Sometime between the end of the Pitt game and now, I heard someone say, “Notre Dame has the worst fans of any sport of any college.” I won’t tell you who said it or even where I heard it, but even though the words weren’t meant specifically for me, I immediately felt enraged.
I’m no stranger to anger when it comes to Notre Dame sports, although maybe my brother or dad would be more qualified to speak on the subject. The angriest I can ever remember being was after that 2011 Michigan game, followed closely by several interactions with more Michigan fans after this year’s game.
And it’s not like anger is the only negative thing I’ve felt in the wake of a Notre Dame loss. Of course, after last year’s national championship I felt total, obliterating heartbreak to the point that I shed actual tears.
But I’ve never felt what I did in the moments after Saturday’s game, which was resignation.
I don’t need this, I thought. I get my heart all worked up for Notre Dame, and it’s brought me some truly beautiful moments, but maybe I should just go back to being a crappy, fair weather fan (see: the Blackhawks or the White Sox). Maybe I just can’t care as much as I used to because I’m so exhausted from all the emotions.
On Sunday, I didn’t think about the loss as much as I usually would. I thought maybe that’s what being separated from your student body and your college friends and your family does to a person. I felt very zen about the whole thing—like maybe I was on the sports fan’s equivalent of painkillers, with no desire to ever come off.
And then someone said it: “Notre Dame has the worst fans.”
And BOOM, no more zen. No more painkillers. There was that rage that had been so absent from this loss.
Like fans of every school, some Notre Dame fans sometimes do stupid things. They scapegoat or boo a 22-year-old kid, they post outrageous things on Facebook, they get so worked up over Notre Dame football that they call my office and say they’re never going to watch Notre Dame play again.
But you know what? No. We do not have the worst fans or even close to the worst fans. What do people say when they talk about why they love Notre Dame? It’s not the Golden Dome or Touchdown Jesus or even our historic football program. It’s the people. And that’s both bigger than football and all about football.
Of course, some of my best examples of the Notre Dame community come from last season. Fans I had never met reached out to me on every platform imaginable, telling me they appreciated my words and understood my emotions because they had gone through or were going through the same experience. I connected with strangers on the streets of Miami as Notre Dame fans swarmed the city in January. I hugged my friends in the stands after every game like I never wanted to let go.
But it isn’t just during a magic carpet ride like the 2012 season that the fans of Notre Dame have been tight knit. Just as vividly, I remember sleeping on my friends’ shoulders in the backseat as we drove home from watching the team lose to Michigan and feeling completely connected and completely at home. I think about staying to sing the alma mater in rain and snow. I recall how the entire Stadium emptied and refilled twice just to watch the team lose to South Florida, because that’s what we do. We stay. We support.
In a time when even Nick Saban is yelling at his fans for leaving Alabama games early, Notre Dame fans are there until the end for every game. Notre Dame isn’t reducing the student football ticket allocation just to ensure the student section is filled for every game, or claiming that we’re playing sold out games when there are still thousands of empty seats. Notre Dame fans are passionate. They are involved. They care about the football program and the school, but most of all, each other.
The people of Notre Dame are the best kind of people, and cheering for Notre Dame football is just one way that unites me with all of them. Maybe I should thank this person for snapping me back into the game. I may have been too exhausted to feel upset about the badmouthing of my football team, but I have no problem getting angry for my people.
This content can also be found at Notre Dame’s official football blog, Strong and True.