I suppose I could say I'm still a "young" Notre Dame fan, which is to say that I've never really seen the Irish enjoy much real success in football. Mostly just gut-wrenching losses when it mattered most, and several coaches who deservedly got fired.
Notre Dame has won a national championship during my lifetime, but I was only four years old at the time. The first game I ever watched was that thrilling #1 Florida State versus #2 Notre Dame match-up in 1993. I watched with my dad and brothers, and the win hooked me for life, but of course we all know what happened next: a Boston College stunner, and a national championship pissed down the drain. It was the start of a relationship not unlike an unfaithful lover I kept taking back.
A friend of mine jokes that I've never watched a Notre Dame game that I didn't expect them to win. He's got a point, but if you look at the last two decades of the program, you can see how much of a recipe for devastation that is. We've had a few great players and plenty of teasers along the way, of course. From guys like Autry Denson and Julius Jones to the throwing-and-catching tandem of Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija, Justin Tuck sacking quarterbacks, and the excitable Tom Zbikowski returning kicks. There was Ty Willingham's 8-0 start in 2002, only to lose three of the last five that season. Who could forget the "Bush Push"? And of course, two BCS bowls under Charlie Weis, but losing somewhat convincingly in both contests.
Michigan, my goodness those losses to Michigan. They were worse, in my opinion, than getting thumped so many times by USC because, let's face it, at least when we played USC we knew we were the inferior team on the field and deserved to lose.
But there's something psychological that has begun to change in me this year as a fan. I sort of expect us to catch a few breaks, for our players to make plays when it matters, for intelligent coaching decisions. Even when we trail, it's not utter panic and despair. In the last month of lead-up, I've felt amazingly absent from nervousness and anxiety or fear that we'll be embarrassed on the national stage.
That isn't to say that we can't lose. As everyone knows, Alabama is plenty capable and led by a brilliant coach. But you get the sense that giving Brian Kelly a month to prepare is almost as dangerous as, say, giving that much time to Nick Saban. That Kelly could be our coach for a very long time makes me sleep well at night.
Never mind the joy of seeing a non-SEC team with the crystal trophy, if we win, I will no longer be quite as much much of a "victim" as a fan. My blood pressure won't be as high, I'll swear less at the TV, my friends won't find me as inconsolable for 48 hours after so many Saturday afternoons in the fall. Part of me will have died.