Apologies in advance for writing a thinkpiece about an article you probably otherwise wouldn’t have read. We at NDOB normally try to be on better blogging behavior. But I can’t help myself, because I sincerely wish that more folks in sports media, both national and local, had a clue how to write and talk about Notre Dame. Few and far between are the pieces of analysis and commentary that know how to toe the line between the program’s “sacred tradition” and its very real and self-evident place in the current national college football landscape.
I’m referencing a piece that was just published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The title of the piece is, “Bulldogs once more in the role of myth busters vs. Notre Dame.” Alright, we’re rolling with the premise that Notre Dame’s whole deal is a myth. Sure. The first sentence (unironically?) references, and misquotes, the SEC’s “it just means more” ad campaign. Sure. Georgia’s players don’t know how to spell “Knute Rockne” and didn’t cry if/when they watched Rudy. It’s implied that Brian Kelly’s team is disappointed that they can’t ride horses into Sanford Stadium while wearing leather helmets like in the good ole days. Georgia is new, powerful, and worthy of your attention, and we’re old, irrelevant, and small-timey.
If there’s a thesis statement, it’s that “history will not be on trial this weekend, but the immediate future very much is. And that is a time period more in the Bulldogs (sic) control.” Unfortunately, it seems like we’ve already put history on trial, both in the title of the article and in the 148 words preceding that paragraph! We can try to have it both ways, but it would be better if we didn’t. Further, after premising the whole piece on the fact that Notre Dame’s lore is a “myth” and immaterial in the current college football world, we do a quick 180 to “whenever Georgia plays Notre Dame, it’s big. Like total eclipse big.” Huh? Either my reading comprehension skills have rapidly deteriorated since graduation or we simply can’t make up our minds.
So, Notre Dame, once mighty (was that all a myth?) but now clawless, is simultaneously not worth taking seriously and “total eclipse big.” Maybe we are deserving of that eclipse metaphor after all, because Georgia’s one point win over an Irish team fresh off a 4-8 campaign and a win over a bumbling Temple was apparently a “warning to all of college football” and brought upon “a new era.” Are we era-defining or do we suck??? Is this game a heavyweight fight or should we just be grateful to be on the same field as a program that hasn’t even won a national title more recently than the Irish??? Someone please tell me.
This is all less about Finebaum-esque conference superiority (“membership in the SEC has a way of seasoning a team”) (yeah, to choke against your most important rival whenever it matters, hey-ooo) than no one having a damn clue how to handle a healthy and modern Notre Dame program. Notre Dame being good and relevant, even if it never returns to Rockne/Leahy/Parseghian levels of dominance, is interesting and fun and doesn’t take away from Georgia or anyone else being really good and fun to watch! When we go 4-8 you can all laugh at our expense because fair is fair. But there’s a false dichotomy at play here. Notre Dame being good and other more “modern” teams being good are not in any way mutually exclusive. Not everything is a referendum on the past or a referendum on the future.
Since the Irish and Bulldogs met in South Bend in 2017, ND is 23-3 (89% winning percentage) and UGA is 22-5 (82%) against FBS opponents. ND has made the college football playoff once, and Georgia has made the college football playoff once, nearly winning a national title in the process. So no, Notre Dame’s history isn’t dragging it down or propping it up, and the game hasn’t passed the school by. We’re simply a good football team in a good place programmatically. Georgia might be a great football team, and is poised to emerge Saturday with a win. They’re clearly the more complete team right now, and might be able to grab a victory by virtue of the strength of their running game and the weakness of the middle of Notre Dame’s defense alone (a matchup between the 2018 squads would have been really fun). Who knows! Until then, let’s just get excited about a genuinely compelling football game. That’s why we’re here.