In 2007, I sat in Beaver Stadium as Notre Dame and then-freshman Jimmy Clausen lost by three touchdowns to a superior Penn State team. The Irish went on to finish with a 3-9 record that year in the midst of a major rebuilding campaign. Unfortunately for Charlie Weis, things never got much better.
But, at the time, Clausen was the Second Coming, and the young couple seated next to me hung on every snap. Dressed in matching green Notre Dame shirts, they could not contain their optimism, specifically after Clausen made one great escape from a collapsing pocket.
"J.C.," said the woman to me, "that's like Jesus Christ!"
I smiled and nodded. Notre Dame lost that game, 31-10. Clausen's run was as much from his own offensive line as it was Penn State's defensive front. Fourth down couldn't come soon enough.
For better or worse, Irish fans have long had a stigma for being disconnected from reality. It'd be a stereotype if it weren't mostly true. Without a doubt, Golden Domers have been the group most likely to appear underdressed over the past weekend while gallivanting through Miami's most upscale neighborhoods. This hasn't helped the reputation.
Strangely, as Monday's BCS National Championship approaches, Notre Damers--most of whom are wearing Everett Golson or recycled Armando Allen jerseys--seem to be firmly on planet Earth, dialing back their expectations as a defense mechanism for what could happen against Alabama. The hope is as much for keeping it close as winning outright. This is probably the healthiest approach. The Crimson Tide is the defending champion and a 10-point favorite from a conference that has produced six straight victors.
Moving forward, the greater Notre Dame fan base would be wise to take a lesson from this playbook. After two straight 8-5 seasons, Brian Kelly inadvertently lowered expectations to the point that this measured mindset, even with a record of 12-0, could be possible. Though Kelly's recruiting has been strong, and his appearance in a national championship is sure to be a windfall for continued success, he won't be able to produce these results every season.
Don't be fooled into thinking that Notre Dame can't beat Alabama. With one of the nation's top defenses and a quarterback that has improved steadily each week, the Irish will hang with the Tide on both sides of the football. But it should be reassuring to Notre Dame nation that its fans aren't taking it for granted.
As for the blue and gold mesh shorts walking down Collins Avenue? Hell, maybe they're just on vacation.
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