I once loved Notre Dame…I loved Lindsey Nelson telling me “…we move to further action in the fourth quarter” while my mom was yelling “Get ready for mass!” But I grew up. Notre Dame football has been living a lie, as Lou Holtz likes to say…That hurts your feelings? Watch ‘Rudy‘ ’til you feel better. –ESPN’s Rick Reilly, from his column “Demoting Notre Dame”
Frank: [to Rudy] Are you gonna kiss his [Ara Parseghian's] photograph every night?
Pete: [to Frank] What’s your problem?
Frank: Or maybe he’ll let you wipe his ass.
Pete: Why don’t you leave him alone?
Frank: As long as my brother talks this crazy Notre Dame s***, he deserves it.
Pete: Hey, you were a pretty big Notre Dame fan.
Frank: Yeah, I used to collect baseball cards too. –dialogue from the movie, Rudy
While I was still waiting to sign on the dotted line as Rant’s Notre Dame blogger, a story arose online that raised the ire of many an Irish fan; Rick Reilly’s “Demoting Notre Dame.” Since many a fine response has already been written to Reilly’s rabid rhetoric, I would usually be content to let sleeping dogs “lie” (pun intended), but this time I cannot. Not only because I believe his statement about Lou Holtz is absolutely false, but because there’s an awful angle to the story that has yet to be exposed, or as Reilly would say, demoted.
As my old Notre Dame philosophy teacher used to say, the worst lies are those with a grain of truth, so let’s start with the few things Reilly got right. Reilly is quite correct in stating that Notre Dame hasn’t competed for a national title in nearly twenty years, and I have often felt the Irish’s drop in the football polls and the school’s concurrent failure to always promote its Catholic identity (allowing The Vagina Monologues to be performed on campus, or granting the pro-choice President Obama an honorary degree despite the strict edict of the US Bishops to the contrary) is more than just a coincidence. Still, if Notre Dame sometimes struggles to maintain its legendary football status and Catholic identity into the twenty-first century, Reilly appears to have abandoned his faith in its entirety.
In other words, Reilly is so blinded by rage at his former team that he doesn’t even realize how wildly he is missing the mark. As fellow Notre Dame writer and grad John Walters states, “The utter irony of a writer who was at the top of his game 20 years ago earning [big] money by calling out Notre Dame is hilarious. You want to prove Notre Dame doesn’t matter? Go write 2,000 words about Clemson…It’s called the free market.”
It’s not clear whether Reilly is upset about the University’s contract with NBC because millions of fans are still finding enough Notre Dame moments to watch the team on TV, or because Notre Dame in turn uses these broadcasts to promote its Catholicity (note its “We are the Fighting Irish” commercials) but the Irish irony gets even thicker when he taunts the ND faithful to “watch ‘Rudy’ ’til you feel better.” For when one takes his advice, they will find that Reilly bears an eerie similarity to Rudy’s dour older brother Frank, and rather than prove the sports journalist’s point, it confirms the fact that Reilly is really the woeful, over-the-hill cynical critic Walters says he is, instead of the insightful writer Reilly wishes he still was.
Still, Reilly’s worst sins are his ignorant attacks on the name of Notre Dame Herself. Reilly claims Notre Dame is “too noble to belong to any piddling conference,” when even an ounce of research reveals that in the late 1990s, the last time Notre Dame seriously considered becoming a full-time member of a conference (the Big Ten) they rejected it not on football grounds, but because being the only Catholic school in a conference of secular institutions would stifle its religious mission, whereas a partial membership in a conference (the Big East) where several of the other schools were also Catholic wouldn’t. Then, like many men who reject religion, Reilly decides to play God himself, boasting, “I’m declaring an end,” to ND’s “NCAA and BCS” perks. Really, Mr. Reilly? Well, if you have that kind of power, maybe you could shut up that blowhard Joe Biden for awhile too.
Finally, Reilly’s malicious remark that “[s]omebody needs to stick a pin in the still-inflated Golden Dome,” are fighting words not only to Notre Dame fans but to all Catholics and good people everywhere. Because, despite rumors to the contrary, the Golden Dome is still the primary home of Our Lady at Notre Dame, and his suggestion to take Her down would amount to hate speech except for the fact our current administration in Washington defines the term as an attack on any religion except Christianity. Even so, ESPN, who would love to get out from under Reilly’s annual three million dollar contract, should seize this opportunity to force Reilly to apologize to Notre Dame, Holtz, and the Catholic Church, or fire him on moral grounds. For in the case of insulting millions of worshippers, ignorance is no excuse.
In closing, it is interesting to note that at the end of “Rudy,” Frank came around and embraced his brother’s beliefs, and we can only pray for a similar conclusion to the life of Reilly. But until that epiphany comes, Notre Dame remains much closer to the reality of college football relevance than Mr. Reilly is to the knowledge of what it really means to be a man.