Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Zen and the Art of Irish Blogging

Forgive me Father, for I have not blogged. It has been 261 days since my last post.

With so much happening in and around the Fighting Irish program, how in the world can any self-respecting blogger go silent for 8 months and 19 days? I have been asking myself the same question, off and on, for months.

The answer, I believe, is inner peace. Not inner peace about the world, or America, or even my own personal or professional life. But rather inner peace about the state of Notre Dame football. Over the past 261 days I realized that the reason I wasn't blogging is that I wasn't feeling the urgent need to write that has driven the OC Domer Blog since I started it 1,611 days ago (March 14, 2007). My motivation for blogging has generally been my personal angst about what the Fighting Irish were, and what they weren't.

In the spring of 2007 the Irish were coming off a 10-2 regular season and a Sugar Bowl appearance. But they had been hammered by USC in the regular season finale (44-24), and were pummeled by LSU in the bowl game (44-14). Brady Quinn was heading for the NFL and four young, untested quarterbacks were vying to replace him. Jimmy Clausen eventually won the job over Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones, and Evan Sharpley. The three seasons of the Weis/Clausen era (3-9, 7-6, 6-6) did little to ease my Irish angst. Of course, the excitement of Brian Kelly's first season under the Dome made 2010 a great year to blog Irish football.

But something funny happened in over the final four games of last season: The Notre Dame football team started to play the way the Fighting Irish are supposed to play. Following back-to-back losses to Navy and Tulsa (can you feel the angst?) Notre Dame hosted the #15-ranked Utah Utes, and in miserable rainy conditions the Irish dominated. After the game I wrote about the experience of being there:

First, although I don't get to South Bend for a lot of games, the game against Utah was the first I can remember for a long while where I felt that the crowd was being vocal enough to give our team a true home-field advantage. It has seemed to me in recent years that the Notre Dame home crowd is generally pretty flat, and not too fearsome for opposing teams. But the crowd was into it last week (sparked by Robert Blanton's punt-block touchdown!) and I really felt that Utah was having trouble communicating and that they were rattled by the crowd. It was awesome!

Second, the scene after the game was unlike anything I had ever seen. I stormed the field as a student at Notre Dame, but I have never witnessed anything like the celebration last Saturday. It was clearly a catharsis. On one level it is silly for a 5-5 Notre Dame team to storm the field after a win over Utah. We're the Fighting Irish for crying out loud. On another level, this team, these seniors, those students have experienced tremendous adversity over the last four years and even in the last few weeks. They needed some good news like nobody's business. The first win over a ranked opponent for this senior class was a sufficient excuse to celebrate. The students poured onto the field, and it didn't take long for the ushers and security staff to switch from trying to stop it to just making sure nobody got hurt. The team and the band and the students were all partying together, and the crowd was so jammed in that the band couldn't march out through the the tunnel. So they just kept playing! The fact that my wife and I watched from the stands while both our kids were down on the field (somewhere!) just made it that much more special.

Third, and this is probably just the optimist in me, but the outstanding play of the defense and the efficient play of the offense (including the appearance of a power running game) really felt like a turning point for this team and for Coach Kelly's program. From the stands you could feel the confidence of the team grow as the game wore on. I sure hope we're able to look back at this game and say "We were there" when Coach Kelly and the Irish turned the corner.
The Utah game did feel like a real turning point in the program. That feeling was reinforced when Tommy Rees and the Irish went to the new Yankee Stadium and did what a Fighting Irish football team is supposed to do to a service academy team - beat them soundly (27-3).

A week later the Irish were in OC Domer country, playing the Trojans in the L.A. Coliseum. It was a glorious day of rain and unseasonably cold temperatures. Both teams were playing back-up quarterbacks in the game. It was only the four Irish turnovers that kept the game close, as the Irish out-rushed and out-gained USC, capping the game with a punishing 7-play, 77-yard drive featuring Robert Hughes power runs of 6, 12, 13 and 5 yards, the final rush for the game-winning TD. I stood with my wife in our typical end zone Coliseum seats with all the other Domers, the rain dripping off us, and I was very happy and excited. But I was also overcome with an intense feeling of relief. The Irish had finally snapped the streak of eight straight losses to the Trojans. To me, the world was once again restored to its proper balance. Notre Dame had gone into the Coliseum and had pushed the Trojans around, literally shoving them backwards the length of the field to score the final touchdown (20-16). It was clear to me standing there in the rain, cheering for Old Notre Dame as the clock wound down, that the Fighting Irish were back. Maybe not all the way back, yet. But Coach Kelly clearly knows what he is doing, and while there may be some bumps along the way, Our Lady's University finally has the right man for the job.

My feeling of inner peace with respect to the Irish was obviously boosted by their impressive performance in the Sun Bowl. Media darling Miami, with all that "speed", couldn't hang with Notre Dame on either side of the ball. The final score was 33-17, but the game wasn't that close.

Although I was hugely impressed with how the defense had matured over the final four games of 2010, and how Tommy Rees had stepped in and led the offense after Dayne Crist went down with injury, I didn't feel the urge to sit down and write about it. It's hard to be interesting when the substance of your posts boils down to: "Wow! We're really good! Did you see how good we looked!"

So where does the OC Domer blog go from here? I have been giving it a lot of thought. The Blue-Gray Sky set an awfully classy example of how a blog should probably just ride off into the sunset when the sense of urgency fades, and real life intrudes. But I don't think I can be that classy. The OC Domer will endure, but it will probably change from what my readers have seen over the past few seasons. I'll still be blogging, but posts will, I expect, be a little less regular. I probably won't write as many long game-preview posts or post-game analyses. I will be gracefully (I hope) bowing out of the weekly Irish Blogger Gathering. But when I notice something that moves me to offer my two-cents' worth, I'll be here. You'll probably see more non-football topics as well. (I know I have threatened that before).

The changes here don't mean I am less passionate about my team, or my alma mater. It just means that I'm more at peace with the state of the Fighting Irish, and that other aspects of my life will be getting a little more of my attention. At least for now.

A Little Blogkeeping

There are a couple of items I want to address before we can move forward with the 2011 season.

1. Congratulations to Tommy Rees, who has been named the winner of the 4th Annual OC Domer Player of the Year Award for 2010. What can you say? A backup QB who takes the reins of a team on the brink of collapse and leads it to wins over Utah, Army, USC and Miami is a no-brainer for this award. Past winners of the OCDPOTYA include David Bruton, Michael Floyd, and Golden Tate. Tommy is no less deserving of this prestigious honor just because I am months late handing it out. The runner-up for 2010 was defensive sensation Manti Te'o, with honorable mention going to kicker David Ruffer.

2. Congratulations to the winner of the OC Domer 2010 Fantasy Football League: OC Domer! I want to thank everyone who has participated in the OC Domer FFL over the past four seasons. I have really enjoyed running the league, and I hope everyone else had fun too. As part of the general reorganizing and re-prioritizing here at OC Domer HQ, I do not plan to organize/manage a league for the 2011 season. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but just because I want to use that time pursuing other interests.