Of all the big games this past weekend, one will be remembered generations from now. No, not the St. Louis Cardinals’ slide toward Atlanta Braves status — I thought this year would be their year, after the lousy performance they gave against the Red Sox in last December’s (or whenever it was played) World Series. Nor the sainted Angels’ losing to the devilish A.J. Pierzynski & Co. of the Chicago White Sox — who after all did have the finest record in baseball this year. That used to qualify you for the World Series automatically. Instead too often than not the Series winner — like the overblown Red Sox last year — turns out to be a team that didn’t even win its division and eked into the “playoffs” like a beneficiary of affirmative action. The most impressive thing about the White Sox four straight wins against the Angels: they were all complete game victories by its starting rotation. That’s probably not happened in the post-season since the invention of the “live” ball.
The game I have in mind, as a heart-broken dear friend who shall remain nameless knows full well, is USC’s come from behind last second 34-31 defeat of Notre Dame in South Bend under a rising full moon on Saturday. I was once for Notre Dame — in 1964, when under new coach Ara Parseghian it rose from the ashes to go 9-0 coming into its final game of the season at the Coliseum against USC. An undefeated season it was not to be — somehow USC’s flanker Rod Sherman scored the winning touchdown late to defeat ND’s John Huarte and Jack Snow 20-17 in a hugely depressing defeat for Irish fans from coast to coast. Lots of people thought the Irish had been robbed, but no one said that somehow Notre Dame had won even in losing.
Yet that’s what faithful Irish fans from Lou Holtz to Michael Novak were suggesting after yesterday’s defeat. I understand the sentiment. One can delight that rookie coach Charlie Weis is doing exactly what Parseghian did four decades ago — restoring a great football program to greatness. But these things take time. Weis’s guys played beautifully. In years past no way a USC would have withstood such an excellent performance. The luck of the Irish always prevailed. This time there was no such thing. It was USC that pulled off the brilliant, fearless last-minute plays. At one key moment the ball bounced its way, out of bounds, to give it one more snap. A horde of Irish fans had already invaded the field, thinking their team had won. It wasn’t to be. I don’t think they spent Sunday thinking that their team didn’t end up losing.
Nor did ND’s now impressive quarterback, Brady Quinn, heartbroken as he was describing the premature sense his team had won: “The reaction of the fans being on the field and then seeing how you kind of want it to come out, then seeing the exact opposite all in a matter of minutes,” he began. “People were pretty shocked and devastated.”
On that score, the last word, as is only proper, goes to Coach Weis. “If you’re waiting for me to say it’s a good loss, you won’t hear that here,” Weis said. That’s why, when he beats USC next year, no one will be claiming that USC didn’t really lose in losing.
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