In August, just before the start of Notre Dame’s football season, I interviewed my four uncles about our family’s lifelong obsession with the Fighting Irish. It’s a love affair that began nearly a century ago — roughly in the late 1920s — and continues three generations later each and every Saturday when my four uncles and their offspring sit down (sometimes together, sometimes separately) to root on the team in my grandfather’s honor. He was my family’s original fan and the quintessential Notre Dame man (as much as one can be without attending the University): the son of Irish immigrants who played fullback in college and who bled green and gold mainly because of these two things.
After a down year in 2016, expectations weren’t that high. If anything, the thought was that the season might bring about a coaching change. And yet, going into an epic early November game against the University of Miami — a replay of the classic 1988 Catholics versus Convicts showdown — the Fighting Irish were ranked number three in the country and likely ticketed for the college football playoffs if they won their remaining three games.
But alas, Miami kicked Notre Dame’s ass 41–8, and they lost again to Stanford two weeks later 38–20, relegating them to the Citrus Bowl against LSU on New Year’s Day.
Of course, when it comes to my family’s fandom, this season is but a tiny valley in a much larger epoch. It still stings nonetheless, though. To better impart that pain, I asked my uncles Mike and Kevin, the baby boys of the family, what exactly went wrong this season and how they’re feeling going into Monday’s game against the Tigers.
Mike Shaw: The wheels fell off the car after nine games. Why was that? I’m thinking this: Teams take on the personality of their head coaches — in this case, Brian Kelly. I think he was tired after nine games, exhausted from coaching. I don’t think the program was built on toughness, just personnel, and winning teams show toughness.
I don’t think the players wanted to play anymore either. They were tired. But the guys at USC, Alabama and Ohio State aren’t tired. Why then are they tired at Notre Dame? It’s the lack of strength and conditioning and the nature of their coach, that’s why. You’ve got to expect your players to go beyond their means. You’ve got to push.
I hope these guys have had time to rest and look good in this bowl game; otherwise, it will be a shitty start to my New Year.
Kevin Shaw: This season was typical of Notre Dame over the last 25 years. They get our hopes up and then pull the rug out from under us. After they lost to Georgia 20–19 in the second game of the year, I thought, Okay, the playoffs are done. I thought I’d be able to relax and enjoy the season. But next, they rallied just enough to get me thinking they’d actually make the playoffs.
Then that night in Miami happened.
Wow, what a disaster. It was a huge loss and a terrible night. It made me legitimately wonder if Notre Dame would ever win a big game again. Loving Notre Dame is like loving your children: They piss you off horribly, but no matter what they do, your love for them doesn’t change.
The Notre Dame-LSU game is still a few days away, so as of right now, I think they will stink and get beat. But by game time, I’ll have convinced myself that Notre Dame will hammer LSU and start off the year on a positive note.
Fuck, I can dream!