A magical time of year

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Let me utter a sentence that isn’t often said on the last day of November in northwest Indiana: It’s a great time to be in South Bend.

The Irish await the winner of Alabama-Georgia in the national championship game. Mike Brey’s hoops team dispatched John Calipari’s lastest gang of mercenaries. As the student body galvanizes around its athletic teams — an electric crowd willed the basketball team to victory as Irish football players took turns cleaning the court — life looks mighty fine under the Golden Dome, with hundreds of students storming the court on national television after a dominating upset of Kentucky.

It gets characterized as hocus-pocus or clever marketing by skeptics everywhere, but it was hard not to see the magic of Notre Dame if you watched Mike Brey’s team take down Kentucky’s future NBA roster last night. And when Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale welcomed Manti Te’o to the broadcast, it was hard not to think that the Irish — after a football season that played out like a Madison Avenue marketing campaign for the university and its aspirations — got another ten minute infomercial live on ESPN.

With Te’o as the school’s leading man, Notre Dame is riding a tidal wave of positivity that hasn’t been seen in twenty years. When he wasn’t deftly avoiding recruiting violations, he was talking about a community that just about every prospective student-athlete would love to be a part of.

“They’re our family,” Te’o said of the football team’s relationship with the basketball team. “The only time we’re not together is when they’re on the court or we’re on the field. We’re always together, always talking about our next games and match-ups.”

As most major universities resurrect buildings to keep athletes and student separate, the stands were packed with Irish football players, arm-in-arm with their dormmates. Only Louis Nix was absent from the game, according to Te’o, and he had good reason: He was playing Santa at a cancer fundraiser. Even the biggest Notre Dame haters are going to have a hard time pulling a lump of coal from that stocking.

You’d be hard pressed to find an outcome January 7th that could lessen the impact that this football season has had on the university and its fan base. After almost two decades of consistently wearing it on the chin, it’s a great time to be Irish. You can’t blame the students for storming the court. It was Te’o, of course, that led the charge.

With awards soon to be rightfully showered on Brian Kelly and Manti Te’o, you might as well enjoy six weeks of non-stop talk about Notre Dame and its chances against the mighty SEC. Whatever happens in Miami, it’s amazing to think that one overachieving football team, a group that has risen from the ashes of a disappointing 2011 season, has put a community on its back and turned South Bend into one of the happiest places on earth.