Though a Notre Dame football fan from my younger days of donning a Ron Powlus jersey and pestering my family with my game day enthusiasm, I had never attended a game until this weekend. Saturday’s contest between the Irish and Navy’s Midshipmen exceeded all my expectations.
While enjoyable, the game itself wasn’t the real treat. Navy’s run offense was a fine display of a well-executed wishbone. They capitalized on their strengths of precision and speed and reliably pick up three or four yards each play with the sweep option.
The traditions and class of Irish football were unlike those at any football game I’ve ever attended. The student fans, most of them paying attention to each and every play, were energetic and respectful. Notre Dame fans cheered Navy as they took the field. This was a far cry from Providence College basketball, including one game at which jeering students so angered St. John’s coach Mike Jarvis that he was awarded a technical foul. At the half, when the Notre Dame marching band finished its performance, the band members retreated to the sidelines, each took a knee, and respectfully watched their counterparts. And after the game, the Irish walked over to the Navy marching band, removed their helmets, and listened to the Navy alma mater. The whole stadium was silent in honor of a worthy opponent and those who the football team represents.
The game was sport at its best: opponents respecting each other as gentlemen and athletes first and foes second. The traditions of Notre Dame and the class of those gathered celebrated sport for its own sake and elevated a football game into an event that speaks well of American culture. The steady stream of fans headed straight to the Basilica for Mass following the game suggested that maybe — just maybe — all things can be redeemed and claimed for a higher purpose.