Character, Good vs. Evil and Choosing Sides

There was a very short "discussion" in the comments under a post I did earlier this week on the potential sanctions at USC. Scroll down two posts if you so desire. Despite the fact that there were only a few comments they seemed to echo the same sentiments that I have seen on several other Blogs and Boards regarding the issue.

Notre Dame Fans
1. USC will face sanctions at some point.
2. USC will get away with all of it!
3. It doesn't matter what happens with USC and the NCAA the only thing that matters is getting back to a point where the Irish can beat them on the field.
(I happen to agree with both #1 and #3)

USC Fans
1. Everyone tries to tear you apart when you are on top.

It was a short series of comments but I felt like they represented both sides pretty well. I obviously spend a significant amount of my free time following college football and the plethora of college football information on the internet and those sentiments were consistent with what I have seen elsewhere. In the last few days I thought about both sides quite a bit. After several days of pondering I came to the conclusion that we all end up as fans of particular teams for a variety of different reasons and in the end I only truly know my own. As a result I appreciate the perspectives of all fans and have great personal relationships with fans of most every team in the FBS. But in the end we all chose sides. We also then have to live with those choices for better or for worse. The following explains how I came to choose mine.

My Dad grew up on the border in South Texas in a large Catholic family. Part of my grandparents weekly routine in the fall was watching the Notre Dame replays on Sunday. As a result my Dad became a faithful second generation Notre Dame fan. Now fast forward about 20 years.

On a snowy Saturday in Late January 1985 Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne knocked on the door of a High School field house in West Texas. Coach Osborne was looking for my Dad who happened to be the Head Football Coach. Dad had a couple of Blue Chip Tight Ends playing for him that year that everyone wanted, including the Huskers. Oklahoma Head Coach Barry Switzer had already taken the duo to Norman for a weekend from which they returned with a few tales that caused Dad some concern. Prior to all this my best friend and I were already avid college football fans at 10 years old. Long before girls, money and other such distractions all we thought about was sports. In the spring and summer it was baseball, and in the fall and winter it was football. Somewhere in there we even played a little hoop. Each fall we spent our Friday nights pacing the sidelines with Dad's team. Those high school boys were our heroes. We fetched balls, brought players cups of Quick Kick sports drink they called "juice" and felt like part of the team.

When Dad's team played out of town on Friday nights my Mom would get us out of school early and drive us all over West Texas to watch Dad and his boys mix it up. We shed tears when they lost and sometimes when they won. After the games we would follow the team to a local restaurant and eat a "Chicken Fry" with the players we so admired. On the way home we would fall asleep reminiscing about the game. On Saturdays we got up and watched college football until our eyes hurt. We sat on the living room floor watching every Southwest Conference, Big 8 and Notre Dame game that was televised that week. Several of the teams we watched play had coaches that called the house to talk to my Dad about his best players on a weekly basis which heightened our interest. We grew up in the middle of big time recruiting and as a result some of the games we watched had Dad's former players on the field. In the end two over the top college football fans were born. Dad worked on Saturday mornings breaking down game film and starting his game plan for the next week. When he got home in the afternoon we would give him a full report on the games he had missed up to that point then he would sit down and watch the rest of them with us. If he missed the Notre Dame game that required a full series by series report which we had at the ready on a Big Chief tablet.

When the games were all over on Saturday evening we went out back armed with a football and full pads looking to relive all the gridiron glory we had witnessed in the last two days. Sometimes we played until well after dark with only a porch light to guide us. It usually ended in a fist fight after one of us slammed the other into the fence or the house at which point Dad would come out and separate us. He would give us a quick talk about how he like our competitiveness but sportsmanship was critical. In minutes all ill will would be forgotten and we would eat some hot dogs or if we were lucky some burritos. It was then that Dad would fire up the projector and let us stay up late for our real lessons.

By the time we were 10 we probably knew more about football than most grown men. During those film sessions Dad taught us the ins and outs. We learned how to read the option, how the middle linebacker runs the defense and how to identify and exploit the weaknesses of an opponent. But the basis of those lessons with Dad always parlayed into something else entirely. He was using football to teach us about life. All those film sessions and discussions always turned to sportsmanship and character. Dad's players didn't dance, take their helmets off or otherwise act foolish at any time. He didn't tolerate it. When he explained the importance of that to us he always cited college programs and coaches as examples. He explained that the reason he was a Notre Dame fan was not just because of their great football tradition but because the Irish represented all of those more important character traits as well. He also talked at length about other college programs that did and did not instill similar values. The point was that those character traits were ones we needed to adopt and apply to our lives.

Tom Osborne was one of those high character men my Dad talked about. When he knocked on the door of that West Texas field house in January of 1985 it was my best friend and I that answered it. We had been throwing the ball around and tackling each other on the wrestling mats while my Dad worked in his office. We knew who Coach Osborne was and we congratulated him on the Nebraska Sugar Bowl victory over LSU that we had watched on
TV two weeks prior. Maybe Coach Osborne was amused that two small boys knew so much and maybe he was just a good man. Either way he sat down and talked football with us for a good 10 minutes before he asked to speak with my Dad about his two Tight Ends. We were in kid heaven for weeks. We met many other coaches before and since but none quite like Coach Osborne. Later that spring both of those Tight Ends signed letters of intent with another high character man in Baylor's Grant Teaff. His recruiting pitch was "If you break your leg tomorrow, you will still get four years of full scholarship at Baylor." They were sold and so was my Dad. Despite a very similar pitch Tom Osborne didnt' sign those tight ends but he reinforced my Dad's lessons on character in person when he spoke to us.

The next year Notre Dame hired Lou Holtz and I don't think I'll ever see my Dad that happy again. He respected the character of Coach Holtz immensely from his days in the SWC at Arkansas and couldn't believe his good fortune as a fan that he was going to lead the Fighting Irish. In the years that followed I have had the pleasure of watching hundreds of Notre Dame games with my father but the Holtz years have no comparison. The victories piled up and those life lessons continued in earnest through my formative years. We finally made our first trip to South Bend together a few years ago and it was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. No matter how many more follow that first one it will always have the most significance.

Like many great coaches my Dad used sports as a vehicle to prepare me for life. Notre Dame football was a big part of those lessons. To this day the number one topic of conversation between my Dad and I is Notre Dame football. The life lessons are over but the foundation is the same. As I sit here now a grown man with my own family I often reflect on that. When I look at my own son I hope I can do half as good a job teaching him about character and how to choose sides.

I'm sure every ND Fan has a similar story, and for that matter every fan of any team probably has a similar story. At least I hope they do. I respect the means by which other fans chose sides and I am comfortable with mine. But I appreciate the different roles and perspectives that all fans share. As long as it is right for you then its right. The game, the programs and the men that lead them represent so much more than the casual fan sees on the field on Saturdays. As much as we get caught up in wins and losses it is really about so much more. That is why I love college football and always will.

As much as I enjoy the friendly banter back and forth with fans I don't really wish any ill will on the Trojans and I especially don't wish any ill will on their fans. These things are cyclical and right now they are on top. But eventually their run will end and the fortunes will reverse once again. They always do. As a fan I can only hope the Irish are back on top again soon and that starts with continuing to do things the right way and being able to trade blows with USC on the field. But rules are rules and if found guilty by the NCAA then they need to be enforced. If the Trojans end up getting sanctioned by the NCAA the end result isn't good for them, their rivals or college football as a whole. But it will provide a great teaching points for guys like my Dad about character, good vs. evil and choosing sides.

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