Tuesday, August 29, 2006

See Dick and Jane Write

In the immediate aftermath of the controversy over Jeff Carroll and Bob Wieneke's series on ND recruiting, someone linked a sports journalist message forum on Rock's House. Wading through the critical comments about NDN in particular and "fanboys" in general, there seemed to be a thread of complaint that Notre Dame fans were afraid of what was described as "objective journalism" in coverage of the Fighting Irish football team.

Now, I know that hypothesis to be untrue. As I've said before, no one wants homerism in ND-related media because homerism is neither interesting nor informative. And most of the Notre Dame writers held in the highest esteem by a lot of fans (e.g. Avani Patel, Malcolm Moran, Vaughn McClure, Eric Hansen, Jason Kelly) are anything but homers (Kelly's status as an alumnus notwithstanding).

So what is it ND fans seek in their media? It's simple: Objective material that presents the facts and allows the reader to draw the conclusions rather than having those conclusions forced down their throat. That's what the five people I listed above do very well in most of their literary efforts.

So here is my primer on the things media folks can do or remember in order to give ND folks the coverage they'll read without sacrificing their objectivity. None of these things are difficult, and they represent the things the highly-regarded ND writers do that results in the readership taking them seriously. Perhaps instead of whining about the alleged intransigence of Notre Dame fans, some media folks could decide to meet them halfway.

Put some effort into your research

I hesitate to use a word like "lazy", given its pejorative underpinnings. So suffice it to say utilizing tired cliches and half-presented facts in an article is not going to win you friends anywhere, and the Notre Dame fanbase is no exception.

In the age of the Internet, fact-checking is made available to even the most novice web surfer, and you can bet on those folks verifying any and all allegations and information against all data available. You're going to be graded by a lot of motivated folks, so you're best served doing the legwork and getting it right before the lack of such legwork is exposed.

Under the Tarnished Dome remains the archetypal failure in this field and will probably not be challenged any time soon. But a new and similarly egregious example has emerged recently: comparing the first seasons of Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis as a cautionary tale for Irish fans.

Yes, they both lost only three games and got a lot of attention. Yes, after five years of Bob Davie's ineptitude, part of the ND fanbase was excited by a 10-win season. But Tyrone Willingham's first team didn't score an offensive touchdown until the third game of the season, looked terrible in four of their last five games, and suffered the first of three consecutive blowout losses to Southern Cal, so most knowledgeable ND fans went into season two with plenty of questions that needed (and, as it turned out, didn't have) answers. Charlie Weis' first team, on the other hand, scored less than 34 points in a game only twice over the course of the season while being competitive in all three games lost. As a result, there is a lot less uncertainty in the alumni and fans going into Weis' second chapter.

Past performance never guarantees future results. But given the unlikelihood Weis will hit his head and suddenly forget how to be the coach he's been so far, logic dictates (a) ND fans can reasonably be more confident now than they were in 2003, and (b) warnings about alleged "parallels" will be viewed as simplistic and overcautious, presenting a negative picture to the reader.

Subway alumni are people, too

Judge Smails once reminded us all the world needs ditch-diggers, too. Unfortunately for Notre Dame's subway alumni, this seems to be the prevailing attitude by which the media views them.

Not everyone in the world goes to college, and not everyone in the world goes to a college that has a Division 1 (or Bowl Division or Eagle Reading Class or whatever the NCAA is calling it now) football program. So logic dictates the masses of humanity filling up these football stadia every Saturday (or Thursday or Tuesday or whatever day ESPN, in its never-ending battle to do for sports what MTV has done for music, has bribed some schools to play its games) aren't entirely made up of the graduates of the two institutes of higher learning in question. So the non-alumnus fan is not a phenomenon unique to Notre Dame.

What is unique to Notre Dame, however, is the use of a specific term to describe such a fan. "Subway alumni" was coined in the 1920s and 30s to describe the many Notre Dame fans in New York City who, while they didn't attend Notre Dame (or any college, for that matter), would ride the subway to Yankee Stadium to watch the Fighting Irish take on the Black Knights of the Hudson from up Army way, and the term eventually grew to encompass the entire non-alumni fan contingent. Subway alumni take great pride in their status as such, and Notre Dame alumni recognize how they've contributed to the history and tradition of the program.

Also unique to Notre Dame, apparently, is the condescending, if not downright hostile, tone in which non-Notre Dame folks, including a lot of media creatures, use that term. No one has any problems with the auto worker from Detroit who makes seven pilgrimages to Ann Arbor every fall, nor the distillery worker who considers a September Saturday not spent in Knoxville to be a waste of time and life, nor the UCSB grad who has spent the last three years going to games in the LA Coliseum and who will no doubt disappear the next time the Trojans go 7-5.

But brand yourself a Notre Dame subway alumnus, and John Mark Karr has a better chance of getting positive comments from the media than you do. The subway alums, the media says, are somehow defective in their fandom. They only care about the team and not the school.

This, as I said, is a shortcut to a tune-out. At the risk of painting with a broad brush, most of the subway alumni active in their Notre Dame fandom care as much about the school in general as they do about football in particular. Attempting to create a "crazed booster" contingent in the fanbase is a strawman of the worst kind.

I suspect the root of the problem with opposing fans is a belief if the subway alumni weren't rooting for Notre Dame, the school would get less attention nationwide and would not enjoy the influence in college football it has. I would certainly hope media folks who are supposed to be objective about their topic wouldn't fall into such a simple-minded trap, because such things are supposed to be above those with journalistic integrity. Besides, all those schools have subway alumni contributing to their own influence that I'd guess they'd hate to lose.

Don't assume a willingness to embrace a lawbreaking culture

In short, selling ND's soul for football glory. Again, Under the Tarnished Dome sets the low-water mark, but this is the mistake Carroll and Weineke recently made in their four-part recruiting article in the SBT I talked about here.

In over 100 years of playing football, the only thing Notre Dame has done at a higher percentage of success than playing football is following its rules. All areas of the Notre Dame family, from the coaches and players on down through administrators, alumni, and yes, even Subway Alumni, put a priority on compliance just as much as winning. To them, a win out of bounds is not a win.

Therefore, if you're going to attempt to prove the existence of a mindset that runs counter to that 100 years of history, you need to bring very strong evidence to back up your assertion. Otherwise, your ND-related readership is going to turn the page. You might earn cheap points with those on the ND-hating side of the ledger, but if that's your goal, you're unlikely to take any of this to heart anyway.

No one believes Notre Dame is perfect

Not everything Notre Dame does is right. Mistakes get made there just as they're made everywhere. Sometimes they're benign, sometimes not so benign, but they're there, and any Notre Dame alumnus or fan with a basic level of intelligence knows it.

If you go into your story believing ND fans need to be convinced of this, most likely you'll end up with a heavy-handed piece that won't be viewed well because the readers will interpret it as an agenda on your part. You may think you need to make hyperbolic statements and arguments to drill through the perceived shell of resistance, but when the shell isn't there, the drill just goes too deep and weakens your piece.

If the details of a mistake are presented with a factual emphasis, most of the Notre Dame readership will listen. If it comes across as gratuitous, with aspects blown out of proportion or buttressed with questionable material, they will not, and that lack of interest shouldn't surprise you.

Labels: , , ,


Anonymous MoragaDomer said...

I would add Mike Celzic, ND '70, as a first class national sportwriter who is objective in his articles re the Irish

8/29/2006 01:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great column El. You nailed it right on the head. As a subway alum and a season ticket holder for 40 seasons, all I ever wanted to read is an accurate portrayal of us fans, our team, and the school we all love without seemingly hidden agenda's ! Thanks for an artical that speeks for millions of us.

8/29/2006 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great read and not one single mention of the defense's lack of speed! Honestly, I grew up in South Bend, graduated high school from St. Joe, and attended Holy Cross before pursing an opportunity to play collegiate soccer in California. I moved to South Bend in 1984, and unless you're from the area, you don't realize that ND football is just as much about great people than it is about winning. Among my neighbors and friends growing up were Jim Higgins (Faust staff) and his three sons; Barry Alvarez and his son Chad; Bob Chmiel, a great guy with a wonderful family; and of course Lou Holtz, whose door bell chime was the ND Victory March....we loved visiting his house on Halloween. I love Notre Dame and every thing the school stands for, and I've always thought that non-ND grads were viewed nationally as fair weather fans. It couldn't be further from the truth. Now I live in Puerto Rico, and this year will begin my annual “pilgrimage” to at least one home game. I’ll be there Sept. 16…Go Irish!

8/29/2006 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a notredame subway alumni and am proud of it!! I grew up in california and now reside in beautiful richmond va. and let me tell you i have fololowed the irish for 24 years now and have loved every minute of it. And i can surely thank my dad for that he got me started,also a fellow subay..er thanks dad and GO IRISH!!!!!!

8/29/2006 03:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a subway alumni and get tears in my eyes whenever I hear the victory march. I grew up in SB with several generations of ND fans in my family including my dad who understood the history and essence of ND football better than most alumni. For the most part we are as loyal and enthusiastic to ND as a convert is to catholicism. Go Irish bear GT.

8/29/2006 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in South Bend and now live in Portland, Oregon. I'm an IU grad but have been a ND guy since my dad took me to see Paul Hornung QB the Irish when I was 6 years old. The bottom line is people either "get it" when it comes to ND or they hate the Irish because they either don't "get it" or are jealous because their school doesn't even close to approximating the doings, atmosphere, etc. associated with the ND experience. There's nothing more satisfying then wearing my ND hat and shirt in a non-ND atmosphere. Go defense....

8/29/2006 04:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, y'all think that the subway is the end of the line for fans of ND? A friend of mine hates ND with all his being. He is Germany for Octoberfest...in a beer hall...with people from all over the world...the oompa-pa band is playing German music. All of a sudden, the band plays the Victory March!! AND people knew the first words "Cheer Cheer for old ND" My friend said," I never knew what ND was about until that moment." He got it right.It goes way beyond the subway.

8/29/2006 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Dad went to night school here in Chicago after WWII. But he LOVED the Irish. They were in his blood and in the blood of my entire family as I grew up on the South Side during the 50's and 60's. My brother and I both went to ND and my Dad was there for every home game from 61 to 64 and from 66 to 70, loving each and every minute of it, even during Huey Devore's 2-7 year in 1963. God bless the subway alums for inculcating a love for Notre Dame in their kids that matches the spirt passed on by any alum. GO IRISH.

8/29/2006 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

some people will never know how it feels to live and die with a team, for me that team will always be ND.as a subway alum myself i will say that to me there is no greater feeling than seeing those gold helmets rush out of that tunnel, once you experience a game in person it becomes a religion. win or lose ND will always hold a place in this mans heart until the day i die. now ONWARD TO VICTORY!!!

8/29/2006 05:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a proud subway alum, class of '79. I had never been to ND until I took my daughter there for a visit. She is now a sophomre at ND, plays baritone in the band, and says one of her greatest thrills was marching from the tunnel onto the field for the first time. She bleeds gold & blue. But it's not just about football. How can you not be moved when driving up Notre Dame Ave. & see the Dome? Or visit The Grotto late at night? As Lou Holtz said in describing ND: "Special- if you've been there, no words are necessary. If you've never been, no words are enough". God, Country, Notre Dame.
Bill Ramsey, Winter Springs, FL.

8/29/2006 07:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget Canada. There are lots of Canadian subway alums up here too who live and die with Notre Dame, sing the fight song, attend home and away games, read all of the articles, and care about the university.
Toronto, ON

8/29/2006 07:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I a ND fan and every year I travel form Toronto, Ontario, Canada for a game; I have a friend who is ND alumnus and he get me two tickets in the lottery; I watch all the other games on TV. I am especially looking forward to this season; should be exciting. Let's hope we get to play Ohio State in the Championship game as SI predicted.

8/29/2006 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Growing up in South Akron, Ohio in the 1950's and 1960's attending a Catholic school, even the nuns were ND fans. Later I learned that Ara Parseghian was from our neighborhood. My father and grandfather followed the Blue and Gold, it's family, Faith, and what is common care for one another in life...ND FOOTBALL !!!

8/29/2006 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous IrishTBone said...

Subway alum have many a story to tell. Mine is: Both my Grandfather and Great Grandfather worked at ND from the early 1900's, in the tin shop. My Grandfather placed gold leaf on the 'Dome'. When my Grandfather passed away in 1967-8, ND closed to allow the Fathers and personell attend his funeral.
My father and my aunts had food on the table during the depression because of steady employment with ND. That's the ND Family way.

8/30/2006 08:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brady Johnson and subway alum from Bremen, Indiana. Being a fan of Notre Dame is one of the requirements to be a apart of my extended family. At most of the family get togethers, conversations are started with phrases like, "How about the Irish", or "What do you think about the line". Notre Dame football along with baseball and basketball is one common denominater that unites my family.

8/30/2006 09:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a proud “subway alumni” and agree whole heartedly that not everyone has to be a college grad to be embrased as a true blue ND fan. I did go to college and graduated with an EE degree from Western Michigan University. I live about 50 Miles from the ND Campus and probably drive down there a dozen times a year during the off season just to wander around. I am fortunate beyond belief to have a close friend who has Football season tickets and invites me to most of the home games. I tape the game and watch it all week until the next game. I choke up when I walk into Rock’s House and the pre-game tradition gives me goose bumps. I have a friend who is a “Domer” and we chat often. I fly the ND flag all season on my flagpole at home just below the Red, White and Blue. I love ND and all it stands for. Your article is great. GO IRISH!!!!!!

8/30/2006 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up Irish/Catholic and sometimes think a more accurate description is a Ruettiger family member. I loyally watched ND games, but didn't step foot on campus until after I had graduated from college. My first visit to campus was not during football season and it was a trip I'll never forget. It truly is a special place. Sometimes all of the haters help me appreciate ND even more. It amazes me all the ND fans I've met around the country just by wearing a hat or shirt when I travel. Not to mention the extra cash that guys I didn't know put together in a piano bar to keep the ND fight song going. You'll find me at the drum circle beofore the Army game. Go Irish!!!

8/30/2006 04:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must Thank You out of the gate. This will do more justfying than anything I've ever tried to exsplain to my in-laws (ND Haters) who can't grasp why I love ND so much with out attending the school. I've told them a visit on game day is all it would take for them to understand my ND passion. I was introduced to the ND spirit by my uncle when I was in Catholic grade school and feel that it was blessing. I've been all across the country to watch ND games and I'm proud to report the subway boys are supporting the school with the same class the name represents. Go Irish!

8/30/2006 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Celizic is indeed objective and he is a Domer. He is the author of The Biggest Game of Them All, which is marvelous! Read it!

Charlie Kenny

8/30/2006 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Gary Indiana, all my life I've been a ND fan. My greatest day is when I got to take my son to ND to watch a game. The day was perfect. ND beat LSU. I would walk around campus with my son and just get tears in my eyes, cause I always said, "one day I'll bring my son here" and I did.When he was little, I painted his room Blue and Gold with nothing but ND stuff throughout his room. I love in Alabama now, and what joy I get battleing these tide fans. My son goes to Auburn and loves his school, but he always refers to the Irish as our team. During Auburn games, he'll text me and ask how we're doing. Some people just don't get it. Thank you and Go Irish

8/31/2006 06:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Number of BCS bids achieved:
Weis 2, Willingham 0"

This is true, but in 3 years Weis will have beaten exactly one team (Penn State #24) that finished in the top 25 final rankings. However, in Ty's 3 years as a coach at Notre Dame had 8 victories over teams that finished in the top 25 rankings. So do you think strength of schedule may have had something to do with the difference in BCS bids?

"Number of wins in first two seasons:
Weis 19, Willingham 15"
Again, it is indusputable that the schedule has been more favorable the past few years based simply on wins and losses of opponents. In Charlie's first year he beat exactly two teams with a winning record (Navy and a 7-5 Michigan team)

"Number of top 10 recruiting classes:
Weis 2 (one more on the way), Willingham 0"
Can't dispute that. As long as Weis doesn't contiue to chase away recruits once on campus (lost four 4 star recruits just this year--that class ranking would not be nearly as high without those players), the next Notre Dame coach should have a loaded roster, of talented, but undeveloped players.

"Number of recruiting classes outside the top 30:
Weis 0, Willingham 2"
Not true. Ty had one class out of the top 30, and that was 32 in his third recruiting class. His first class was 24, and his second was class was 12. I am sorry but you can't pin the 40 ranking on Ty, as he was not the coach on signing day. In all fairness Ty had two full classes with an average ranking of 22. Charlie has had two full classes with an average ranking of 8, and looks to surpass that with this years class. No doubt Charlie is doing a better job than Ty ever did on recruiting.

But again, with as many defections as Weis has had, his recruiting ranking would drop quite a bit if re-figured. Still have more talent than Ty, but trying to pin the 40 class on a coach who is no longer employed by that school is weak.

Also, when talking about recruiting isn't funny that Charlie can win with Ty's guys, but is 1-7 with two full recruting classes under his belt

Bottom line is after 3 years, Ty will have had 8 times as many victories over teams that finish ranked in the top 25, and with a better overall record. I think Charlie deserves another year, but the point about the extension after 8 games is valid. Ty had beaten 4 top 20 teams in his first 8 games, Charlie has beaten one in his whole head coaching career.

10/27/2007 01:37:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home