Notes from the Geetar: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My History

el kabong with geetar

This week’s One Foot Down podcast talks about the weight of Notre Dame’s football history.  I don’t have a podcast (yet), so this medium will have to suffice for a response.  Figures this would be the week WordPress released the new GUI, so we’ll have to see how this goes.

First, as Josh did, some necessary housekeeping.  I also recognize the depth and breadth of ND fandom.  I have no issues with Josh at all, I usually like a lot of what he writes, and he is, of course, welcome to his position and opinion.  And this probably will piss off its share of readers.  Regardless, I feel the need to respond on behalf of those of us with a little more experience on what ND can and should be capable of in its football program and to put a finer point on some of the issues raised.

Let’s start with….


Josh (and OFD’s) position is to recognize any and all titles ND football has earned.  I have no problem with them doing it, but I also have no problem with Notre Dame not.

You can’t on the one hand criticize Alabama for all the ridiculous titles they claim — a well-earned criticism, to be sure — and then turn around and do the same thing.  It grates on the same part of my psyche as the participation trophy mania of what my dad would have called “America Today”.  Recognizing true achievement should not be a negative.

I agree, ND should have a national title for either 1989 or 1993, but it didn’t happen.  Sometimes life isn’t fair.  We as Notre Dame fans can appreciate what those teams achieved, but I fail to see the need to push that requirement upon unwashed masses whose opinions on the subject, quite frankly, don’t mean dick.  Mopes being mopey doesn’t give us license to do the same, and it never should.

If the AP or UPI/Coaches or BCS or CFP recognize Notre Dame as a champion, they’re a champion.  Otherwise, a small plaque in the locker room and a larger place in ND fans’ hearts is a perfect place for it.


My issue with one-off uniforms isn’t tied to some kind of tradition.  I’ve long been on the record my preferred uniform for ND are the green-and-gold they wore in the latter half of the Devine era.  Names on the jerseys aren’t a deal-breaker for me either … they’ve always put names on the back for the bowl games, at least.  I agree, the uniforms always have had a little slip and slide over the years, and the preference for traditional versus tradition is and should be just that.

But I imagine we’d agree while ND may not always have to be traditional, surely they should always be tasteful, and in this area, the results definitely are mixed.  The garish split helmet from a few years ago was an affront to the cornea.  And the less said about the pinstripes this year the better.

The issue you didn’t talk about, though, is the big one I have — the money grab these alternative jerseys represent.  Jack Swarbrick tries to pass these off as some kind of homage, when in fact they’re the latest effort to separate Notre Dame fans from their dollars.  Things should be worth what you pay for them, and tossing out another jersey simply because you believe ND fans will buy them is a piss-poor reason.

If you have a uniform, wear that uniform.


I also disagree with the assertion a national title in 2018 would be “Notre Dame’s greatest national title of all time”.  Yes, 14 wins would be more than the other title teams needed.  Yes, the last two games against the top two teams in the nation would be an outstanding achievement.

But while it’s not my intention to denigrate what this team has done (not to mention diminish how much I’m enjoying it), let’s remember there’s a reason the ND haters were grousing about the schedule.  The last two games will be a buzz saw, but the 12 that came before it?  Outside of #7 Michigan, the teams that were supposed to be a murderer’s row turned out to be more of a spanking machine — #20 Syracuse and #22 Northwestern, with eight losses between them, are the only ranked foes they’ve faced so far.

If all the scheduled teams had played up to their billing, if SC, FSU, and VaTech had been their usual selves, yes, I’d be more amenable to your point.  But I’m still going to hold 1988 — games against #2, 4, 5, and 7 — and (if we’re considering co-championships) 1989 — games against #1, 4, 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, and 18 — up as the standard here.

Lou Holtz

Which segues nicely into my final point — I truly don’t understand how any Notre Dame fan can in any way be “sick and tired” of the Lou Holtz era.  I also don’t get how remembering the Holtz era detracts from what this current team is doing.

The Holtz era means so much to people like me because it’s the last era at Notre Dame with proper stewardship of the football program.  Remembering it is vital because that stewardship has been in short supply since then.  People like me feel it’s important those lessons not be forgotten lest they never come again.

Notre Dame hasn’t gone 30 years since its last national title because of some amorphous changes in the winds of the sport.  They haven’t won a title in 30 years because they hired:

  • A sycophantic assistant with no head coaching experience who never understood nor appreciated what Notre Dame was
  • A decently-talented coach who couldn’t bring himself to admit the falsehoods on his C.V.
  • An average coach who took the job only under pressure from national figures, never really wanted to be here, and recruited and coached like it
  • Another lifetime assistant whose status as an alumnus and all its potential benefits were drowned out by his incredibly boorish manner and inability to lead
  • A flavor of the month coach with six years total at the Division 1 level who viewed Notre Dame as a stepping stone to the NFL from the day he interviewed and tried to take that step the first opportunity he got

Fortunately for us, that flavor seems to have abandoned his dreams of advancement and chosen finally to focus on succeeding right where he is, and we as Notre Dame fans are reaping the benefits of the last two seasons.  But that happy accident borne of painful and almost record-setting failure came at a very steep cost which, maybe, shouldn’t have been necessary to pay.

I’m sorry you were too young to truly experience and appreciate what happened during Holtz’s era.  I’m sorry ND football has been so poorly run in the subsequent years and that it hasn’t given you much to watch and appreciate.  That’s not our fault, and it’s not Holtz’s fault.

It is, however, the fault of a good many people in the administration ranks at Notre Dame who find quality football embarrassing.  They’re the ones who hate the weight of history, and yearn for the opportunity to shed that yoke.  They’d like nothing better than for ND football to go away so they can gain the “respect” of their fellow academicians — people who, they fail to realize, are never going to like them anyway. 

It’s a dirty job….

If you feel Notre Dame fans are holding on to traditions too tightly, maybe it’s because we feel it’s all we have left of what we were once taught Notre Dame was.  The Dome seems to care a hell of a lot more about looking good than doing good, and that’s bothersome to me and mine.

What you consider “blue-collar and throwback and white and conservative”, we feel to be a Notre Dame based on work ethic, not glitz and glamour.  Make whatever sizzle-and-steak comparison you want, that’s where it’s coming from.  When the people in charge are more concerned about how much money they can make from the corporate tents and jersey sales than how the team is performing, that’s a recipe for 30 years of disaster, and ND has reaped what it sowed.

I agree, this program definitely would benefit from a championship this season, for many many reasons.  But even if they win, I’m not going to appreciate the Holtz years (or the Parseghian years or the Leahy years or the Rockne years) any less than I ever have, and that appreciation won’t detract from the pride I (and a lot of others) feel right now in this team.

Lou Holtz isn’t what’s wrong with Notre Dame football — the feckless administrators that have sold it out are.  Let’s give credit where it’s due there.

15 thoughts on “Notes from the Geetar: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My History

  1. Anyone who thinks it isn’t notably harder to win now for Notre Dame than 30 years ago is either completely out of touch or delusional. The changes aren’t amorphous; that’s fighting a straw man. Here are just a few reasons it’s a lot harder to win today:

    – Demographics have shifted away from Notre Dame, significantly. The South is far more important generally than 30 years ago, and specifically with regard to football it’s way more important. Most southerners don’t grow up pining to go to Northern Indiana for college (I say this as somebody who grew up in a New South city who chose to go to SB. There weren’t many of us). This is a BIG F’N DEAL. This is the primary reason why the SEC is winning so many national titles recently.
    – Catholic school football, on the other hand, has generally gotten much worse over the last 30 years. The pipeline does not exist because you probably couldn’t even make a consistent playoff contender with Catholic school kids only these days like you could have 30 years ago.
    – ND as an institution is much harder for football players to keep up with academically than 30 years ago. The median student is a lot smarter than in 1988, and that makes it that much harder for a football player to do ok even if they are bright (hard to do a 30+ hour a week job and do well in class; Tranquill must be a machine for getting a 3.7 in engineering as a football player).
    – In part because of those heightened standards, we can’t recruit as many top-100 players as they did 30 years ago. As in, cannot even offer them, because they can’t get past admissions. Anyone who tells you football admissions were similarly hard in 1988 as now is straight up full of it.
    – On top of that, Stanford has gotten serious about football, and they are taking some of the more academically inclined players that might otherwise go to ND. And don’t say “we shouldn’t have let that happen” – Stanford is an incredibly attractive place to go to school. I’m honestly surprised any time somebody from West of the Mississippi picks ND over Stanford.

    Don’t be an ignoramus. It’s harder these days. Embrace it. That doesn’t even mean that this would necessarily be the most impressive national title, given our relatively easier schedule, like you said. But doing consistently well now – which we have yet to do under Kelly, let’s be clear – would be more impressive than anything Holtz did at ND, full stop.

    • Personally, I find such a defeatist attitude depressing.

      While southerners may not “pine to go to Northern Indiana”, they’ll definitely go somewhere with a strong chance to win. I’m guessing they wouldn’t pine to play in Green Bay or New England either. Players want to go where the winning is. If you give players a good football-based reason to come to Notre Dame, they’ll come.

      Catholic school football may be declining where you live, but it sure ain’t where I live. Catholic schools won four of the eight Illinois classes this year, and two of them defeated other Catholic schools in the finals.

      You may prefer to think of prep football players as wimpy idiots, but I think they’re made of sterner stuff. They have classroom assistance available to them most students can’t get. If you don’t think the football team is getting plenty of admissions breaks, you need to talk to people who actually cover recruiting. Lou Holtz wasn’t getting any January admissions, for example.

      If we’re going to talk about things in the ND fandom we’re sick of, I’ve completely had it with the “ermagerd it’s sooooooooo hard to win be happy with what we have” hand-wringing. ND didn’t suddenly move from Florida to Indiana, it’s always challenged all of its students to perform in the classroom, etc. etc. Whatever alleged increased difficulties exist can be more than mitigated by what ND always has had going for it — a strong tradition, a world-wide involved fanbase, and the financial wherewithal to ensure its programs can have the best of the best (provided they’re willing to spend it). No other program in the country has that combination to the extent Notre Dame does.

      • I don’t disagree that ND is special, in fact unique. That’s what I love about it. But its specialness (or at least the factors that made the Notre Dame football team special) is basically unchanged from thirty years ago (or have been lessened, e.g., we’re not the only ones always on TV now), whereas nearly all other factors out of ND’s hands have all moved against it. It’s not just because we hired some bad football coaches, though of course that did not help.

        The point is, it is harder now. Holtz wouldn’t do now what he did then, either. And that’s OK! Failing to acknowledge that is probably the single biggest blind spot of this here website. That’s not defeatist; that’s reality. Not owning that is living in denial.

        That doesn’t mean things can’t be better than they have been, or that Holtz would not have done better than Kelly has done, by the way! I would like to think the program has another level that Kelly has not tapped, even in this day and age.

        • Must be why the Patriots have so much trouble winning games.

          Give them a football reason to come, and they will.

          • In the NFL, most of the players on a team were drafted, and they don’t get to choose where they are going to play. Then after the 4 year rookie contract, there is money that helps persuade them in addition to how likely the team is to win. In college, the players get to choose where they want to go, so in-built advantages like being close to home and warm do make a difference. I’m not saying that the Pats don’t get some players cheaper than other teams, but to compare college and NFL roster building is completely unfair.

          • So you’re saying there are other considerations (e.g. money) which can offset a player’s alleged fear of having to play in cold weather. Would not top-quality coaching, facilities, etc., do the same?

            Is the weather really so much better in Columbus?

        • And for the record, I recognize it’s more difficult to recruit at ND than it was previously. The difference is, given the corresponding benefits ND does (or at least can, if it chooses to) enjoy, I rate those difficulties as a 3 to 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Other people wail that it’s a 10.

    • Also, and this is going to be a little mean, but citing to how things are going in Illinois as compared to 1988 and trying to say that things should be the same is basically the perfect embodiment of the general denialism. I hate to break it to folks, but, relative to the rest of the country, Illinois (and Illinois high school football) ain’t what it was in 1988 either.

  2. “If you feel Notre Dame fans are holding on to traditions too tightly, maybe it’s because we feel it’s all we have left of what we were once taught Notre Dame was. The Dome seems to care a hell of a lot more about looking good than doing good, and that’s bothersome to me and mine.”


    I, too, will always hold on to “the Holtz years” because it was the last time that I was able to truly feel a special sense of pride in how the team was performing each week. It was a time when I was excited to watch the next game; and when a BYE week seemed like an eternity between games.

    I was in my late teens then and still reeling from the Faust era (loved Gerry, loathed watching his underachieving teams). Then came Lou…. a small, firey man. It took Coach Holtz to really cured my genuine heartache after witnessing the deathblow Miami had served the Irish, 58-7, to end the ’85 season. From here, he saved what shred of my Irish fandom was left after that beatdown and turned it back into something to be proud of, something to enjoy again. For this, I will never forget “the Holtz Era” (or Father Hesburgh, one of the last true stewards of Notre Dame Football greatness).

  3. I tend to think the landscape of college football including: tv, geography, religion and the way children are brought up today all have worked against ND. Poor hires certainly haven’t helped but they also can’t get the Urban Meyers of the world to take the job and that has to also tell you something. All that being said Kelly has completed his second perfect regular season in 9 years and that’s to be commended. Not an easy achievement regardless of how this seasons schedule shaped up especially considering insane and unnecessary travel. I will firmly disagree with one point. If they win a title this year going through Clemson and Alabama back to back weeks when you consider they will be 11 and then about 17 point underdogs would be their greatest accomplishment.