Thoughts about Manti

I’ve run into a lot of folks lately who are interested in my take on the Manti Te’o story.

You’ll recall he’s the Notre Dame linebacker and All-American who:

  1. Concocted (with or without help) a story about his girlfriend dying on the same day as his grandmother, or
  2. Was the victim of an elaborate scheme (by one or several people for as-yet-known reasons) that convinced him there was such a girlfriend in the first place, or
  3. Some combination of the above.

The truth is, we don’t know the full story — and might never know it. Suffice it to say, Manti’s “tragedy” spurred the Fighting Irish football team to rack up 12 victories, a perfect season, and earn their first appearance in a National Championship game since 1988.

Manti has chosen to tell his version of the story to Katie Couric on Thursday, so you’ll have to determine for yourselves his credibility. In the meantime, I offer the following thoughts:

  • We ALL bought into this story in the first place, encouraged by an over-zealous media (what became of fact-checking??) at a time when we were eager for a feel-good story, a hero. Tired of negative campaign ads, aggravated by politicians interested only in feathering their nests, worried and fearful over worsening economic conditions, we were ripe for such a story.
  • This is a college athlete. Sure, he’s been blessed with amazing talent and leadership skills, but he’s a 21-year-old kid, susceptible as all of us were, to flattery, tall tales, pranks, and poor advice from folks he trusts. And he’s grown up in the Internet Age, accustomed to meeting and befriending and trusting strangers online.
  • We must do a better job of teaching morals — right from wrong. Every religion in the world follows a moral code, so this isn’t peculiar of Catholicism. But do we really follow a code? Do we breathe it and live it? Do we pass it on to our children? Do we expect our leaders — government and business, in particular — to follow it, and do we hold them accountable when they don’t? Or do we turn a blind eye, then moan about school shootings, aborted babies, jobs going overseas, and other ills of society?

You know, we’re taught that a person is presumed innocent until he’s been proven guilty in a court of law. But how many of us have already indicted, tried, and convicted Manti?

I think we’re angry over this story because we feel duped. Misled. Cheated. Our hero toppled off the pedestal we put him on, proving once again that he, too, is merely human.

But, depending on how this story is spun, he could very well go down in history as another football legend — someone bigger than life.

Time will tell.

Irish Lose to ‘Bama

Frankly, I’m stunned.

Anybody who watched the ‘Bama Crimson Tide roll completely over the ND Fighting Irish during last night’s BCS national championship game knows what I mean.

‘Bama, as usual, brought its “A” game. The Irish, sadly, failed to show up at all, leading to an ugly 42-14 trouncing.

The analysts and nay-sayers will have a field day with this one.

They’ll be quick to point out that the Irish — long a holdout on joining a football conference — didn’t face an opponent of merit all season long, thus earning them a perfect 12-0 season. But that disses the Irish’s worthy opponents, most of whom went on to post-season play, where many emerged victorious.

The pundits also will say the SEC has long been a dominant force in college football, and the Irish can’t compete with their size, conditioning, and power. But tell that to the Irish’s seven Heisman Trophy winners, 44 College Football Hall of Famers, 188 First-Team All-Americans, and 471 NFL draft picks (all figures which out-distance ‘Bama by a sizable margin).

In any competition, there’s a winner and there’s a loser (or rather, a non-winner). There are no losers on this Irish team.

They might have lost one football game (albeit an important one). They might have disappointed themselves and thousands of fans. They certainly put a black mark on their perfect record, having not lost a game since the 2011 bowl matchup against Florida State.

But they’re far from losers.

According to Forbes, just being in a BCS bowl game this season earns ND $6.2 million!

And ESPN statistics show the Irish graduate 97 percent of its football players, while the Tide’s graduation rate is 75 percent.

This football team, by any measurement, is special. They attend Mass on game days (and have since the 1920s or thereabouts). There’s a team prayer in the locker room before games. There’s genuine heart for helping others.

Eventually, the pain of not winning this one game will ease. Eventually, the Irish Nation will move forward, looking to a new season with hope and optimism. Eventually, this group of seniors will graduate, and many will move on to NFL or other professional careers.

But today, Irish eyes sure aren’t smiling.


Me and My Shadow

The Band of the Fighting Irish is going to Dublin, Ireland, for Notre Dame’s first football game this fall!

That’s the good news. Those, like My Favorite Domer, who early on expressed interest in going, have already acquired their passports and paid their fees.

The bad news is, not everybody can go. With close to 400 members, it’s no wonder. The logistics of transporting them, not to mention the costs, are practically unthinkable, and the incoming freshmen won’t even have learned the marching style or participated in one game.

So how will the directors pick and choose?

Auditions, naturally.

Domer has taken to heart their advice to keep his chops in good working order by practicing. Daily.

After work he gets the ole trumpet out and holes up downstairs, where he runs up and down scales, refreshes his memory on various school songs, and starts learning the new music designed to impress the overseas Irish (and any alumni lucky enough to snag a ticket!).

Practice isn’t a lonely time, though. Far from it.

My trusty Sheltie, it seems, has a phenomenal ear when it comes to music.

Who would have thought??

So when Domer brings out the trumpet, no matter where in the house the Sheltie is, he makes a beeline toward the practice room. And while Domer plays, Sheltie sings.

First, he checks out the instrument:

Gotta make sure everything’s okay, Kid

Then, he throws back his head and attempts a few notes:

I am Sheltie — hear me sing!

Then he pauses to think about it for a few minutes:


Just warming up for the high notes, Mom

And finally, he leans way back and howls away:


Matching your tone, Kid — let’s go higher!

Shetland Sheepdogs originated in Scotland — who knows, perhaps this one hears the wail of the pipes in my son’s horn??

Doesn’t matter. He’s at least doing what he’s supposed to, comforting and encouraging “his kid” in something that could be fraught with nerves and fear — another audition.

At least Domer has already made the first cut on the Going-to-Ireland list. But it’s up to him to keep his spot!

Obviously, the Sheltie can’t go with Domer to his audition several weeks down the road, but I suspect he’ll be there in spirit. And Domer will have a hard time playing a note without hearing his trusty sidekick singing along!

Tell me, Does your dog sing?

Maybe I’m a Good-Luck Charm

ND 31, MSU 13

Somebody needs to tell Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly that I’m his team’s Good Luck Charm.


And he should think about providing me with a season pass — sidelines would be good — for as long as my charming ways continue.

Which could be forever.

Not convinced? Okay, let’s look at the facts:

  • The Record. Going into this game, the Fighting Irish were 0-2, after being nationally ranked prior to the season’s start. The Spartans of Michigan State University were 2-0. Logic tells me MSU should have won, but the Irish pulled out a convincing 31-13 victory. Because I was there!
  • The Weather. Two weeks ago, Notre Dame’s initial home game was caught in a series of wicked storms, causing the game to be rain-delayed, twice. But this Saturday’s weather was perfect — sunny and pleasant — all because I showed up!
  • The Band. The Band of the Fighting Irish couldn’t take to the field for their first home game, due to inclement weather. Ostensibly, this meant that long hard hours of marching and playing were flushed down the drain. But because I was there, the Band performed that halftime show post-game, letting fans see what they missed and giving music-lovers two halftime shows!
  • Turnovers. Notre Dame led the nation in its first two games with 10 turnovers — yikes. You can’t win football games like that. So, thanks to my presence on Saturday, the turnovers were limited to just three (still too many, but hey, I did what I could!)
  • Fake Field Goal. Last year, MSU’s fake field goal play caught the Irish by surprise and sent the game into overtime, where the Spartans were victorious. They tried again on Saturday, but this time the Irish were ready and foiled the attempt. Because I was there!

So Coach Kelly, if you’re reading this, please rest assured it was my Good-Luck Charm presence that led to your practically perfect outcome on Saturday.

And I think I could handle a reward in the way of some freebie tickets. That sounds fair, doesn’t it?

Okay, maybe I had a little help from former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was back at her ND alma mater for the same weekend.

She can share the glory. I’ll stick with the free tickets!

R.I.P., Lizzy

My sister sent me a link via e-mail this morning asking, What’s up with this story?

After reading through the story and talking to My Favorite Domer, I feel compelled to respond.

The gist is this: a 19-year-old St. Mary’s College freshman named Lizzy Seeberg and her girlfriend went with two Notre Dame men to the men’s dorm on Aug. 31. The fellow Lizzy was with was an ND football player. After a couple of beers, the foursome went to the football player’s room for a “dance party.” The other couple left, then something happened. Lizzy reportedly was fondled and bullied against her will until the football player’s cell phone interrupted and he “threw her off.” Afterward, Lizzy reported the incident to police. The football player’s story was similar, except he said what happened was consensual. Ten days later, Lizzy was dead after allegedly ingesting an overdose of the anti-depressant Effexor.

This week, the University announced there would be no prosecution, effectively putting the case to an end. Attorneys said the only person who could give Lizzy’s side of the story was Lizzy, yet she’s dead and cannot testify.

So an ugly incident is resolved to nobody’s satisfaction.

In a perfect world, parents wouldn’t have to bury their children. Young women wouldn’t feel so enamored of athletes that they put themselves in compromising situations. Young men wouldn’t take advantage of vulnerable women. Young people wouldn’t resort to suicide to solve temporary problems. And they wouldn’t engage in underage drinking — ever.

Yet we don’t live in a perfect world. Lizzy Seeberg, by her parents’ admission, was “naive” and loved to party. She also battled an anxiety disorder, depression, and panic attacks for years. And the football player reportedly had demons of his own, dealing with issues of aggression and bullying since middle school.

Some have complained that he faced no disciplinary action in the wake of this incident, that he continued playing football for the University even. But if no crime was committed, why punish him? And if a crime was committed and covered up, everybody involved shares in the blame.

While gossiping and finger-pointing might make us feel better, only Lizzy and the unnamed football player really know what happened that night, and they’re not talking.

One no longer can. And that’s sad, very sad.

Conquering Fear, Notre Dame Football Recap

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

A week ago, Eleanor’s thoughts never crossed my mind. I was too busy fretting — worrying whether there would be heavy traffic on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, worrying if My Favorite Domer would have time between all his Band and class activities to pick up the “winter woolies” I was bringing him, worrying where I could park my car during the football game, worrying whether I could find my seat in such a big stadium, worrying if I could stand being in a crowd of thousands, worrying whether I’d brought the right clothes. . . .

Worry, they say, is like a rocking chair — gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.

Logically I knew that. Knew I was a mess. Knew I wasn’t trusting my own good instincts.

Emotionally I didn’t care.

I was hanging onto my worries and my fears, doggone it, and don’t even try to convince me otherwise!

How silly.

I left early Friday morning, beating most of the other travelers to my destination. MFD and I hauled coats, jeans, hoodies, etc. to his dorm between classes. And I got to enjoy some of his Band practices.

Piece of cake.

That gave me courage to tackle Saturday.

Again, I left the hotel early and found just the right parking spot. Skies were partly cloudy, temps were cool but I had a jacket.

I toured campus. Took lots of photos. Talked to other visitors and parents. Found an usher in the Stadium to direct me to my seat. Got to yell and scream and jump to my feet without feeling like a weirdo. And enjoyed a candlelight birthday dinner with MFD after the game.

It couldn’t have been more perfect!

As Notre Dame takes to the field this afternoon for their match-up against Michigan, I’ll be there in spirit. One of legions of fans bound together by tradition, loyalty, and love.

You’ll recognize me — I’ll be the one with misty eyes when I hear the beloved songs again, the one on my feet yelling (at the TV set) with the other fans, the one wishing I could be there in person, the one confident I will be for future games.


Sights from Notre Dame

Everybody knows “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

The “wordsmith” in me doesn’t particularly like that statement, but I’m realistic enough to know it’s probably a tru-ism. With that in mind, I’m sharing some of my favorite photos from my weekend at Notre Dame. Enjoy!

The Band of the Fighting Irish during march-out Friday afternoon

National Championship banners line the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium

The Grotto for prayer and reflection

Bagpipe Band serenades campus

Some of the estimated 81,000 in attendance

Irish practice scrimmage before the game vs. Purdue

Students doing pushups after the Irish score some points

Post-game, football team faces student section and sings the Alma Mater

Tomorrow, I’ll add to this Memory Book from my first-of-many Notre Dame weekends to come!

Smells from Notre Dame

Think you know where I’m going with this one, right?

As a writer, I have to “exercise” all my senses, and scent is definitely one of them. So here goes:

  • Incense. Mass at the Basilica on Sunday morning featured the newly-installed Bishop of Lafayette, IN. While he obviously was a Purdue fan, Notre Dame welcomed him, and he returned the welcome — dousing all of us with tons of blessed incense. Thank goodness for air conditioning, which helped clear the air!
  • Grilling. The individual dorms set up luncheon fare — brats, hot dogs, burgers, etc. — on the grounds outside, and students hawked their wares at passersby. The pungent odor of charcoal blended with the scent of magic markers (used to write out their prices on poster board signs).
  • Cigarettes. Being from Illinois, where smoking has been all-but-banned in every public space, I’ve gotten used to the clean smell of fresh air. Our neighbors to the East, however, haven’t opted for this type of law. Consequently, I found lots of cigar and cigarette smoke wafting across campus (though smoking IS banned in Notre Dame Stadium!)
  • Clothing. Because it turned cool early, people brought out hoodies, jackets, and jeans — all of which have a distinctive scent. Perhaps it’s mustiness from being in a closet or drawer for so long; maybe it’s simply newness from being purchased that day at the campus bookstore!
  • Brass. Band instruments made of brass — trumpets, trombones, tubas, etc. — offer up a metallic smell as their owners march past.
  • Dog. Surprisingly, many people brought their dogs to campus to watch the festivities. I saw a Puggle (Beagle-Pug mix), a Goldendoodle (Golden Retriever-Poodle mix), and many others (one wearing a cute Notre Dame bandanna!)
  • Grass. No, not the drug! I’m talking about freshly-cut green grass, the kind you walk on. The scent of mud blended with the grass and reminded me just how beautiful this campus is — in every season.
  • Beer. Okay, you knew I had to smell that! While officials are fairly rigid about prohibiting alcohol inside Notre Dame Stadium, tailgate parties were being held all over the place — parking lots, nearby hotels, and I expect dorms. In addition, I saw people carrying beer cans around campus, heard more than a few slurred words, and got a whiff of brew whenever people opened their mouths to talk or cheer.
  • Cologne. Not just on the women but on the men, too, in the form of after-shave lotion, antiperspirant, etc. Much better than plain-old sweat!

Join me as I do some more reminiscing tomorrow.

Sounds from Notre Dame

Okay, I know most people would write about “sights” first, but I’ve always liked shaking things up a bit!

From the peace and calm of the Basilica and the Grotto to the wail of sirens, the screams of fans, and the blare of the Band, Notre Dame is a sea of sounds over a home football weekend.

  • The Grotto. How many universities in this country have their very own “prayer-place” where the silence weighs heavily despite the throngs nearby?
  • The Basilica. Commonly referred to as the “wedding factory” because of the sheer volume of weddings it hosts (never on football Saturdays, though!), the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is where the entire football team and coaching staff go — clad in suits and ties — before home games.
  • St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s Lakes. Complete with a real swimming swan, no less.
  • The circle. Plenty of benches to rest you, fat squirrels to entertain you, shade to cool you (but, with temps hovering in the 50s and 60s, that certainly wasn’t necessary!)
  • Campus tours. Led by students who walk backwards while carrying on a running commentary, these are a great way to see campus and hear some interesting tidbits of the past and the present.
  • Bagpipe Band. Comprised of kilt-wearing students, this group parades around campus playing bagpipes and drums; they also hold a short concert on the morning of a home game.
  • Band of the Fighting Irish. Approximately 400-strong, this group is the heart and spirit of the University! Some of their traditions for football weekends include Trumpets in the Dome, a Concert on the Steps of the architecture building, march-outs around campus, as well as pregame, half-time, and post-game performances.
  • Clarke Memorial Fountain. AKA ‘Stonehenge,’ this limestone fountain features water splashing into a black granite pool; no matter the temps, you can find swimsuit-clad students (mostly males) with immense plastic blow-up rafts and other water toys awaiting the Band’s arrival and cheering wildly.
  • Leprechaun. Yes, a student chosen as the green-suited, acrobatic leprechaun to help the cheerleaders keep the noise pulsating before, during, and after games.
  • Fans. Dads playing an impromptu game of catch with their young sons, moms helping paint their daughters’ fingernails alternating colors of navy and gold, students running to and fro chattering excitedly, fans of the opposing team arriving and people actually being polite and nice to the visitors.
  • The Stadium. You just can’t help hearing “the Echos” of past generations in tradition-rich cheers, chants, and ceremonies — the blessing the players receive in the tunnel before the game, the singing of “America the Beautiful,” the raising of the American Flag, the playing of numerous school songs, and the singing of the Alma Mater at the conclusion, when the entire football team proceeds to the student section, links arms, and sways from side to side!

I’ll continue reminiscing tomorrow!

Notre Dame Football, part 1

I just got back from my first football weekend at Notre Dame, and I’m stoked to capture it all! But, writer that I am, I took in so many impressions I’ll have to break them up over a few days’ time.

Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way today.

This was a BIG DEAL for me. I imagine lots of people go to college football games every year, but I’m one who hasn’t.

Not that I haven’t wanted to.

It’s just that I live 500 or so miles from my alma mater (Go Rebels!), and that’s a pretty far piece to travel for a three-hour game.

So I watch on TV every Saturday, screaming at the screen, yelling with the fans, and scaring my poor Sheltie senseless!

And even when I was an undergrad, I was in the Band all four years, so I never really had to figure out the logistics of attending a game. Things like: how do you get a ticket, where can you park, what can you bring (or not bring) into the stadium, how do you find your seat.

That sort of thing.

So last year, when My Favorite Domer asked me to come to a Notre Dame game, I panicked and put him off. Couldn’t get tickets, couldn’t get a hotel room.

‘Fraidy-cat. Big time.

This year, he tried again, only he was ready for my excuses. He fired up his laptop and found me a convenient hotel (so it was in the next county, but Indiana isn’t that big!); he even sent me a link to order my tickets online.

How could I refuse?

My sister (who’s been married forever) said I was very brave to try something like this by myself. Several friends, jealous they couldn’t get tickets for the season’s first game under a brand new coach, insisted I take LOTS of pictures so they could experience it vicariously. Even my mom volunteered to go with me and stay in the hotel “so I wouldn’t be alone.”

They thought I was NUTS for wanting to be alone!

But I wasn’t. There were 80,000-plus fans screaming right alongside me!

Tomorrow, I’ll share more sights and sounds from campus.