The moment before kickoff at Notre Dame Stadium, when the Fighting Irish are clustered in their narrow tunnel waiting to be released, is exciting when seen on television and positively thrilling when witnessed live. It is the crescendo of a carefully orchestrated symphony, containing elements both traditional and sacramental: the player walk down Library Quad; the kneeling pregame prayer; the ritual slapping of the “Play like a champion today” sign. When those massive young men flood onto the field in their gleaming golden helmets, coursing down channels once followed by coaches and athletes whose names are our collective inheritance, you cannot help but feel that something momentous is about to take place. Ancient verities of honor, courage and the spirit of play are invoked without irony. College football demands that we not be cynical about such things.
Yet for decades now, administrators, scholars, commentators and mere opportunists have questioned the growing role of sports in American higher education. The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, the architect of the University we know today, was ambivalent about the beautiful and brutal game with which Notre Dame continues to be so strongly identified. He loved what it did for Notre Dame; he celebrated its victories; he feared the University might never escape its shadow.
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January 1, 2019