The Notre Dame pep rally has died a slow death, losing the sheer electricity of the Lou Holtz days back when an over-capacity crowd turned the JACC’s Friday night pep rallies into one of the toughest tickets on campus. In it’s current iteration on the Irish Green, it’s really a glorified picnic, “a family friendly environment for fans to hang out, enjoy multiple food and drink vendors, and take in both live music and Notre Dame-oriented entertainment.”
(Not my description, that’s straight from Notre Dame’s official website.)
But last Friday night, Rocket Ismail was the guest at the pep rally. And when Rocket addresses the team and the crowd, you can’t help but feel the electricity in the air. Whether it was his stirring address before last year’s game against USC (“Don’t Flinch!”) or last Friday night, you wonder what it’d have been like if modern day Rocket got up and addressed Notre Dame Rocket and his teammates. I can only guess that it would’ve blown the roof off the JACC center, with thousands of students ready to runs through the walls of Notre Dame Stadium.
As usual, Rocket was excellent, whipping a crowd that was likely there for nothing more than a few beers and some forced pageantry into a frenzy. More importantly, he hit on a key issue that’s plaguing the fans of “Irish Nation.” (Rocket’s word choice, not mine.)
Thanks to WNDU-TV in South Bend who shot the video, here’s Rocket’s speech in it’s entirety:
If you’ve been a Notre Dame fan for any length of time, it’s not hard to know what Rocket is talking about. That “not again” feeling, I’ve seen it typed thousands of times in live-blog comments or emails shot my way throughout a season. Ismail did even one better, identifying the problem that’s been plaguing Notre Dame football since the Davie era.
“There’s a thief in the house. And he’s been hanging out in our house for far too long,” Ismail said. “And we’ve identifed who this thief is. Listen… His name is Unbelief.
“I’ve run into him a couple of times. And when I run into him, he’ll be dressed just like he belongs in the Irish family. He’ll have the hat on, he’ll have a big ND on his shirt. Sometimes, he’ll even have a letterman’s jacket on. But this is how you identify him.
“He’s the person that very subtly and seductively will say something like, “Eh — maybe next year.” He’s say something like, he’ll stand and in one voice he’ll cheer and then when the road gets a little rocky, when the challenge seems to be able to surpass what his expectations are, he’ll say this. ‘Here we go again…’
“I have come to warn you, Unbelief. You don’t belong in our house. You do not belong in our house. And I have come to equipt you, the true Irish nation, I have come to empower you, the true Irish nation.
“Unbelief is going to be at the party, unbelief is going to be at the restaurant, unbelief might even try to sneak up in the hotel, unbelief might even try to sneak up in your dreams. You tell that son of a savage, get the hell out of my room. If Unbelief tries to show up at the meeting tomorrow, when you’re at the middle of the field, if Unbelief tries to show up in the huddle, you tell him, ‘To the back, Son.’ I ain’t got time for you. Don’t let him come in. Don’t let him come in. Do not let Him come in.”
Rocket’s willingness to point the finger at the very fans that wear the blue and gold is another example of an influential Irish member questioning the fanbase that supports Notre Dame. While it isn’t hard to understand why that “not again” feeling often comes to a quick boil, it seems as if that ‘sky is falling’ mentality has invaded the psyche of a football team that hasn’t been a part of 15 years of struggles, but merely a rocky window that included a coaching transition and a wholesale system change.
While introspection might eventually solve what’s ailing the Irish, Rocket’s speech on Friday night reminds everybody of two things:
1) The psyche of a college athlete is a fragile thing and 2) Rocket Ismail is a helluva public speaker.