Friday at 4: Football, the common thread of a community

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The lanyard reads “Forever Irish.” Lunch included waffles, pizza and doughnuts. The headache currently hampers attempts to form complete sentences.

That’s right, it’s reunion weekend at Notre Dame. From now until students return in mid-August, this weekend will be the most-crowded on campus of the summer, filled with graduates from 2012, 2007, 2002 and so on.

The catchphrase on the nametags and t-shirts is rather over the top. Forever Irish. But let’s skip past criticizing an obvious marketing campaign and instead jump to the redeeming value of reunion weekend. More than that, the redeeming value of an ever-expanding football program as quite literally evidenced by Notre Dame Stadium itself.

A reunion weekend isn’t my typical cup of tea. Maybe that is a symptom of my general disdain for small talk and past acquaintances acting like great friends. Or perhaps it is hereditary. I am the first of my family to attend a college reunion of any interval.

Within the first 24 hours, I was asked about the football team’s 2017 prospects five times. I, in turn, did my best not to ask how five years at Deloitte or Credit Suisse have been.

My initial aggravation to the gridiron query struck me as self-righteous, so I paused for a drink and pondered why it was so often asked. Certainly, it is part laziness, the easiest form of small talk. As a cynic, that is all I heard to start. But the question, like reunion weekend as a whole, is more than the apparent chatter. It is the thread of a community.

Take that carbohydrate-filled lunch, for example. Andrea asked the question, and I immediately replied, “You don’t really care.” She sharply corrected me. Andrea doesn’t see many of her Notre Dame classmates frequently anymore. That’s what happens when you live in a small New England town. But come fall Saturdays, she finds her way to a game watch. Those are obviously more appealing when the games are entertaining. A win elicits texts back-and-forth with those old college friends.

Andrea may not personally care if the Irish go 11-1 or 8-4, but she knows the boost a good season provides her friendships. A successful fall turns Andrea from an East Coast hermit into a social butterfly keeping up with past connections.

Notre Dame’s reunion festivities create an excuse for all those friends to gather for a summer weekend. The location is rather beside the point.

In an era of bowling alone, of posting 10-second segments of a small concert to social media to prove attendance, of #hashtags, genuine connection is less and less common. Every one of us knows this.

Andrea came to reunion seeing a chance to engage, not a chance to revisit campus. She goes to the game watches more for the potential interactions than the actual football. But it is the football that presents that window.

As this posts, Trevor will inevitably set down a brown paper bag, turn to me and ask if I think Notre Dame will beat USC in October. I won’t want to answer. Whether I say yes or no, I will be told I am wrong.

But I’ll do my best to answer. Trevor hasn’t seen me in a few years, and he knows we will spend a few hours at the same table tonight. We used to get along quite well. Working our way back to that dynamic might need some conversations not entirely about the drinks in our hands. If predicting autumn outcomes has to be that avenue, so be it.

I will not, however, set down my brown paper bag. This headache isn’t going to go away on its own and a Friday afternoon is no time to allow it to linger.