As Lloyd Christmas said, “I hate goodbyes.”But after eight seasons of covering the day-to-day happenings of Notre Dame football, it’s time to say just that.
It’s crazy to think that it’s almost been a decade since I talked the good people of NBC Sports Digital into paying me money to cover the daily comings and goings of the Irish football team. And it’s even crazier that come this Friday, I won’t wake up wondering what I’ll be writing about.
But, it’s time. After eight seasons, two head coaches, 65 wins, 37 losses and one imaginary girlfriend, I’m turning in my wings.
So let’s do this the only way I know how. Here are five things I learned writing Inside the Irish.
No matter how fair you try to be, you’re always going to have favorite players.
My introduction to Notre Dame football was a memorable one. Big-box speakers blared down the fourth floor hallway of Stanford Hall, a rude early-morning awakening for an 18-year-old freshman who was still a little groggy from the night before. I still hadn’t seen a football game in Notre Dame Stadium, though I did manage to wander through the stadium gates and down the tunnel the night before, running phantom pass patterns on that shaggy grass field after a night of exquisite Keystone Lights.
The next day, the Irish beat the defending Rose Bowl champs. And a very young Keith Arnold wondered if all Saturdays would be as magical as this one.
They wouldn’t be. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t all interesting.
The above story is license to expand my very first (and last) All-Inside the Irish Team, building a roster of my favorite players to man their respective positions since the virus that is Notre Dame football took hold of me.
The All-Inside the Irish Team
QB: Brady Quinn
RB: Autry Denson
RB: Darius Walker
WR: Golden Tate
WR: Michael Floyd
WR: Jeff Samardzija
TE: Tyler Eifert
LT: Zack Martin
G: Quenton Nelson
C: Jeff Faine
G: Chris Watt
RT: Ryan Harris
DE: Justin Tuck
DT: Trevor Laws
DT: Louis Nix
DE: Stephon Tuitt
LB: Jaylon Smith
LB: Manti Te’o
LB: Kory Minor
CB: Shane Walton
S: Harrison Smith
S: Tommy Zbikowski
CB: KeiVarae Russell
P: Hunter Smith
K: David Ruffer
Returner: Julius Jones
X-Factor: Tommy Rees
For as close as they got, it’s hard not to wonder what could have been.
For me, the best three minutes of covering the Irish were the three minutes before kickoff of the BCS National Championship game. I’ll remember that moment in the press box forever. I could’ve run through a wall, I was so filled with excitement.
The next three minutes? Not quite as good. But after eight years of watching the ups and downs, I’m still left with some serious “what could have been” moments.
What if Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate stuck around for their senior seasons? What if Dayne Crist never got hurt? What if Aaron Lynch didn’t leave? Or Eddie Vanderdoes didn’t want to see his grandma? Or Tee Shepard made it to spring ball? What if Brian Kelly didn’t hire Brian VanGorder?
What if a certain unnamed student trainer didn’t give a little bit too much help or if Everett Golson didn’t take accounting class? Or the 2015 team didn’t live out a Final Destination movie?
Follow a team close enough, and you’ll drive yourself crazy wondering about these scenarios. But at Notre Dame—a school where you’re always going to be on a razor’s edge—the one thing that hit me was the Sisyphean nature if it all. Just when it seemed like the Irish were close to getting that boulder to the top of the mountain, it always found a way to come barreling back down.
No matter how long I do it, I’ll never understand the people who can’t find a way to enjoy it.
Apologies in advance, but let me get this one off my chest. There’s a passion that surrounds Notre Dame football. But for a very vocal group, that passion has gotten demented, an elephant in the room that’s hard to ignore—even when you’re trying your best to do it.
I’ll never understand that. How people who have all the enthusiasm in the world for Notre Dame football have gotten it so twisted that they’ve forgotten that this is supposed to be fun.
I won’t miss this part. The hard-liners who hold kids and coaches to a standard so far outside the one that they have for themselves, or the ones who fail to understand that every Saturday one team leaves a winner and the other a loser—and sometimes that loser wears blue and gold.
Make no mistake, I know better than most that college football is big business. It’s helped me and my family earn a living, talking and writing about one team, every day, for eight years. But for as good as it is when the team wins, the bad years are so much worse.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between the joyless cyber mob that infests Notre Dame football (and I’m sure many other programs) with the ones that turned this political season so toxic. The people who refuse to think there’s any nuance—that things either ARE or they AREN’T.
It’s hard to deal with people who believe that Notre Dame, if simply managed and operated by competent people, would still be the Notre Dame of the past. That if only Rockne, Leahy, Ara or Lou were in charge of the team, or Sorin, Moose or Father Ted were in the Main Building, things would be just fine.
Politics aside—and I truly mean that—nobody is going to Make Notre Dame Football Great Again. At least not how it used to be. And certainly not the echo chamber over at NDNation. So while that group will be very glad to be rid of me, know that—for the most part—the feeling is very mutual.
Enough doom and gloom. I’ll be eternally thankful for the community we built here—mostly because of you.
I’ve met plenty of wonderful people because of this blog. I’ve even had people stop me on the streets of South Bend, a head-shaking occurrence still to this day, with the question, “Are you Keith Arnold?” Thankfully, it was for a good reason. Mainly, you read the blog.
So thanks to everybody who has played along—especially those who have lived below the fold. There is a large community of you that I will sincerely miss, even if I’m unwilling to single out any individual reader (other than my mom) for being better than the rest.
We’ve had some wonderful characters in the comment threads. Daily participants. Some who have come and gone. Some who have been banned and re-appeared. Even crazy disbarred lawyers with conspiracy theories.
The live blogs were fun. The tight finishes of the 2009 season were made even crazier when you saw the thousands of people feeding CoveritLive with their every thought. So were the (way too) occasional mailbag. Thanks to all for participating.
For as rough as I was above, there are so many people doing great work writing and podcasting about the Irish. Interesting, intelligent people who I am glad to call friends. There are too many people to single out, but whether they be premium websites that get by with subscribers or blogs run by people with a full-time job, there are too many people to single out, but it’s all really well done. Speaking as a daily-consumer of an unhealthy amount of Notre Dame coverage, it’s a wonderful time to be an Irish fan—4-8 season aside.
If I’ve learned anything these past eight years, it’s that Notre Dame does try to be different.
If you want to get an eye-roll, go ahead and tell someone who doesn’t like the Irish that Notre Dame does it better than the rest. (Go ahead, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone.)
But as much as that statement makes my skin crawl—and I’m a proud alum—the more I dug deeper and deeper into the football team and Jack Swarbrick’s athletic department, the more comfortable I got saying that Notre Dame tried to do it right.
That doesn’t mean they always did. In my time covering the team, I had to cover some terrible events—and had to ask some very difficult questions. But more often than not, I was always struck by the conscientious effort made to balance everything that goes into doing things the right way, challenging student-athletes to excel in a impressive academic environment while also attempting to compete for a national championship.
No matter what the NCAA tells me, I won’t forget the 2012 season. I won’t forget the moment when the Irish had the No. 1 Graduation Success Rate in the country and the No. 1 glowed proudly atop Grace Hall.
My thanks to the team and people who let me cover them. To those who let a guy living 2,000-plus miles away poke around and ask questions, even if sometimes they resulted in a story getting out that was purposely being kept under wraps. I’m guessing there were more than a few moments inside the Gug spent wondering how some guy with a laptop in Manhattan Beach found something out that he wasn’t supposed to know.
While I’m stepping away from blog, I won’t stop watching the games. And while my time with NBC is done (for now), we’re still thinking of ways for me to be involved with their always excellent coverage of the Irish.
So thanks again to everyone. I’ll be back here later this week to introduce you to the “new guy,” who you’ll soon like much better than the old one. And while shorter is usually better, anybody who has read this blog knows that’s never been one of my gifts.