Drops ice cube into glass, pours drink, a strong drink.
“Dear ‘Inside the Irish’ fans, ‘Inside the Irish’ foes and, of course, my parents —”
That was the opening greeting in my first column here more than three years ago. It feels appropriate to reprise it now as I give a forced farewell. Those cheerier words did not include a pouring prelude, but such are the times.
As is the case with much of the sportswriting world these days, particularly the college football corners, this site will be going dark for the foreseeable future. It is not by my choice. When that darkness lifts will not be, either.
The second paragraph of my first “Friday at 4” column, at least my first such public column, compared this space to a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. That was an obscure reference, one never explained, to my high school car. When I was told of the decision to shutter this site a week ago, I thought of an uncertain night in that vintage beauty.
Takes a long, slow sip.
My usual group of friends had been hanging out at a particular girl’s house. Longtime readers might assume her name was Claire — it wasn’t, but she was indeed the girl I was interested in and would eventually date a few times, though that is beside the point. Two blocks into my drive home, I pulled up to a stop sign, and then the Beetle would not move.
It was still running, and I had the gas pedal pressed to the floor, but the engine did not so much as rev.
The last few weeks have felt a lot like that disconcerting moment. The want is clear, the execution lacks.
With every Jack Swarbrick insistence that fans need to be in the stands for college football, with the Group of Five calling for changes to minimum scholarship requirements, with talks of February football, with a Vice Presidential phone call, with Brian Kelly’s rational thoughts, with Dabo Swinney acting in discord with his reasonable reputation and Mike Gundy matching his predilection for absurdity, with Ireland outlawing mass gatherings through August, with Navy’s athletic director saying that did not impact the status of the scheduled Notre Dame game in Dublin on Aug. 29, with each vague college sports update, my mood oscillated from more pessimistic than an Irish fan in the rain to more optimistic than Charlie Brown approaching a place kick.
The Volkswagen wouldn’t move, but it was still on. The problem was distinct, yet how bad could it be?
A quicker drink, realizing the glass in hand is a half-pint removed from the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Gut, punched.
My best friend pulled up behind me at that stop sign. We pushed the Beetle around the corner into a parking lot, he drove me home, and I fretted about the mechanical mishap all night.
My father quickly diagnosed the problem in the morning. The accelerator cable had snapped. We bought a new one, crawled onto the pavement of that YMCA parking lot, and fed the cable from the gas pedal to the engine in the trunk.
There is no such quick fix during a pandemic, in the big picture or as it pertains to entertaining Notre Dame fans. When the behemoths like Sports Illustrated and SB Nation are laying off or furloughing large portions of their staffs, this should hardly come as a surprise, even if a month ago I vowed, “this space will not be empty. That is my promise to you.”
Refills the glass.
If being completely transparent, that promise was one part an attempt at the slightest good, distracting a thin slice of the public from all that is going awry right now, and one part an attempt at convincing my bosses to keep this vehicle accelerating. When Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus 44 days ago, it took me about 15 minutes to conclude this writing would end by June. The friend a few feet from me was busy insisting the NHL would still finish both its season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs; I looked at him and said there wouldn’t be another hockey game. Half his marriage believed me, the urgency conveyed by the tone of my voice and the look on my face.
Breaking that promise to you means “Notre Dame 99-to-2” entries cannot continue to trickle out — fifth-year defensive end Ade Ogundeji, No. 91, was next up, and it was due to hype him quite a bit heading into his final season; if I am including that note here and now, imagine how much it is believed. It means next week’s “Leftovers & Links” cannot include a line-by-line discussion of Ian Book’s thoughts on remote communications. It means the “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC” series cannot be reorganized to feature deep dives on the 1993 Florida State and the 2005 USC games before Wednesday’s NBCSN re-airings of each (7 ET and 10 ET, respectively).
I’ll lean into another, more essential means of a slight good, but it will be nowhere near as entertaining as tomorrow’s planned 1,500 words on the 31-0 victory against Michigan in 2014.
And for that, I apologize to each of you still reading. Offering that apology feels about as fulfilling as this drink.
Sometimes no matter how good the drink is, it tastes like it is from the well.
I would like to think some good can come from this end. Maybe the friend who said, “This virus is the best thing that’s happened to me in awhile,” or the friend who claimed, “I think it’s kind of great we’re all saving money,” can each realize the real-world ramifications of our current situation go far deeper and more personal than their comfortable realities have yet faced. Maybe the Notre Dame fans who celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago can recognize they are a small part of why college football may not return until 2021.
Checks calendar. Realizes I’m scheduled to virtually drink with both those friends and two such Chicagoans an hour after this column publishes. Induces both a figurative and a literal gulp.
It is not fair my writing here stops after three years; by which I mean, it is not fair I got to write here for more than three years. That’s about 36 months longer than the quality warranted. Everyone remembers Cy Young won 511 games to be the winningest pitcher in baseball history, but few point out he also lost 316 games to be the losingest pitcher in baseball history.
Today is one of my 316, but the last 40 months have been part of my 511.
Or, to put it in the parlance I most utilize: The best sports gambler in the world wins 52.38 percent of his bets. This week is among the 47.62 percent I lose.
Who am I kidding? The glass is the reserve. I’m drinking from the bottle.
Let’s leave on that note. No. 2 Notre Dame will beat No. 1 Florida State on Wednesday. I won more than I lost here. When college football returns, who knows: If I can fulfill a promise, I will.
After all, the Volkswagen eventually drove again. If football doesn’t wait too long, perhaps this byline will accompany kickoff.
And let’s close with the exact closing line I used in that first column. It’s far more fitting now:
“It’s late Friday afternoon. Grab a drink, and don’t you dare leave it unfinished.”