It’s Great to Beat the Irish!

Notre Dame week is always one of the most exciting weeks of the season. And this year the anticipation was heightened by the bye week leading up to the game.

Because I go to every home and road football game bye weeks are always a welcome treat, providing a midseason respite from sleep deprived, football-filled weekends. But bye weeks also build anticipation for the next game because I suffer USC football deprivation.

Interesting thing about bye weeks is that I usually end up spending the entire weekend watching football anyway. Bye weeks provide a glimpse of what my weekends would be like if I wasn’t such a die hard USC fan going to every game.

During the week I try to watch as much pregame coverage as I can and I couldn’t understand why analysts were giving ND any chance of winning the game. I realize it’s a rivalry game, but so is Oregon-Oregon State. If Oregon was ranked #5 and Oregon State #25 would the media be buzzing with how good of a game it would be? No, they would hardly care about the game. The reasonable assumption would be that #5 will trounce #25 regardless of the names on the jerseys. If you didn’t read my last blog entry I went on a rant about this and I’m right damnit!

Nobody gets under my skin more than Lou Holtz. I can’t understand why ESPN continues to let him pollute their programs and airwaves. I don’t think he has a single redeeming quality and he’s totally incapable of making any kind of intelligent contributions. All he does is slur through every segment like a drunkard, interspersing his babble with undeserved praise for Notre Dame and nonsensical hype about ND players being worthy of Heisman consideration. No matter how bad ND is it’s the same garbage every year. There are lots of campaigns to get bad football coaches fired, maybe we need to start a Fire Holtz campaign to get this knucklehead off the air!

I’m also a HUGE Dodger fan so it was hard for me to get on the plane to Chicago on Friday because it departed during a Dodger playoff game that I had tickets for! I caught the first couple of innings at the airport and was praying for a major flight delay which didn’t happen. The Dodgers won while I was in the air and I ended up missing one of the most exciting games of the postseason.

Friday night in Chicago was uneventful. We flew into Midway airport and had reservations at a nearby hotel. We decided not to go downtown so we ended up at Hooters which was one of the few restaurants near our hotel. I’ve never been to a Hooters where most of the servers wore long sleeve shirts and I’ll admit that it took some of the fun out of going to Hooters.

I woke up extra early on Saturday to get a jog in before we left for the game. It was 38 degrees outside so I planned to use the hotel’s treadmill. But I was lured outside by the clean, crisp looking air. I took a step outside and thought “I can handle this.” So away I went into the near-freezing weather in my running shorts and a sleeveless shirt. It wasn’t so bad at first but after a few minutes I couldn’t feel my face, arms or hands. All I could think about was not tweaking a knee or anything because if I had to walk or limp back to the hotel in that weather I’d probably end up with hypothermia!

After the run I showered up and we hit the road. For the entire drive to South Bend I was able to Tweet and follow other football games live from my laptop thanks to the wonders of mobile Internet. It’s a long way to South Bend but having Internet access made the time fly by.

Walking from our parking spot to campus I encountered some of the careers a Notre Dame education can prepare you for.

One we got to campus my first thought was that despite all the hype the atmosphere seemed very subdued. I was expecting to see a bit more enthusiasm from the Irish fans. I saw quite a few USC fans milling about which is always a welcome sight at a road game.

I had quite a bit of interaction with Notre Dame fans throughout the day – before, during and after the game. As usual most were very friendly and hospitable. In all my trips to ND I’ve had very few unpleasant experiences with their fans. That’s typical of programs with a history of success like ND. It’s the upstarts that aren’t used to success, like Oregon (absolute worst fans in America), who give you the most trouble when they suddenly have a good year or two. I’m looking forward to kicking Oregon’s butt in Eugene this year!

The game itself was a lot of fun. I probably had the worst seats I’ve ever sat in but it didn’t hamper the experience. I sat in the USC section of course but had ND fans right next to me and in front of me. They were knowledgeable and friendly from beginning to end. I suspect sitting near the top of the stadium was a lot colder than in the lower rows but it didn’t bother me too much because I came dressed for the cold!

Sometimes bad officiating isn’t obvious unless it’s pointed out by TV announcers and replays but you could tell there were a ton of bad calls from the top of the stadium. I kept thinking that these Pac-10 officials were trying too hard to seem unbiased so they over-compensated to ND’s benefit. However, Pac-10 officials have been giving preferential treatment to USC’s opponents for years now so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

ND’s first touchdown was the result of a fake punt (the play has since been deemed illegal by the Pac-10’s head of officiating) which gave me a lot of confidence. I knew ND would only be able to pull off one trick play so from here on out they’d have to sore legitimately and I was confident they wouldn’t be able to do that against our defense.

At halftime the ND band did a hokey routine that was some kind of tribute to space exploration. It was so kooky that the ND fans sitting around me grunted. At one point the ND band marched in a formation that was supposed to be a rocket but it looked like a condom so I think it was a tribute to the TROJANS:

Throughout the game the USC Band played Seven Nation Army which is now my favorite song they play. The first couple of times my friend Adam and I chanted along and the people around us looked at us funny – the section we sat in skewed a bit older than we are. But by the time the game was over we had the entire section chanting “Oooh oh oh ooh ooh oooooh ooh.” At one point when both the USC offense and defense were on the field huddled up waiting for the officials to make a call, the team spontaneously started the chant. The team loves that song.

Even though ND had two last-second chances to win the game they would not have been in that position without several horrible calls by the officials. I went to Monday Morning Quarterback where coach Pete Carroll reviews game tape with fans and takes questions from them. He pointed out several key calls that hurt USC in the end (he did say that the personal foul penalties were legitimate). Without the help of the officials the final score wouldn’t have been nearly so close.

I’m usually a bundle of nerves in close games but this time I was unusually calm. Everyone around me – USC and ND fans alike – was freaking out. But I kept telling the USC fans to relax because Notre Dame still had to put the ball in the end zone to beat us and no matter how close they get it’s not that easy! We have one of the best defenses in America and Notre Dame’s offense is no match. I just knew we’d hold them and win. I think I’ve developed a sixth sense for heartbreaking defeat and I wasn’t feeling it this time.

But just because I was confident we’d win doesn’t mean I was any less excited when the clock finally ran down to zero (both times). It was an exhilarating victory!

Some interesting aspects of this game are the fact that we didn’t attempt a single 4th down conversion in this game. I’d guess that’s probably the first time in a few years that we didn’t have a Big Balls Pete moment. That’s fine with me because our conversion rate on 4th downs hasn’t been as good as in years past. We only had one turnover and that was an interception off of a tipped pass so you can’t totally fault Barkley for that. You never want to have turnovers but this is an important improvement. We didn’t commit as many penalties as we have in recent weeks but we committed some very silly personal fouls that allowed ND to get back into the game so we still have a discipline problem. And I can’t verify this but I don’t think we had a single penalty on offense which is GREAT. However, by comparison we made eight penalties for 70 yards and Notre Dame only committed four penalties for 38 yards. We need our penalty totals to be more like Notre Dame’s. The defense had a bit of a letdown that was fueled by bad calls by the officials. We finally gave up our first passing touchdown and allowed 27 points which is nearly twice as many as we’ve given up all year (previous high was 15 points to Ohio State).

The season is officially half over and I can’t say I’ve been thrilled with the way we’ve played so far. We haven’t been consistent, motivated or disciplined enough for my liking. These are mental issues and we fortunately have enough talent to compensate but we MUST get better or we’ll pay for it. Oregon State could very easily make us pay if we don’t play the second half of the season with a lot more commitment to victory.

FIGHT ON!

Follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/uscpsycho

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