by Mike Coffey
It doesn’t feel like 40 years since Dwight Clay’s shot ended UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak and propelled Notre Dame basketball to the #1 ranking. But the calendar says it’s so, and Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion, then Irish head coach Richard “Digger” Phelps was inducted into Notre Dame basketball’s Ring of Honor as the current squad took down Virginia Tech.
I, however, was not there.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t any kind of protest against Digger or ND or anything like that. The annual AFC/NFC fundraiser for our parish men’s club was also Sunday afternoon. Since it’s our only fundraiser of the year, I’m the president of the club, and I was unsuccessful in getting the NFL to adjust their calendar, I stayed in Chicago and missed the festivities live. I did get to see the 88-1 documentary, and I’m very impressed with the job the FIDM folks did on it. That group has become one of the top-quality producers of video content in college sports, and if you’re not subscribing to their media channels, you should.
But to be honest, the whole “nobody leaves Notre Dame #1” thing has always left me rather cold. Because “nobody”, if you look at ND basketball history, includes Notre Dame.
Making a big deal about defeating a #1 team is celebrating your ability to prevent someone else from doing something special, not doing something special yourself. It’s a lot less Notre Dame and a lot more Boston College. The effort to win the game is something to be commended. But when you’re better known for beating #1 than for being #1, it’s kind of hard to generate pride and energy in the fanbase, which gives you the kind of crowds we’ve seen in the Joyce Center this year — including last night.
I know ND men’s basketball has been ranked #1 in the past … the 71-70 win over UCLA in 1974 put them in that very spot … but damned if I can find any statistics on it. The Media Guide doesn’t say a thing about it that I can see, and Google’s not much help either.
Our willingness to settle for taking someone else down rather than building ourselves up bothers me a lot, and always has. As of the end of the 2012 season, Notre Dame was #13 in all-time win percentage (up from #15 earlier in the century). Of the teams ahead of them, only St. John’s and Illinois have never won an NCAA tournament. I wish Notre Dame would put as much effort into improving that record as they do celebrating the events of a half-century ago. While it’s fine to remember past successes, if you don’t have current ones to build on, they quickly lose their luster.