this... He was a middle linebacker who finished second for the Heisman. With those numbers. That’s absurd!
All of these accolades were given to Te’o partially because of his story. The story of a man who took his pain and grief and turned it into grit and glory on the football field, while helping lead an anachronism like Notre Dame back to relevance, is the type of thing journalists can’t help but lap up. Nobody paid any attention to the fact that Notre Dame played a weak schedule and were taken to triple overtime by a God-awful Pitt team. College Football as a whole decided to roll the Fighting Irish out there in the National Championship Game against an Alabama team that went up 28-0 before halftime when, among others, a perfectly good 11-1 Oregon team was sitting there with plenty of athletes capable of creating a moderately entertaining football game. The Manti Te’o/Notre Dame narrative was too powerful to allow anyone to question whether or not there inclusion was just.
Well, it turned out that Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, the person whose death thrust him into the national spotlight and made him one of the largest media darlings in modern sports history, wasn’t dead. She wasn’t alive either. She never even was. Lennay Kekua’s entire existence was a hoax. Te’o claimed to be the victim of an internet troll, but seeing how the administrator of Kekua’s online existence was a family friend of Teo’s, it seems more likely that he was in on an elaborate PR scam that worked exactly as planned. I found this out like all of you did, a week after the end of the season, and immediately wondered how a college student with an imaginary girlfriend didn’t end up at Georgia Tech.
I sat and thought about it all for awhile...And that’s when I knew I hated Notre Dame.