The Notre Dame Hypocrisy

I’m a hypocrite. Yup, there I said it.  When it comes to That Team From South Bend (TTFSB) yours truly has been promoting a double standard and I don’t think I’m alone.

On one hand I spend time discussing Notre Dame’s relative fall from true national relevance over the past 20 years yet there I am staring at November 15 date in South Bend and the renewal of our series with TTFSB as a pretty big deal. Or is it?

It’s common knowledge in this community that the rebirth of modern day Northwestern football is directly associated with our last trip to South Bend – a 17-15 monumental upset win on September 2, 1995.  It marked the national coming out party for the Wildcats who promptly proceeded to win the Big Ten Championship and make it to the Rose Bowl in what I still argue is the most improbable college sports run of all time – in any sport.  I usually go to great lengths to talk about how the luster has faded from the golden domers, yet, I know myself well enough that come November, I’ll be chalking up blog posts that discuss the marketing importance of a win over Notre Dame on NBC. I’ll be attempting to wax poetic about the image shaping of media and fans outside of Chicago and the potential spike in perception that a win like that could have.

It’s time to ditch the “TTFSB” business.  I laugh every time I read about Illini head coach Tim Beckman refusing to acknowledge Northwestern and the efforts he makes to try to demonize the ‘Cats. All it does is continue to prop Northwestern up as a team that Illinois strives to be.  In Michigan, they call it the big brother complex between Sparty and the Wolverines.

Northwestern fans, if we’re honest, are envious in many ways of Notre Dame, when it comes to football. It’s a very good academic school whose academic reputation gets elevated because of what Jim Phillips always refers to as “the front porch to the university”- football.  The marketing impact of a stand-alone TV contract with NBC provides a 3-hour infomercial for the school every Saturday.  This used to hurt a lot more, but at the core of this envy is the fact Northwestern alumni believe NU is a better school than Notre Dame. Yes, the relative worth of the degree is one of those deep-seeded jealousy triggers.  As an NU graduate, you want your degree to have the highest perception of value it can have.  It sounds downright snobby to talk about, but I also believe this is one of the unspoken byproducts that goes along with fandom in general.  Some people truly think if their team beats your team then at some level “I’m better than you are.” This is a psychological journey for a different time.

Brian Kelly screams

If you live in the Chicago area, the perception change of Notre Dame has diluted over the past 20-30 years rather significantly. Part of this has to do with Notre Dame’s relative drop in football success, but moreso it has to do with the proliferation of media outlets and coverage for the competition. A spot on NBC simply doesn’t mean as much as it used to.  The emergence of BTN, online college football coverage and the fact on any given Saturday you can find about 12 different games going on at the same time all contribute a piece to a much more complicated puzzle.

When you compare Northwestern and Notre Dame from a marketing perspective, the ‘Cats have cleaned Notre Dame’s clock in Chicago. Mike Polisky and his team have leveraged media buys with the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, ESPN and blown our their WGN partnership in ways that I have to believe are part of the reason the frequency and length of daily coverage on NU has surpassed Notre Dame.  OK, in print, it is perhaps equal, but on other platforms, NU has outperformed Notre Dame. Granted, NU still has issues filling seats and needs to advertise more than Notre Dame does, but if you were an Iowa fan, you’d likely agree that NU is more in the mainstream here than Notre Dame is. That was unfathomable heading in to 1995.

All this being said, even I’m surprised at the lack of buzz for this game. Sure, Northwestern is coming off of a horrible 5-7 season and Notre Dame posted yet another 5-loss season, but still.  I actually had to go and double-check to see which year Notre Dame got smoked by Alabama in the national championship game only to find out we’re just one season removed (it was the 2012 season) from what I thought was the rebirth of Notre Dame.  Considering they were in the national title game 14 games ago, I’m just stunned perception-wise at how quickly the Irish have vanished from Chicago media conversations (that is except for days like today when news surfaces about Charlie Weiss’ annual payout from Notre Dame being nearly the same as Brian Kelly’s current salary).

Obviously, the number one influence for on-field brand respect is the W-L record.  Again, Notre Dame has outperformed Northwestern during the Pat Fitzgerald (and since 1995 – but not by much) in this regard, but relative to historic expectations, the Irish have slid – big time.  Since 2006 the Irish have finished in the AP Top 25 just once (#4 in 2012). They’ve been ranked at season’s end only five times this century and have had a grand total of two top ten finishes since we last visited South Bend.

Brian Kelly enters his fifth season at Notre Dame with his biggest postseason trophy case addition being a Sun Bowl win in 2010. The Irish have also played in the Champs Sports Bowl (lost) and Pinstripe Bowl (won in 2013). It’s not the kind of cache Golden Domers are used to.  To Kelly’s credit, he did just have eight players selected in the NFL Draft.  However, for every guy playing on Sunday, there is a loss that makes the faithful wince.  The red-faced screamer of a coach has gone 37-15, which is obviously more than respectable and considerably better than Fitz’s winning percentage in Evanston (slightly over .500 at 55-46).

How many losses do you see on this schedule?
How many losses do you see on this schedule?

By November 15 both teams will likely have several losses entering the 3:30 pm et game on NBC.  The odds of both teams being ranked at that point I’d put on the south side of a 50% chance.  It will indeed be a very tough ticket for Wildcat fans based on the simple lack of supply, but the question remains how big will this game actually be?  The Irish return the favor in 2018 with a game at Ryan Field which I believe could make everything above become a moot point. The Chicago-area ND alums are already eyeing that game, which I believe, barring both programs going sub-.500 every season between now and then, will be the biggest game at Ryan Field since last year’s Ohio State game. But, there I go again, being a hypocrite when it comes to TTFSB.

  • sigh

    big game on national TV? prepare for a letdown.

  • Bob Parkman

    Philips, by his remarks about football being a major marketing effort for the university, validates the football players as key employees of the university.

    • fidel305

      no it doesnt.

      • Chasmo

        Yes, it does.

        • David

          No it doesn’t.

          • Sir Mark

            Yes, it does. Wait. No, it doesn’t.

          • DT

            Costello: “That’s what I want to find out!:…
            Abbott: “I say who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know on the third”…

    • Reagan

      No. It doesn’t. Not even close. Get over it. NO commie pinko nirvana for you.

  • Scott Feeney

    I wish everyone would stop waxing on about Notre Dame. It’s like those folks who obsess about the Kennedy’s or British royalty. If the Big Ten were smart and wanted to help its own Midwest recruiting, it would boycott playing Notre Dame all together. That means, Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, and yes Northwestern. There are other big time teams we could play that would be just as exciting. The Big Ten teams only help Notre Dame every time they schedule a game with them by giving them a Midwest venue. Wouldn’t it be great if Notre Dame could not get a meaningful away game anywhere in the Midwest. Let Notre Dame fly all the way out to the West Coast, East Coast, or deep South for every away game. At least it keeps them out of the Midwest. Notre Dame had a shot to join the Big Ten and Notre Dame snubbed its nose at the Big Ten, because it wanted to maintain its privileged position with NBC and lets face it, they were afraid in the long run that it would hurt its chances for regular runs at the National Championship. Then, when the college football landscape began to change and it was clear college football was heading to a playoff where power conferences would hold the upper hand, Notre Dame ran to the ACC (a crappy football conference other than FSU and Clemson) and engineered another privileged deal. I give a collective yawn to the NU Notre Dame game.

    • PBRCat

      The B1G conference can thank the legendary Michigan Coach Fielding Yost for keeping Notre Dame out of the league at a time when the Irish were interested in joining. In subsequent decades, the B1G wanted Notre Dame, but the Golden Domers refused.

      • Scott Feeney

        Why did they refuse? For all the reasons, I outlined above.

        • PBRCat

          You are correct that Notre Dame has refused numerous recent attempts by the B1G conference to recruit the Irish.
          The reasons that you cited are on point.
          That does not change the historical fact that decades earlier Notre Dame wanted to join the conference and Fielding Yost led the opposition. Michigan was the most powerful team in the conference at the time and Yost did not want Notre Dame admitted. One of his excuses was that Notre Dame recruited Catholic athletes nationally as opposed to the state schools being limited to local high school graduates. All of this happened many years ago before the New Deal.

          • Sir Mark

            Domers mark it down to Yost being anti-Catholic. They also see some anti-Catholicism in some of the hatred many harbor toward Notre Dame, a viewpoint that does have some merit.

    • fidel305

      “The Big Ten teams only help Notre Dame every time they schedule a game with them by giving them a Midwest venue”
      Agreed. let them recruit off that ACC schedule.

    • Chasmo

      I yield to no one in my hatred of ND but how can anyone blame it from exercising the massive power it wields in college football?
      If NU had a legendary football program and an exclusive TV deal with NBC — not some obscure cable network or even ESPN but a broadcast network — would you advocate that the Cats give up all that money and exposure to help other schools in the region?
      Notre Dame doesn’t need to play teams in the midwest as NCAA football and basketball are now nation-wide professional leagues that successfully cap their workers’ salaries at the cost of a scholarship. The Big Ten just opened an office in NYC and plans to play its basketball tournament in D.C., and MSG. So much for the glorious midwest.
      ND, meanwhile, is a major draw whenever it plays on the road. NU’s highest attendance figures came vs. ND. You think Purdue wants to give up playing ND when it may be its only sell-out of the season?
      Let’s hate ND with all our might but let’s not get irrational about it.

  • NUCat_TX

    “The odds of both teams being ranked at that point I’d put on the south side of a 50% chance.”
    I’ll sell a million bets of the odds being anywhere close to 10%
    Both teams are going to be either 5-4 or 4-5 and looking to salvage a season and recruiting. Not a big game from a national sense, but very meaningful to 2 programs struggling to maintain regional relevance and make the post season.

  • PurpleHayes

    Will begin by admitting no one dislikes ND more than me. I have reveled in the ’95 win for almost 20 years–wish I had been there, but I plan to be in South Bend this time. Totally agree we have made strides relative to ND in those two decades–hopefully us ascending as well as them declining, but any suggestion we are their equal is, well, overzealous. Kelly is disappointing at 37-15; that should say it all. Remember, ND played in the national championship game two years ago–they didn’t belong, but we have not achieved anywhere near their results. That said, the fact we are in the conversation alongside ND is great progress. Even though beating them should be just another nice road win, however, it will mean much more. It will be another building block, like being ranked, like winning a bowl game, like getting on GameDay, etc. It’s probably most like the GameDay example, because that got blown out of proportion beyond what it really represented, and I think beating ND will be the same. But it still has a cachet, more than it deserves, so let’s not lose sight of it. Beating ND again will be one more step toward program respectability, like beating Indiana in basketball this winter (IU wasn’t all that good, but it was still a signature win over a revered opponent). As Barnett said when he led the team onto the field in ’95, “When we win, don’t lift me on your shoulders. Behave like this happens all the time.” Twenty years later, it happens more often, but not all the time. Still have work to do. I’ll see you all on the 50-yard line after the win in November. Go Cats!

  • fidel305

    Golson is back. that will make them better than last year.
    Not sure that’s going to be good enough with that schedule

  • Walt

    As an alum from both schools, I have to chuckle when I read this. Comparing NU and ND is like apple and oranges.

    1. ND has a NBC – a national platform. Sorry, BTN doesn’t cut it.

    2. ND sells out home games. And road games. And the Shamrock games. NU can’t even sell out the smallest stadium in the B10.

    3. ND is the only team that had its own BCS agreement.

    4. ND has true national rivals (USC, Michigan, MSU, Navy, Pitt, Stanford, etc). NU has Illinois.

    5. ND has history (Rockne, Heisman trophies, 11 national titles, highest winning%) while NU has 1 bowl victory.

    6. ND has a national fan base (outside of alums). NU doesn’t.

    7. Saying that NU has out-marketed in Chicago is a silly argument. ND doesn’t market in Chicago, they market nationwide (see Shamrock series). When Chicago sports talk radio discusses college football, they’re much more likely to talk ND than NU.

    While NU has made great strides since 1995, we still have much to do to be considered a top tier program like ND (or OSU, Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, Florida, etc.)

    I’ll be in the stands on Nov 15th, cheering on the Wildcats, so please don’t misconstrue my loyalties. But to say that this isn’t a big game for us is foolish. Go Cats!

    • Chasmo

      I beg you pardon — TWO bowl victories.

    • Bob Parkman

      Hey, we got Otto Graham!

    • Right

      What a joke of a comment, except for one thing – history. That is ALL that ND has at this point. They are a buggywhip. They’re done, but ND fans can’t accept it. They still think they’re relevant. That’s how out of touch they are. They made it to a national title game on a series of flukes and proceeded to get PASTED.

      ND is nothing but a glorified St. Mary of Winona in a cornfield in a crappy dump of a town. To compare it to NU is ridiculous.

      I think about ND about as often as I think about Millard Fillmore or Chester A. Arthur. They all mattered once, but just don’t matter anymore.

      • PBRCat

        There are some townies from St. Mary’s of Winona ready to kick your ass.

      • Ed

        There is a tone of hysteria in these remarks that is unseemly.

    • Ed

      Nice to read a balanced set of remarks.

    • PBRCat

      Your 5th item is incorrect; Northwestern has two bowl titles — the most recent coming in 2013 at a bowl venue where ND has also played.

      • Walt

        Yes – I forgot the Rose Bowl win 65 years ago. It was before most of us were even born. Mea culpa.

  • Purple Haze

    Since 1988, when ND last won a national championship and was a national champion, the balance of power in college football has shifted to the southeast. ND raised their standards for admissions since then and would not allow such academic standouts like Tony Rice who led the Irish to the national championship in 1988 or Randy Moss in their schools in the years since 1998 and their football win-loss records dropped them out of national power status. ND will find that out first hand who the true national powers are when they get pasted by Florida State in Tallahasee.
    As for NU v. ND, ND gets more 4-star recruits than NU so they will have more athletes on the field, but that does not mean we can not take ND down on Nov. 15. Remember 1995 what Schnur and Company did. But not sure if we have a comparable defense and hard nose defense led by #51 (college football hall of famer) like in 1995.

    • Bob Parkman

      ND raised their academic standards? Ha!

    • CatInTheHat

      For what it’s worth, Tony Rice lives in my neighborhood, and I see him all the time. He’s a nice guy–doesn’t seem like a dimwit, but maybe he wasn’t the academic type back in ’88.

  • David

    Does anyone else remember how following the loss to NU in 95….Lou Holtz roll out to the sideline on his Lark scooter the following week and for the rest of the season. I’m sure there was a medical reason for it….but I like to think that the lark and neck brace were to change the topic from ND losing to NU.

    I would not mind seeing Brian Kelly bringing that Lark out of retirement following another loss to NU.

  • Pikepole

    A great rivalry over the years. Too bad it’s lost it’s luster.

  • GTom

    Rivalries aren’t always logical or fully rationalized. When it comes to Notre Dame and Northwestern, there is a lot of history between our two programs that I suspect has somehow found a way to live on in our culture, even if it relates to events before our lifetime or Northwestern fandom. Some of our history includes the following:

    – One of the origin rumors for how the University of Notre Dame du Lac got their “Fighting Irish” name is that ‘Cats fans shouted it at them as a slur during an era of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bigotry. I could see something like that lingering in a fanbase’s memory, if it is true.
    – In the very first year of the AP Poll (1936), Northwestern entered the final game of the season ranked #1 only to lose to Notre Dame. The national title went to Minnesota, even though Northwestern had beaten them earlier that year and the ‘Cats were the conference champs.
    – This used to be a trophy game with the winner taking a Shillaleigh (sic?).
    – The last time Northwestern was ranked #1 was in 1962 after we beat Notre Dame.
    – They took Ara Parseghian from us after he beat Notre Dame multiple times. He then won every subsequent game against us that he coached for Notre Dame.
    – They tried to take Gary Barnett.
    – They were happy to schedule us in the ’90’s when we were patsies and getting creamed (and playing at Soldier Field, because it was basically selling a home game to them), but wouldn’t renew the series after 1995. Rick Taylor (Northwestern AD) was pretty vocal about trying to get them on the schedule, with no reciprocation.

    • Bandcat

      Natural rivalry game that should not have gone unplayed for 20 years.We got a Hall of Fame LB and HC that they would sell their mothers souls for ….thankfully young Fitz turned em down and came to NU.Barnett did give us a twofer as it turned out.

      • CatInTheHat

        Didn’t Fitz not get offered by ND, thus fueling his personal disdain for the school? Or am I confusing ND with Illinois?

  • Wildcat Fan

    Notre Dame cheated to get into the national championship game 2 years ago. Missy Conboy, a long time member of ND athletic dept who would give her life for ND football according to my friend who knows her, was a key member of the infractions committee that after a 4 year investigation reduced USC’s scholarships by 45 players enabling Notre Dame with her insider info to sign some key players that would have gone to USC. That also changed a decade long losing record against USC to wins. I have done over a hundred hours of research on this and it eats me up inside how crooked this was.

    • Bob Parkman

      How much tin-foil are you wearing?

      • Nick Index

        No tin foil here. There is merit to WF’s comments.

  • gocatsgo2003

    The only reason Notre Dame really scares me in the least is that Golson is back. They had a terrible run game last year behind what was supposed to be a very good offensive line. Their defensive front has been absolutely decimated by graduation and departures to the NFL, though Jaylon Smith looks like he could be a monster. The strength of their team in 2014 is likely their defensive backfield, so it could be a good test for our WRs.

  • CatInTheHat

    Is there any chance that the 2018 game actually gets played at Ryan Field? I would be surprised if ND demands another venue. Best case, it’ll be at Wrigley. Worst case, the game will take place at a Soldier Field packed to the rafters with ND fans.