July 24, 2019

Irish Tradition

Talk about tradition. The University of Notre Dame and its football team bask in tradition every time they take the field.

So when the Fighting Irish take on the University of Miami Hurricanes on December 31 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso Texas, it will be yet another opportunity for the school to shine. The game is nationally televised by CBS Sports at 2 p.m. ET.

Notre Dame marked its 20th consecutive season of football on NBC-TV in 2010, extending a relationship that is the envy of every intercollegiate football program in the United States. NBC loves Notre Dame and the Irish treasure their pact with the peacock network. Unfortunately, NBC does not have rights to the Sun Bowl but CBS does. That’s why you can catch the game on their network.

First-year Irish coach Brian Kelly finished strong, winning three consecutive games, to close the regular-season at 7-5.  Notre Dame closed with wins over Utah, Army and Southern California, to propel itself into a decent bowl. The Irish were a team of streaks this year, however, as they lost to Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford following a season-opening win over Purdue. Then came three straight wins, over Boston College, Pittsburgh and Western Michigan. Next, the Irish lost back-to-back games to Navy and Tulsa, before the three-game winning streak at the end.

With 30 bowl appearances, 222 consecutive televised games, 219 consecutive sellouts, 103 winning seasons, 43 College Football Hall of Famers, 7 Heisman Trophy winners, a 99 percent graduation rate, 466 players drafted into the NFL, and 11 national championships, what else do you expect?  Can anyone spell T-R-A-D-I-T-I-O-N?

The Catholic institution of higher learning is noted for its great game-day tradition. When this writer made the weekend experience come alive in 1993 at South Bend, Indiana, it was a combination of athletics, entertainment and spirituality.

Notre Dame was ranked number one in the nation, thanks to a 31-24 win one week earlier over Florida State. Coach Lou Holtz had his Irish poised for a national championship and bowl showdown with Texas A&M. Next up were the Boston College Eagles rolling into South Bend.

But wait a minute. Despite a No. 1 ranking, the Irish were tripped up by the Eagles, 41-39, and with that loss came the fall from being the top team in the nation. It was a shocking loss- and I was there.

The late conservative talk show host, Kevin Joyce of WJR-AM, arranged the weekend visit for the two of us and a couple other friends of his. “You need the full experience,” Joyce said to me, “so we need to be there from Thursday through Sunday.”

I was able to convince my wife and children that Daddy needed to be away and take in the honor and glory that only a trip to Notre Dame can provide oneself. And I am eternally grateful that I did.

Joyce set up the weekend like only he, as a proud alumnus, could. It included all the elements, such as a tour of the campus, to include the Golden Dome, a visit to the Grotto for prayers, Mass at the cathedral-like church, Holtz’ noontime luncheon, a student pep rally, tailgating and the Big Game. All the fun ended, however, with an unexpected loss.

What a weekend it was. The students, band members, alumni and fans of the team were excitable and yet polite. The rallies and speeches hit their mark. And the priests and ministers at church and at the Grotto were inspirational.

Notre Dame is full of tradition yet it is just not measured in wins and losses on the gridiron. There is so much more to this university than where they finish in the polls or whether they win or lose a bowl game on New Year’s Eve or Day.

The editor of the Notre Dame football media guide this fall summed up my feelings perfectly.

“Cast a glance around the Notre Dame campus and you will see why there is far more to the magic of a Notre Dame football weekend than just 60 minutes of football on Saturday. Wander the University grounds and the spirit rises up before you.”

And Hall of Fame Irish quarterback Joe Theismann added, “If you could find a way to bottle the Notre Dame spirit, you could light up the universe.”

Amen brother, amen.

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Written by
George Eichorn

GEORGE EICHORN is the long-time executive director of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association and sports editor and columnist for a Detroit weekly newspaper. For more than three decades, he has covered the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Championships, and Stanley Cup finals. His articles have been published in the Detroit News, Basketball Times, Basketball Digest, Red Wings Magazine, Baseball Bulletin, Sports Fans Journal, Soccer World, and Bowler’s Digest. During the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, he proudly covered the historic “Miracle on Ice” hockey game when the United States shocked the Soviet Union. Through the years, he has won numerous broadcasting and writing awards, and most recently received the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame’s Special Recognition Award. In 2003, he authored a book about the rich history of Michigan sports broadcasting, Detroit Sports Broadcasters: On the Air, for which the late Detroit Tigers broadcast legend, Ernie Harwell, wrote the forward. He is the married father of two daughters and a graduate of Wayne State University.

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Written by George Eichorn