The following column was published in The Observer on September 11, 2012.
It was a breezy Saturday afternoon as I stood on Bond Quad amidst alumni, students and friends of the University. The band, founded in 1846, played music from 2012, and I reflected on the many gifts its members have given to the University. The students, neither for scholarship nor for pay, spend hour upon hour in practice and performance. They are not unlike most of Notre Dame’s student body. Most students selflessly commit their time and energy to remind the world why Notre Dame is among the greatest of all educational institutions.
The band, nearly a century older than Notre Dame Stadium, is a reminder that, as many college game days have abandoned institutional identity in order to look like the NFL, Notre Dame has striven to maintain the beauty of live human competition and camaraderie, created and maintained by those with a deep love for school and sport. For a few short hours on a Saturday afternoon, we manifest our institutional love for this world and the next.
As Fr. James Schall once wrote, “What holds us spellbound for a fascinating moment must not be totally unlike what holds us fascinated forever.” Here, he is speaking about the greatness of athletic competition. He reminds us that “we do not go to the game to ‘yell’ … Rather, we yell because there is something to yell about.” We do not yell simply for the sake of yelling. At our best, we yell because we “love the Notre Dame.” Football, as it turns out, can be a manifestation of identity, of community, of faith. Football, at its best, aids even the intellectual and the spiritual life.
In his 2009 address to artists, Pope Benedict XVI said of beauty: “Because it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves… [it] can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God.” Leading us beyond ourselves, the beautiful can aid in our ascendance beyond the merely temporal and direct us towards the eternal. Like art, a well-crafted game can lead us to something that is greater than ourselves. We can realise “there is something to yell about.”
In his 2006 Faculty Address, Fr. Jenkins quoted a remark a Harvard professor had made to him: “If Harvard should stumble and have to shut its doors, Yale or Princeton could, with time and effort, ramp up and credibly fill the gap. If the University of Michigan or Cal–Berkeley faced some catastrophe, Wisconsin or UCLA could hire their faculty, increase enrollment and take over research projects without irremediable loss to higher education in America.
But if Notre Dame should fail, no other institution could fully take its place.” As we hear about our lack of criminals and the exceptional academic performance of our athletes, we realize that this may be just as true of our football program as it is of all other aspects of the University.
Nonetheless, it may be that traditions are fading, and we find ourselves succumbing to all the rest. In his memoirs, the late Ralph McInerny, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, recalled that under Fr. Hesburgh, no football coach had ever been paid more than the highest paid professor. Today, we are tempted to scoff at his claim that “anyone who requires two million dollars to come to Notre Dame should be wished well in his future endeavors and forgotten.” Yet, this was the Notre Dame he know. National championship coaches came to Notre Dame because they wanted to, not merely because they were paid to.
Likewise, as we blare music from our speakers at football games, we forget that the greatest music of our stadium is made by our century-old band, composed of students who selflessly give their time and efforts to the University. The music of Notre Dame is not the sounds created and recorded by those who have never attended, visited or cared for our beloved University.
So do we have “something to yell about?” This question can only be answered with other questions. Is our team composed of magnanimous Notre Dame men, or do we maintain an “edge” with a “few bad citizens”? Are our stands filled with fans cheering for something greater than themselves, or are they intoxicated with a Bacchanal frenzy? Do we need a seven-digit salary to convince coaches to consider our program, or do coaches seek out our institutional integrity and identity? And, finally, do we find ourselves, as individuals and as a community, animated by the Faith which calls us to something greater than even our games? Do we love the Notre Dame?
Christopher Damian is a senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.