We’re creeping up on 30 days out for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, and 30 years since that magical 1988 season. I turn 40 years old in just a few wekks, and let me tell you... I’ve been lost in thought lately about what has gone on in my life. I was a 10 year old boy; skinny, poor, and moving from Fort Wayne to Hicksville, Ohio. In fact, the day we moved, Notre Dame won the Fiesta Bowl against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
It truly feels like a lifetime ago.
In those 30 years I grew skinnier, transferred from a private school to a public school, went through high school playing football and ended up taking an engaged girl to my senior prom. I went to college and instantly got lost. I pledged a fraternity, lived on my own for the first time, and stumbled back home thanks to absolutely no parental safety net, and steel imports. I had to come to grips with the first real failure of my life — and then continue to fail again and again and again. I wrecked my car heading to my sister’s wedding reception from the church, and watched the massive amount of wedding guests drive past shaking their heads. I tried a new career, and failed. I tried another new career — and only slightly failed. I got a dog, and he became an absolute legend. I dated quite a few girls and dumped a few while being dumped way more than a few times by them. I helped bury friends that were far too young. I got myself in a ridiculous amount of trouble that became life-changing. I suffered severe anxiety, and the only help I got was a prescription. The prescription helped the anxiety, but it also helped me not care about anything at all — including my life. I had more near-death experiences than anyone I have ever met, and my world crashed down on top of me. I crawled back home and rediscovered the meaning of unconditional love from parents and sisters. I readjusted my life. I met a girl, I fell in love with the girl, and I married the girl. We bought a house for us and our dog (Chachi the Legend) and planned on starting a family. I started writing a Notre Dame football blog. We had a daughter, and I almost became a widower if it wasn’t for the staff at the hospital. We had a son, and he spent the first month of his life in the NICU. He fought hard and I prayed harder than anytime I can remember. We brought my son home and we lived a a fairly normal small town life with two kids. I buried Chachi. I converted to Catholicism. We had our second son and were completely naive about the amount of chaos that was about to bring — but it was the chaos that you thank God for everyday. I saw more loved ones pass away. I struggle everyday with past demons and past decisions. I try to do what is right for my family and some days I feel that I’m doing great, and other days I feel like I’m failing miserably. Mostly though, I feel blessed to have my wife and three children and probably put too much pressure on myself to make their worlds as perfect as I possibly can.
And that’s just some of the things that I can list off of the top of my head that have gone on in the last 30 years.
What about the Notre Dame football program over that span? The state of the program during this era has been well documented thanks to another creation of the last 30 years — the internet. We all know the struggles, the frustration, and the uncertainty of the program during this time.
So where does that put us in 2018? We’ve already established that 30 years is just a ridiculous amount of time, with the possibility of vast change. You can use 25 years if you want (claim 1993 because I do) and that’s still a quarter of a century. I was still too young to drive a car 25 years ago. How does that standard from way back then still be used today?
The ghosts at Notre Dame are real. While they are talked about with pride, joy, and respect by the faithful; they also haunt and frighten. The weight of history and of expectation has a way of making bad things seem infinitely worse, and fun things not all that great.
Where are we as a program — as a fanbase? It’s definitely as divided of a group as one might find, and yet here we all are waiting on another season, another autumn, and another chance to keep the ghosts away and create a new mythology.
It doesn’t matter if your standard for Notre Dame football is “national championship or bust,” it simply isn’t the standard that the University has in place. I’m not saying that you need to alter your standards, but perhaps you should alter your expectations. What should you expect after 30 years? What should any of us expect after 30 years of unbelievable change to a sport that has evolved beyond reason?
Notre Dame continues to march onward during its largest stretch of time between national titles in its history. Obviously we are all anxious and starving for that stretch to end, and we have no reasonable argument to make that would suggest THIS IS THE YEAR.
My daughter is almost 10 years old — the same age I was in 1988. The world is remarkably different, and so is college football. This isn’t a question of “relevance” because the almighty dollar has a way of claiming what is, or what isn’t, relevant. I suppose it really is just a question of what your standards are, and how you relate those standards with your expectations each year.
Are you even having fun? Do the ghosts of Notre Dame haunt you each autumn? Can things change? Will things change?
I really can’t answer any of these questions with much accuracy. Call it apathy, or a state of torpor after 30 years, but my standards have changed because my expectations have changed. I’m trying to stay even-keeled, because the possibility of seeing my expectations being surpassed has far more joy than my expectations being met.
I still believe in ghosts, but they are only a reminder of what was instead of a prophecy of what can be. After 30 years, how can I think otherwise?