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Why I’m Thankful: Notre Dame and its magical season

Nov 22, 2012, 2:46 PM EDT

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Thanksgiving Day. A time for the Macy’s parade, a day of football, too much turkey, and corny columns from writers everywhere. But in the midst of a historic season, some stories absolutely have to be written, even with family, football, and food waiting.

As the Irish gather at their coaches’ homes for holiday meals before taking off for Los Angeles tomorrow, it’s amazing to look back on the year that got us here, and the team we’ve all spent the last twelve weeks obsessing over.

So here’s why I’m thankful.

***

I’m thankful that Notre Dame has proven that a team can compete for a national championship and graduate nearly all of its players. For the first time ever, the same school with the highest football player graduation rate is No. 1 in the BCS rankings. And while it’s no certainty that the Irish will win their next two football games, hopefully this shatters any illusions that winning on the field and graduating almost all your players has to be mutually exclusive.

If there’s a story that can’t be overblown more, this is certainly it. As it had been envisioned by Father Theodore Hesburgh years ago, Notre Dame always wanted to fulfill two missions: deliver a quality academic experience and compete at an elite level in football. After years of watching the SEC teams dominate the trophy case yet let a large portion of their student-athletes leave school without a degree, having Notre Dame, a flagship program in college football, remind schools it is possible to achieve greatness on the field and in the classroom is the most important lesson of any that’ll come out of college football season this year.

***

I’m thankful for Brian Kelly. After watching four head coaches get chewed up and spit out by the pressure cooker that is Notre Dame, Kelly had the moxie to tune out the noise and follow his plan. Along with athletic director Jack Swarbrick, the Irish head coach tore the football team down to its studs, a gut job of a program that had been building on top of a faulty foundation for over 15 years.

There were dark times for this football team. Think back to the panic that ensued when Aaron Lynch left the football program against his family’s wishes and Louis Nix looked close to going home, too. And while even the most ardent believers saw this team’s chances go down the drain when the Irish lost what was believed to be their most important defender on the roster, Kelly was steadfast in his belief that the defensive would be just fine.

Of course, it turned out to be more than just fine, perhaps the most dominant unit the Irish have trotted out in at least a quarter century. And Kelly’s belief in himself — his double-down on what made him a great head coach to begin with — transformed this team in an offseason where questions at quarterback, the graduation of the team’s best offensive and defensive player, and the toughest preseason schedule in the country all had even the most faithful fans clutching rosary beads.

***

I’m thankful for a team filled with personalities. Iconic leaders like Manti Te’o, a Hawaiian warrior that isn’t afraid to tell his teammates that he loves them, words that don’t always flow from the mouths of 21-year-olds. Veterans like Kapron Lewis-Moore, a defensive cog that may have been recruited by the previous regime, but bought into Kelly’s program after many friends and teammates felt like leftovers. For Louis Nix, a gentle soul with a wonderful sense of humor, who picked Notre Dame without knowing who his head coach would be, and has turned into one of the finest nose tackles in the country. For Tyler Eifert, Braxston Cave, and Zack Martin, three Indiana boys who may not be the most quotable, but anchor an old-school, Midwestern toughness that this team embodies.

For Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, two best friends pushing each other to be great while fighting for carries in the backfield. For Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell, who have played cornerback like time-tested veterans, not converted offensive prospects. For Everett Golson and Tommy Rees, two quarterbacks that have co-existed and pushed each other, working towards a common goal instead of fanning the flames of a potential quarterback controversy.

From Trick Shot Monday to the unmitigated joy that comes with singing the fight song after a victory, the small peeks behind the scenes of this team show a group that’s bonded into one, a trait that’s common among championship contenders. At a school where you’re never as good as its touted or as bad as its trashed, this team has kept its head down, marched to the drum of its leaders, and focused on the task at hand for eleven important Saturdays.

***

No school is perfect. And while many people bristle at the thought of Notre Dame’s singularity, there’s no reason to argue about the unique place Notre Dame holds in the world of college sports. It has withstood the recent years of punching bag status, picked itself up from the mat after timeless embarrassing losses on the game’s biggest stage, and continued to plow ahead even when its been far more fashionable to bash than revere. And now, one game from the sport’s pinnacle, a season nobody saw coming is close to being frozen in immortality.

The facts are nearly indisputable. When Notre Dame is back, the entire college football world thrives. Whether it’s top television ratings, countless hours of debate, or just echoes awakened, after almost four seasons of writing daily about a football team that felt so far from the top of the mountain, I’m thankful that I get paid to cover this football team, in truth, a group I’d probably be obsessing about anyway. Every season is a grind for writers, and after three grueling years, this one has been a breeze, and a journey I hope we all enjoyed taking together.

I’m thankful that Notre Dame’s most heralded rival stands in the way of its date with destiny. You wouldn’t want it any other way, and the entire college football world will be watching.

And I’m thankful after nearly twenty years, that the final Saturday of November finally means something.

  1. brocklanders02 - Nov 22, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Keith, great article man. Couldn’t be more with you here. Lets not forget how amazing this year has been and how far we have come. Looking forward to Saturday!

  2. NotreDan - Nov 22, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    Amoung many things, I am thankful for you and your work here Keith.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • tedlinko - Nov 23, 2012 at 5:08 AM

      Amen to that one. Thanks much.

  3. Tim's Neighbor - Nov 22, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    I’m thankful for this blog and the people on the live game chats. Being a broke grad student in Atlanta, I don’t know any Irish fans down here and can’t afford to drink* at a bar at a watch party every Saturday. You all have kept me sane(ish) this season. My wife and dogs thank you for being my outlet as well.

    *If you think not drinking at a bar is an option, you haven’t been watching this team. Staying sober hasn’t been an option.

    • jcwnd - Nov 22, 2012 at 5:55 PM

      I live in Atlanta and I would be happy to buy u a few drinks. I completed my MBA while trying to make ends meet with my family so I understand your situation perfectly. Go Irish!!

  4. jgater1981 - Nov 22, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    What a great article, Keith. It’s spot on. This team is one any ND fan can be proud of. I have been waiting my whole life to see this season (thanks a lot for the years of torture Dad. I love you anyway) and I’m thankful I’ve been able to share it with my dad and my brother. I can’t wait until Saturday!

  5. nudeman - Nov 22, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    1. Thankful for your blog, Keith. You truly do a great job and it is the best internet site for ND football
    2. Thankful for some of my own personal blessings, which shall remain private.
    3. Thankful for THIS memory … and hopeful for a reprise on Saturday

    • papadec - Nov 23, 2012 at 4:13 AM

      nude – ahhhh yes, how sweet it is! GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • dochrd - Nov 23, 2012 at 4:54 PM

      Thanks for posting this video. I was a freshman in high school, and it didn’t take two seconds into this video to remind me how SATISFYING this game was after the Theft of ’64!

  6. grattanstanford - Nov 22, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    I’m thankful for the two sons of Stanford hall (my namesake) who have been integral in this season’s magic: Prince Shembo and Troy Niklas. Though there are other players from my beautiful dorm on St Josephs lake these two are truly great men. Prince is a beast and I am praying to our lady that he takes his senior year like his good friend manti

  7. flandersst1 - Nov 22, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    Hey KA,

    I’m of course thankful first to God and for my family, but I’m also thankful that we’ve been doing this for four years. It seems like just yesterday we were sitting in stunned silence after Duval Kamara slipped and fell down in the endzone when we were driving for the tying score against USC.

    Go Irish.

    Steve in Pittsburgh

  8. jerseyshorendfan1 - Nov 22, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    Keith, great article. You really know how to turn a phrase. I’m thankful for this site that provides such thorough information on our beloved team and does so in a completely entertaining manner. I’m thankful for all the great opinions on here, yes even dickasman’s. Here’s wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and an even happier Saturday night. I am thankful to be able to share this magic season with all of you. GO IRISH!!!!!

  9. yllibnosredna - Nov 22, 2012 at 6:40 PM

    I’m thankful that after having lived in Ireland for over three years now, I got a chance to see THIS TEAM and the start of this SEASON…It’s been nothing short of a storybook year for this squad, and I’ve watched it every step of the way. Truly thankful that Swarbrick went out and got THE GUY he needed to get three years ago. What a difference the RIGHT COACH makes. What a year! Thanks Keith for keeping us up to speed every step of the way.

  10. irish2011 - Nov 22, 2012 at 8:22 PM

    Thank you Mr. Keith!!

  11. irishadrian - Nov 22, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    I’m thankful for the Pittsburgh game….I DVR’d it and wathced the replay several times and amazingly we win, how ? I don’t know, Pitt dropped several key passes and an interception, and the missed kick in OT, and the 2 number 2′s on the field at the field at the same time. There’s no one I’d rather play this weekend than USC, 41-14 Irish !!!!!!!!

  12. irishbornraised - Nov 22, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    Keith, was hoping you could post this link: http://promo.espn.go.com/espn/contests/nissan/heisman/2012/ballot/voteHeisman

    Manti once had a commanding league but is now trailing Manziel the pretender by 3%. Nissan gets to cast a ballot in the official Heisman voting so this actually matters. I’m sure if we all spread this across the web and voted everyday Manti could overcome this fraud who threw plenty of picks but was forgiven due to the fact that the only game people saw was the Bama game. Bookmark like a champion today.

  13. phillyj - Nov 22, 2012 at 10:06 PM

    Post of the year. Thanks, KA.

  14. jackm1184 - Nov 22, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    I’m thankful for my tickets to Saturday’s game. GO IRISH

    • dickasman - Nov 23, 2012 at 1:10 AM

      Is the ticket close enough to the USC cheerleaders so you can look up their skirts? Now that, I’d be thankful for.

  15. speedsterofbeantown - Nov 22, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    I am thankful that my great great uncle, my great grandfather, my marine corps uncle and much of my extended family might get a chance to see Notre Dame win another National Title. God Bless the Davis Clan

  16. kleinick - Nov 23, 2012 at 1:17 AM

    Best writeup you’ve ever had KA. Thank you for your outstanding coverage the last few years.

  17. norcalirish - Nov 23, 2012 at 7:01 AM

    Happy to see you’re finally mentioning the GSR and the BCS #1 achievement in louder tones—def worth repeating.

    • sharptux44 - Nov 23, 2012 at 10:03 AM

      I’m thankful for
      1. A dominate D
      2. For the great fans I talked to and bantered with in my first trip to Notre Dame
      Stadium! Truly the best in college football. This is truly a breath of fresh air for a guy who has
      suffered SEC and Clemson fans most of his life.
      3. To the guy at the Dan Devine gate for not checking what was in my Stanley Thermos. I think
      The folks who sat next to me would probably thank him as well.

  18. mediocrebob - Nov 23, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Thankful for many things. Thankful to be part of a great fan base that is as passionate as they are after so many years of heartache. Thankful that I get to read your posts on our Irish.

    You do an unbelievable job, KA. Thank you for all that you do. Lets go take down the Trojans (and “Traveler” if possible) and keep the train rolling. Here come the Irish!

    • 9irish - Nov 23, 2012 at 2:53 PM

      We need to get people on each side of the field with comm wire, to take that clown off the horse!

  19. badgerbuck - Nov 24, 2012 at 1:54 AM

    How thankful will we be if the Irish lose? My guess is most if not all on this board will think this season was a faliure.just read the post if they lose

  20. bigbluenoser - Nov 24, 2012 at 8:56 PM

    The Irish would have a .500 record if they played in the SEC. They will get their doors blown off in the BCS champ game.

    • brianmuskus - Nov 25, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      Historically, the Irish have played Bama 5 times – - Bama lost 4 of those games !!

  21. ravenseattheirownpoop - Nov 25, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Amen brother

  22. bigbluenoser - Nov 25, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    History is history I’m talking about this year. The real national championship game goes this Saturday

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