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Thursday, April 18, 2024
The Observer

Past is unspoken but not forgotten

The frightening images of 3-9 are still fresh in the mind.

John Sullivan snapping the ball over Armando Allen's head to start a 38-0 debacle at Michigan. Southern Cal coming into the Stadium and laying another 38-0 beatdown on the Irish. Fans screaming, babies crying, gnashing of teeth and so on.

So frightening, in fact, that coach Charlie Weis instructed his team to no longer speak of last season.

But try as Weis might, those images are hard to repress for anybody.

For many of his players, it was a rude awakening to the college game.

Unspoken now, but still remembered.

The problems were well-documented - poor offensive line coupled with anemic offensive production, a defense that couldn't stop the run.

Before the year, you could expect Notre Dame wasn't going to match previous years success, but who knew they were going to be 3-9 bad?

All the Irish can do now is learn from it. Don't speak about it, but don't forget it either. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and the rest of the offense showed signs of progress toward the end of the year, but in the back of their minds, motivating them this season, should be the memories of those early-season mishaps. Fear of failure can be the best motivational tool.

That fear of failure also resides deep within Notre Dame fans. Some fans on the surface are optimistic about the coming year, and will give you their rosy prediction. After all, look at that schedule, look at that talent, everyone's a year older, and God can't hate Notre Dame that much. Still, they know another 3-9 is still possible.

Others are more pessimistic, and project a defeatist attitude about the coming year as a defense mechanism because the thought of another 3-9 is too much for them to think about.

But next to that fear of failure resides the pride of being a Notre Dame fan, the intimate connection each fan feels toward this University. It's a connection that's forged with family, with tradition, and a connection forged in part by unprecedented success on the field.

Unspoken now, but still expected.

It doesn't matter if Notre Dame was 3-9 last year. It doesn't matter that this team is young and may still need a year or two to get back to national prominence. That's not the attitude fans are accustomed to.

Notre Dame football is not allowed to go 3-9, it just isn't supposed to happen. In the eyes of every Notre Dame fan, this year must be different. This year must be a success or else something needs to change. That's why Tyrone Willingham got fired. A middling Notre Dame team just won't do. Not with the fans, and not with the administration, and not with NBC, who just re-negotiated its contract with Notre Dame. One year of 3-9 didn't concern the NBC suits, but a few more, and those ad revenues will start to shrink, and the suits at NBC and Notre Dame will start to sweat a little bit.

Notre Dame is one of the few places where the term low expectations doesn't exist, and it shouldn't. And nobody knows that better than Weis, the former student who once met with then-University president Fr. Hesburgh to complain about the football team. I wonder what Weis, the student, would've thought of 3-9.

And nobody knows better than Weis that last year can't happen again. Yes, there are personnel holes on the team that Weis inherited and has done a great job recruiting to fill those holes, but at some point, those recruits have to produce.

Weis called his book "No Excuses," and rightfully so. It's the attitude you need at Notre Dame. There are no excuses for 3-9. And there will be no excuses should it happen again.

He was a student here, he knows what it's like to sit in the stands when the team stinks and he knows the anger fans and alumni feel when the team stinks. And he knows what those fans will be thinking if there's a repeat of 3-9.

Unspoken now, but still very much understood.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily The Observer. Contact Chris Hine at