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Winging It, Vol. 5

It is widely believed by all the influential types in this country, such as NBC, the major East Coast media outlets, Regis Philbin, etc., that Notre Dame football is bigger than just about everything, including the Beatles. And they were bigger than Jesus, so you do the math.

Even though this year's team is not exactly the Irish of yesteryear, tickets for Saturday's game in South Bend have still been violently difficult to acquire. The only people who have been able to get them are either (1) loaded rotten stinking rich or (2) connected with godlike beings like Pope John Paul No. 2, or Bill Byrne. Suffice it to say I won't be in South Bend this weekend.

But I'm not bitter. In fact, I hope all the Big Red fans who are making the trip have a great time, despite the fact that they are spoiled, rotten, overprivileged little ... ahem. Sorry. As I was saying, I do know that the whole Notre Dame experience can be a bit overwhelming, and visits to the land of the Fighting Irish can leave befuddled visitors with several burning questions ("Hey -- isn't 'Notre Dame' a FRENCH word?") after everything is said and done. But stick to these five very useful tips, and your time at Notre Dame will be a much more enriching and rewarding encounter.

The sooner you realize that, in terms of sheer hokey traditions and football mythos, that Notre Dame is superior to Nebraska, the better. Sure, NU has some spiffy distractions -- the Blackshirts thing, the sellout streak and, more recently, the McTunnel Walk Music. But in terms of pure history and tradition, Notre Dame features the complete rah-rah combo plate: iconography, ethnography, choreography, a Ronald Reagan movie. Let's face it, UNL's Oldfather Hall is pretty snazzy, but it really doesn't measure up to the stuff Notre Dame has adjacent to ITS stadium, like the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus.

But that's OK! Come game day, all that ND hokum will translate into an on-field advantage for the Cornhuskers. For once, Nebraska is facing a nemesis whose fans are even MORE religiously occupied with their team than we Red Clad Loons are. This means that Domer backers put even more pressure on their 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids than Nebraska backers put on theirs. By my estimation, this should force at least 1.2 extra Notre Dame fumbles this coming Saturday.

Often, Nebraska pulls the We're-A-Small-State-So-Nobody-Respects-Us routine to get jacked up for a big game. And sometimes, like against Colorado in '94, it even works. But this week NU will battle a school that has elevated the Poor Us Ploy into an art form.

With their overblown TV deals, self-important alumni and cantankerous leprechauns, the Fighting Irish have enjoyed decades upon decades of pampering from the national media. But oddly enough, Irish fans still view themselves as the same besieged minority as they were during the Great Potato Famine over in the Old Country, when the Irish were running from starvation and an oppressive British government.

This act, of course, is more worn out than the Jenny McCarthy issue of Playboy at Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary. Still, on Saturday the Big Red might as well be those bloody old Redcoats, as far as Irish fans are concerned. And don't think that they've forgotten the fact that Nixon carried the state of Nebraska back in the '60 presidential election, either.

By car, the drive from Lincoln, Neb., to South Bend, Ind., is approximately 7 bathroom breaks long. In the towns along the way, you'll most likely encounter a plethora of inhabitants wearing Notre Dame paraphernalia and be tempted to approach them and engage in some friendly pre-game banter. Aha! Be careful! A darn good lot of them have no rooting interest in the Irish whatsoever -- they're simply wearing the blue and gold of Notre Dame because it's the fashionable thing to do now that Dame is 1-0.

Even some Husker fans I know have Domer paraphernalia, which is a very disturbing trend in my red-clad book. When I was a kid you were taught, on threat of eternal damnation, to wear your team's colors through thick and thin, whether they wore red and white stripes or purple and yellow polka-dots. But in mallrat-infested 21st-century America -- the age of sports marketing run amok and Nike uniform designers on mescaline -- the thought of living and dying with one's childhood idols is old-fashioned, particularly if they don't have spiffy looking unies with silver or gold in them. So choose your conversations wisely ... there are a lot of posers out there.

Whereas downtown Lincoln has Theater Row, the Nebraska Bookstore and a festive array of pubs and shops that create a flavor-filled Huskerville on home football Saturdays, the downtown of South Bend, Indiana, is rivaled only by the downtown of ... well, South Bend, Nebraska. The area around campus is made up of deceased businesses, divey beer halls, decrepit flop houses and junk-food establishments. It all adds up to one common opinion among visitors -- this is one really underwhelming town. It's an odd sort of place for God Almighty to select as the center of the college football universe, really, sort of like an unexciting Hastings. My advice is to head straight to the game.

Notre Dame fans have raved about this film for years, claiming it's what Irish football is (and I am quoting here) "all about." So I picked up a copy. After watching, I am confident in saying the only thing a reasonable person really needs to know about "Rudy" is (A) it is about two hours long and (B) it has Ned Beatty in it. Toward the end, Ned calls Notre Dame Stadium "the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen." Of course, the last time we saw Ned he was in "Superman II," where he played a prisoner who worked in the prison laundry room. So this really is not saying a whole heck of a lot.

From what I could gather, "Rudy" had one returning theme: Golly gee, if a guy tries hard enough, even a small-town, whiny, talent-free scamp can suit up for Notre Dame. If he knows the right people, such as that bald guy who played "Roc" on TV, that lovable rascal can even wear a mothball-infested No. 45 jersey and make a garbage-time tackle against Georgia Tech! And if he REALLY knows the right people, soon superbooster Kimberly Dunbar will be providing this non-scholarship player with some much-needed financial aid. Wink! Wink!


Well, I hope this little tutorial has helped. And while it may not help the Huskers win their second game over the Irish in as many tries (this just in: Johnny Rodgers has just scored AGAIN for the Cornhuskers), it should help you obtain some golden memories from lovely South Bend. Drive safely.

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Home of Nebraska's RED CLAD LOON.