I have a distinct memory of the first time I was truly miserable as a sports fan.
The year was 2007. In addition to my hometown Oakland Athletics embarking on a half-decade descent into incompetence while the San Francisco 49ers remained mired in futility, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish - the team I loved the most - endured what is still their worst season in recent memory. Opponent after opponent absolutely destroyed the Irish, and with postseason play out of the question early in the season there seemed to be no point to any of it. There was something unique about that feeling of total futility which no other team since has truly achieved. My list of football villains - teams, players, national media figures - grew exponentially during that season of pain.
Looking back, having seen many of those defeats avenged and following an Irish program that is far more successful, I have an appreciation for those villains. Don’t get me wrong; I still hate them. But I also understand that college football is a sport where you’re either the villain or the victim, and I’d rather be the former. There’s only one way to beat a bully in this sport, and that’s to become an even bigger one yourself.
Which brings us to this weekend’s matchup with the Florida State Seminoles, a once-great program that has been brought low in much the same way as those Irish teams of the late Weis years. And I want Notre Dame to be to the ‘Noles what those USC Trojans and Michigan Wolverines teams were to the Irish in ‘07. It’s time to be the bad guys.
FSU has been a villain to Notre Dame fans in its own right over the years, but now the tables have turned. Let’s embrace it. I want to tune into previews of the Irish-Seminoles matchup in 2021 and hear commentators talking about how Notre Dame has won the last two games by a combined 70 points. I want FSU to be circling that game as a grudge match on their calendar and their fans to be dreading their opening weekend tilt with the Irish. That’s the kind of energy that makes this sport great, and it’s the role Notre Dame fans have long wanted their team to play.
Of course, we shouldn’t take the ‘Noles for granted. They have a talented team and the Irish are coming off an unusually long period of rest in which many players were forced to abstain from conditioning. That said, Notre Dame has the talent and coaching to wax this FSU team at home, and Irish fans should expect an easy win. As Brian Kelly evidently agreed when South Florida was in town, it’s time to stop being the nice guy.