Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Special Reverence | by Jay

Everyone’s talking resurrection, redemption--all manner of religiously-backed metaphors for the Weis conversion from Saturday suckage to Sunday morning euphoria. The last time it felt like our wandering in the desert was coming to an end was back in '02, during Willingham’s surprising first season. The essay that follows was originally written by our friend Gina in the flush of that once-miraculous time, and should sound a clarion note of recognition for anyone who has faced that age-old dilemma on a Fall Saturday: a family wedding, or Notre Dame football?


by Gina P. Vozenilek

The more years that slide in between my days in the shadow of the Golden Dome and me, the less able I am to handle the football thing. It is just too much now, too much energy to waste. In 1988 it was hard not to get swept away by the excitement; my freshman year was Holtz’ third and the National Championship. I still consider myself a big fan, but the lackluster Davie years were almost a convenience to a girl-turned-grown-up whose attention was strung out by babies and real-world concerns. Who had time to memorize players’ names and jerseys and keep track of the ugly seasons? Who had four hours every Saturday to sink into the pigskin wars that we mostly lost? Who cared that much anymore?

Used to be I would stand body–to-body in the frenzied, somewhat erotic crush of the student section, roaring or chanting or sucking teeth in the collective cacophony. Used to be I would check the papers for the AP poll on Mondays, learn the Top 20, and memorize stats. Used to be we would hang sheets out our windows decorated with collegiately witty barbs aimed at Saturday’s enemy and paint our faces and go on road trips to East Lansing and Ann Arbor and generally make a big deal of it.

After the final score would post on the board, my pal Mary and I would hustle across campus to the Basilica and suit up for the vigil Mass, still stinking of beer and sweat as we climbed up to our perch in the choir loft. The University thought they were being smart by assigning this musical duty to the Women’s Choir, not trusting any of the co-ed choral groups to make a good showing after a day of tailgating. More than a few of us ladies, however, would show up apologetically hoarse, buzzed, and off-key. It was ok. We played to a packed house of similarly compromised penitents. There was a special beauty to that kind of devotion, I always thought, a statement about what is really important.

The game-day fervor that for me has faded to a warm memory of sillier, more carefree days has only intensified with some of my brethren. I admit I am friends with some of the most obnoxious of Irish fans. Most of them are the husbands who seem to enjoy different cultural freedoms where sports-watching of all kinds is concerned. They are training their children from a very young age to watch the game quietly or go play with mommy. My poor husband, a lowly Gator, has stood by stupefied while I have posed for pictures with the alumni posse in front of Fighting Irish ice sculptures at countless weddings while the band belts out the fight song. The best of these frozen wonders was an interlocking ND positioned on a motorized lazy-susan. A spotlight illuminated its slow, majestic rotation.

Last Saturday I attended a double-Domer wedding in Milwaukee. Last Saturday was also the Michigan game. For the rowdy Irish faithful, the ones who had been the true “we” when we beat Michigan and Miami and won the National Championship in 1988, the ones who still get Blue & Gold Illustrated, this was a most unhappy coincidence. It created a fascinating crisis of conscience.

The bride and groom said never mind to all this football crap. Well, technically, I think that in the early going, the groom may have gently suggested alternate wedding dates. By all accounts this became a defining moment in the development of a young man in love and his methodology for setting priorities. This Saturday there would be no ice sculpture. This was the day two people were getting married. A man and a woman were joining their lives together in the sacred bonds of marriage.

On the steps of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral we, their friends and witnesses, gathered and greeted each other. It had only been a few weeks since the last nuptial ice-sculpture, so there wasn’t much to talk about. Admirably, the boys were careful to steer clear of football chatter just now, since the groom was right inside the great doors trying to get ready for the sacrament at hand. This was the first wedding any of us could remember that was timed to coincide exactly with an Irish kick-off. And to intensify the conflict just that much more, ND was going into their third game undefeated behind an exciting new coach and riding a tide of good press and renewed promise. There have been whispers, barely audible, of a return to glory.

My friend the groom is an amiable fellow who always enjoyed game day but who was also always able to keep it in better perspective than most of his buddies. He is rumored to have selected his two best men based on the idea that they were a flight risk; being best man was perhaps the only honor high enough to keep them in the church. One of these men—rotating ice sculpture groom—was late to his own wedding because he and his guys felt compelled to stay in the limo long enough to see a crucial play in the ‘96 Army game. They watched while the bride tapped her satin-tipped toes and Ivory Covington tackled the Army tight end at the goal line on the last play to preserve the Irish victory. When this groom walked down the aisle moments later, his joy was truly complete.

After the ceremony in Milwaukee, the strategizing began. Rumor spread that the bride had asked the reception place to physically remove all television sets from view to prevent the crowd from focusing on the wrong Big Play. Kick-off was in twenty minutes. The holy business was concluded and it was time to get serious. One of a dwindling number of yet-unmarried, and therefore especially uneducated? unencumbered? unafraid? men headed out for a Best Buy and a Sony Watchman while the rest of us snaked our way to the reception. While we waited for him, sipping champagne, the presiding priest, a Jesuit and no fan of the Holy Cross boys, lied to our faces by telling us that our friend should save his money because the game was blacked out in Milwaukee. Those Jesuits. Pity the 15-piece band was playing to a nearly empty dance floor by the time the Irish were holding off the Wolverines in the fourth. I have pictures of guilty party-goers huddled under a tree outside the hall all watching a 3-inch screen and trying to hide from the bride. Even the groom, God bless him, sneaked out behind a shield of bodies to catch the action. I hope it didn’t cost him his own.

The newlyweds are in Hawaii now, and the Irish are 3-0 for the first time since 1996. The bride is surely relaxing, the details of a beautiful wedding having been executed perfectly. I talked to her about it. She was very happy. She knew about the mini TV. It was hard to miss the thunderous roar of the Watchman throng, to which I added my voice, as the last Michigan pass was intercepted. I think she should be proud to realize that she managed to make us all at least consider what is truly important on any given Saturday in the fall or any time. It was a gorgeous wedding. And I think I may be trying to make a little time this Saturday to watch the Michigan State game.

An earlier version of this essay appeared in Sport Literate Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue 3. Thanks to Gina and the editors for letting us reprint it.