SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the national championship game is in the books, the big question is whether Alabama's 42-14 win over Notre Dame on Monday was really enough, or should the Tide have scored more just for the sake of meanness?
A lot of people take pleasure in seeing those gold-flaked helmets dented. But I figure I'm one of the few outside the Notre Dame fan base who is feeling sorry for the Irish. Nobody deserves a beating like the one they took at the hands of Alabama — except maybe Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban himself.
As it turned out, Monday was the worst day for the Irish since the potato blight of the 1840s.
You know things are going south when even supermodel Kate Upton is piling on.
"It's okay Notre Dame, this happened to the Jets every week," she tweeted during the game.
I know people who said they enjoyed watching Notre Dame get embarrassed, even though Alabama isn't their favorite. As one satire website writer put it, he despises Notre Dame despite never having been there. But I have, and I don't see what all the animosity is about. Notre Dame is only the best college football place I've seen, and that includes ones like USC, Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State and Oregon. (I haven't been to Alabama, but I figure if the Tide keeps getting better I'll be there for a Super Bowl.)
I've been to Notre Dame four times, and it has always been what a world-class university should be. It has ivy, lakes, stately buildings and inquisitive, friendly students — and enough history to keep Ken Burns busy for years.
During one basketball season I was ushered into basketball coach Digger Phelps' office (yes, he was once a coach) with two other writers for interviews, the day before a game. General interviews had completed that morning, but knowing the Utah writers didn't get to South Bend until mid-afternoon, Notre Dame arranged a special session.
It wasn't necessary but nice nonetheless.
Whenever I've been around Notre Dame players, they've been articulate and respectful. The closest thing I saw to a controversial quote on Monday was the one by Irish nose tackle Louis Nix on why they had problems tackling: "I can't explain it. Can you tell me why we're on earth? Can you tell me, what is gravity?"
I actually liked it. It showed Notre Dame could keep its composure after the game but still not be happy about the result.
In 2010 I had a stadium usher named Cappy take me inside the Irish locker room on the day before the game.
"We don't usually open this to the public …" he said as he turned the key. Once inside, he said in a hushed tone, "Not many people are allowed in here."
Then he invited me do as the players and tap the famous sign above the stairway that says, "Play Like a Champion Today."
I've never seen a sign that said "Write Like a Champion Today" so I figured what the heck, this was as close as I'd get. I tapped the sign.
Every time I've been to the stadium, on game days or otherwise, the ushers have said, "Welcome to Notre Dame Stadium. Where are you from?"
You don't get a better greeting than even that on Temple Square.
And each time I was there, ushers would mention their respect for the sports programs in Utah.
By all rights they could have said, "Is that west of Nebraska?"
Notre Dame fans applaud visiting teams as they leave the field — even when the Irish lose.
I admit the place can seem smug, but isn't that always the case when a program has a history and high standards? BYU gets a similar knock. It's true that both schools consider themselves special, but honestly, what school doesn't?
That's how it works. If you get famous, one of two things can happen. You either start copping an attitude, or people just assume you have one. Then they start hating you just because.
I don't love everything about Notre Dame. I'd like to turn a fire hose on that leprechaun mascot. I've heard the fight song more times than the national anthem, which is too many. Still, I had no stake in the game on Monday. So when the Alabama lead got up to 35, I didn't dance a jig, Irish or otherwise.
From what I read and saw on TV, the Irish players were everything they could have been after such a defeat.
I'm not celebrating Notre Dame's loss; I'm sympathizing.
I'm even thinking of sending a condolence note to Cappy.
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