Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Notre Dame Gives Reason to Hope, Again

The Notre Dame football team is known for its history of victory and amazing strength. But commentator Frank Deford considers their recent record and wonders if this reputation is deserved.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And politicians may look to the world of sports for inspiration. Now that the college football season is under way, commentator Frank Deford looks to the Fighting Irish.

FRANK DEFORD:

In this crazy, topsy-turvy, mad, Barnum & Bailey world, there are few things you can count on anymore, fewer still sweet, innocent things, fewer, fewer still sweet, innocent things in sports, except, reliably, every year about now as the white shoes go back in the closet and the yellow school buses appear on our streets, the entire journalistic sporting community always turns its thoughts to only one thing: Can Notre Dame's football team come back to glory? Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame.

In the breathless anticipation department, in fact, Notre Dame football used to have to share this time of year with Miss America. Notre Dame football was, in fact, sort of like the masculine version of Miss America. It was Master America. But now, of course, poor Miss America has been banished from September, gone to January on some obscure cable network in another galaxy. So the Irish alone must embrace all our traditional September dreams.

Now understand, I'm perfectly happy to get involved in this annual Irish anticipatory mode, but I've been teased too long. Really, how often can I be told I must get excited anew about Notre Dame as the Irish keep letting us down? When are they finally going to wake up the echoes we keep hearing about in that famous fight song?

Notre Dame has only won one national football championship in the last 27 years, and that was way back in 1988. Only one Irish player has won the Heisman Trophy in the last 40 years, and he back in 1987. That is, Notre Dame hasn't finished on top since the man who played the Gipper of Notre Dame fame was in the White House. Hm. A coincidence? A curse?

Anyway, mediocrity has ruled and they keep changing coaches, religiously, almost as often and capriciously as the woebegone Washington Redskins do. It's the same old story: New coach comes in, he's a marvel! Wow, the Irish are back! But then it all goes south in South Bend. Fire the bum! Bring in the next coaching savior.

In its halcyon days, when those echoes were wide awake, every bloody autumn Notre Dame had what were called `subway alumni' all over the United States, even in places where there weren't any subways. At that time, when few Americans went to college and there was no pro football to speak of, Notre Dame became the simulated alma mater for so many Roman Catholics. All the saints weren't in heaven; at least 11 were in South Bend on Saturdays.

But it's a different America now, different demographics. Still, the gridiron image dies hard. The school brought in yet another new coach this year, and out came the same old tub-thumping. But hey, sometimes life does follow hype. The Irish not only won their opener but then, this Saturday past, beat Michigan, the number three team in the country. And right now, the echoes are sitting up in bed absolutely shouting.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

(Soundbite of Notre Dame fight song)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford
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