Sleeping with the enemy? Football open thread for Thanksgiving
by Bob Timmermann
Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?
That is the question I will ponder on this penultimate weekend of the college football regular season. The highlight of this weekend will be the 78th renewal of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. The two schools have played what is college football's best rivalry. It is one that has been played since 1926, with the schools missing each other only for three years during World War II (1943-45). Notre Dame leads the series 42-30-5.
As most of you well know, I'm a UCLA alum. And to most of my friends who are UCLA fans, the choice of whom to root for in this game is clear. Most UCLA fans root for Notre Dame because they want to see USC lose. After all, USC is the archenemy of UCLA. But for me, this is one week where I bleed cardinal and gold, instead of blue and gold.
But why is this so? Have I lost my UCLA fandom bona fides? I don't think so and my reasons for rooting for USC this Saturday are a combination of factors.
1. Unlike many UCLA fans, I wasn't born a UCLA fan. My parents moved to California with no allegiance to any college. My mother went to a small women's Catholic college in Belleville, Illinois, that folded up shop right as she graduated. My father didn't graduate from college, but attended one year at Saint Louis University. (Interestingly, my mother lived in St. Louis, while my father lived in Illinois. They didn't meet until after they were out of college.) My mother dictated most of her children's sporting allegiances when her sons were young. And in the early 1970s, my mom's favorite football coach was John McKay. She loved his sense of humor. She liked how his USC teams would go and whip up on the Ohio State teams of the distinctly unhumorous Woody Hayes in Rose Bowls. Mom had no patience for short-tempered martinets like Woody Hayes. She probably didn't use the phrase "short-tempered martinet" however.
When our family would watch McKay's weekly highlight show on Channel 4, McKay would joke about his days in Catholic school. This religious affiliation though was only brought up when USC was facing Notre Dame, coached at the time by Ara Parseghian. Mom loved to point out that USC had the Catholic coach, while Notre Dame had a Protestant coach. But what Mom was really getting at was that the religious affiliations of people in sports didn't matter. She told us we didn't have to root for Notre Dame because we were Catholic. She told us to root for the team we liked. God didn't choose sides in sports. As it turned out we liked the team that was the home team rather than the team from Indiana. We liked the team that came back from being down 24-6 at the half to win 55-24 in 1974.
I realize that all of this happened around the time I was about six years old until I was about twelve. People like to say that children are very impressionable then. I guess those people have a point.
2. Sticking with the religion theme, Notre Dame does like to hit you over the head with its Catholicism. And this is understandable as it is the most widely known Catholic university in the country, although I'd argue that Georgetown is probably a better school academically. Notre Dame has had "Touchdown Jesus". The PA announcer at the stadium tells you when Mass is after the football game. Some of the players come out and pray on the field before the game. Notre Dame is supposed to be God's Team in the view of some of its fans.
I've always found this distasteful. It's hard to explain this, but I always think that Catholics should be above thinking that they are holier than anyone. You're taught in Catholic school about all the things you've done wrong or could do wrong or might have done wrong. You tend to start with an image that you've already screwed up and you need to ask for forgiveness for something. Although this doesn't seem to apply to Notre Dame. They like to appear beyond reproach. Well, they're not. Go to Confession, Notre Dame fans. It's good for the soul.
3. There is a spillover from basketball. If I could go back in time to January 19, 1974, I would alter time to make sure that either Dwight Clay or, even better, Digger Phelps didn't exist. Digger Phelps is one of history's greatest monsters. It pretty much goes: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Digger, Pol Pot, and then Slobodan Milosevic. Sorry, this part is personal. Very personal. If God exists, why did He let such a miserable human being like Phelps to break John Wooden's streak. Why couldn't it have been Ralph Miller or Dick Harter or Bob Boyd or Marv Harshman? I could live with that.
4. I almost always root for any team from the West Coast when it plays against a team from another part of the country. I certainly don't want Notre Dame recruiting players from the West Coast. If any West Coast high schoolers go to Notre Dame, I can only hope that they are cursed with Ron Powlus Syndrome.
5. The Leprechaun. College football's most annoying mascot. Now if Traveler were to say, have an unfortunate accident that involved hitting the Leprechaun, would I be sad? Umm... Let me get back to you on that.
6. Just why did Paul Hornung get the Heisman Trophy in 1956?
7. Notre Dame won't join a conference in football and won't admit that they don't because they can make more money as an independent. A lot more money. Money you can take away in a convoy of armored trucks stretching from South Bend to Gary. Just be up front and say it's all about the money. It's not about the tradition. Penn State's tradition has survived a move to the Big 10.
That's enough of an unfocused, rambling tirade from me for the time being. I will keep this thread open for people who want to discuss this weekend's action on the gridiron. And if you find a football game played on a gridiron field, please tape it for me because such a field would be really funny looking.