Notre Dame

I’ve always wondered why a smaller Catholic University in the Midwest has caught the nation’s attention in sports.

Why is this? Lingering affection for Knute Rockne? NBC’s 50 year old contract showing all of ND’s home football games? Catholic pride? Why not Boston College? or Loyola Marymount?

I am not meaning to say anything bad about that university or its fans or alumni. But why is it so popular nationwide?

According an exellent book by Murray Sperber, “Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football”, Knute Rockne deserves the credit. Besides being a great coach, he was also a great salesman and promoter, who not only convinced conservative Catholic priests that football could benefit their small college but who also convinced influential newspaper writers that ND football was a great story. Well before Reagan and company, Rockne had the insight that the press could be spoonfed.

What Rockne built the university has had the ability to carry on and improve.

Incidentally, Murray Sperber is the Indiana U. professor who was so outspoken about Bobby Knight’s abuses being a discredit to IU.

Today, Irish-Americans and Catholics in general are unquestionably part of mainstream America. Even WASPS now drink green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, and seems like a looong time ago that people seriously questioned whether John Kennedy’s tepid, nominal Catholicism made him unfit to be President.

But, to put it mildly, that was not always the case. For many years, Catholics in general, and the Irish in particular, were regarded with hostility and suspicion by WASP America. Not surprisingly, then, Irish Catholics were inclined to rally around ANY other Irish or Catholics who seemed to epitomize success.

As mentioned earlier, Knute Rockne was both a brilliant coach (the first to make the forward pass an integral part of the game) and a smart marketer. A Norwegian Lutheran himself (he later converted to Catholicism), he saw that a successful Catholic school with a name like “the Fighting Irish” could appeal to fans in CHicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia… anywhere there were Irish and Catholics who felt put-upon and outside the mainstream.

In Irish and Catholic neighborhoods all over the midwest and northeast, people who didn’t go to Notre Dame, and didn’t even KNOW anyone who’d gone to Notre Dame, came to regard the Irish as “their” team. Such fans are called “the subway alumni,” because they FEEL like alumni, even though they have no real ties to the school.

Interestingly, the subway alumni continued feeling this attachment to Notre Dame LONG after there were many actual Irish or Catholic players on the field.

I believe that they started getting a lot of national recognition after they beat a heavily favored Army team by using the forward pass, something that was uncommon at the time.

And all that stuff astorian said.

I think they were already pretty big at the time, but Grantland Rice wrote some famous story about the Four Horsemen that added to the majesty of Notre Dame football :rolleyes:.

As for me, I hate Notre Dame. I hate 'em, I hate 'em, I hate 'em. Man was I happy back when Northwestern was beating them to start off the season.

Kind of like the Dallas Cowboys, I guess. You love them or you hate them.

In case I hadn’t mentioned yet, I hate them! It didn’t help any that they made it into the BCS over my Huskers, even though NU beat them.

Echoing what many of the previous posters said, Notre Dame was able to parlay its fame from football to position itself as THE Catholic University in the United States, even though there are many of them and some have a more prestigious academic background (like Georgetown).

However, most Catholic universities were relatively small schools run by Jesuits in urban settings. Some of these schools also realized that they could improve their images through athletic success, but their size required them to go the basketball route (like USF and Providence). And despite college basketball’s popularity, there really aren’t any teams that have the same national following as Notre Dame’s football team. There is no way any network is going to put every single Duke or UNC game on TV. And NBC used to televise occassional Notre Dame basketball games, but not many people watched.

I am a big-time football fan (though admittedly not as much into college football these days) and a Catholic as well, and I hate Notre Dame football. Maybe it’s that damn fight song?

Ooh, the Irish. I HATE Notre Dame!

Of course, this is the sentiment of all big-time Oklahoma fans.

[trivia mode]
What NCAA Division I football team owns the longest undefeated streak in history?

Oklahoma, 47 games, 1950-1953.

What team last beat Oklahoma prior to this streak?

Notre Dame.

What team ended this streak?

Notre Dame.

If Bud and the boys had managed to win those two games, OU would have had a 58 game streak.

I’m still pissed about that History Channel series about great college football coaches that didn’t even mention Bud Wilkinson. Three national championships in a six year period (50,54,55) and a 47-game undefeated streak and his name was not mentioned even once. Of course, Knute and Ara were both featured prominently. Go figure.

Bah and fey. At least according to my conservative Catholic cousin who went to Georgetown, Notre Dame hews to Catholic non-football-related theology a lot more closely than Georgetown does. According to her Georgetown’s professors and administration would just as soon shed Catholicism if they could.

Notre Dame takes its Catholicism, besides its football, seriously.

You’d probably want ESPN Classic for sports history, anyway.

50 year contract? Nah. NBC signed the contract in the early 90s. But many, many people do identify with Notre Dame for some reason. Many people had parents or grandparents (usually blue collar Catholics) who saw Notre Dame as their way out. They saw ND as fighting for the little guy. It really is a mystery why SO many people feel this way who have no formal relationship with the university. I guess if Boston College ever had a strong consistent football history, it’d be the other way around. I credit Knute and Grantland Rice.

Go Irish!


Yes, Notre Dame is more theologically conservative, but Georgetown has a better academic reputation, and that was what BobT was talking about.

I’ve been trying to think what Catholic colleges are considered best academically, and these are all I can come up with:

  1. Georgetown
  2. Notre Dame
  3. Fordham
  4. Boston College
  5. Catholic University

Are there any with a reasonably good reputation that I’m missing?

Villanova, Providence, St. John’s, Holy Cross? Obviously, I have a Big East bias. I know, I know, Notre Dame is NOW part of the Big East, but really, they’re just carpetbaggers. As for Holy Cross, they turned down an offer to join the Big East, so UCONN was asked instead and had sense enough to say yes…