A Domer in Dixie
By Matt Smith
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Living as a Notre Dame fan in the South will prove to be quite difficult over the coming weeks.
Yes, I live in the South, and yes, I would never want to live in any other part of the country. However, I will be cheering for Notre Dame, my alma mater, against Alabama in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7. Outside of a small area on the plains of eastern Alabama, I’m committing what is more or less a criminal act in Dixie. When my doorbell rings, I almost expect Andy Taylor and Barney Fife to be standing there with handcuffs.
Ever since the matchup between the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide was officially determined on Dec. 1, I’ve heard every reason why Notre Dame can’t possibly take the BCS crystal ball back to South Bend. Some have been rational:
1. Alabama’s offensive line neutralizes Notre Dame’s biggest strength
2. A.J. McCarron is a better quarterback than Everett Golson
3. Nick Saban rarely loses big games
4. Alabama is more battle-tested
5. Alabama beat the teams’ only common opponent (Michigan) by 21 more points
Others have been ridiculous:
6. Notre Dame doesn’t play real football
7. Notre Dame is just lucky
8. Notre Dame is a bunch of Yankees
9. Alabama has prettier girls (ok, that one’s true)
Now, I’ve spent most of my life defending the SEC, going back to my days as a young boy growing up surrounded by Penn State fans. As a child of two Catholic school-educated parents, watching Notre Dame was a fall Saturday priority. However, I was also fortunate enough to receive the now infamous “JP” games on a Maryland station. I learned two things from watching those early afternoon syndicated games: 1) That everybody in the South was apparently named Dave, and 2) That this guy with a visor whose team was redesigning offensive philosophy was far more interesting to watch than Joe Paterno’s stodgy Penn State teams.
As a 7-year old, when my parents decided to take me to Philadelphia for a weekend in early December, I laid on the floor of the backseat of our car while we drove through Valley Forge National Park (where George Washington and his American soldiers camped during the Revolutionary War) in protest for missing the 1992 SEC Championship Game between Florida and Alabama (the famous Antonio Langham interception game). It turned out to be a game so good that ESPN made a documentary about it. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Even though life’s journey did not lead me to an attending an SEC school, I have long had an affinity and appreciation for not only the on-field quality of the SEC, but also for how Southerners treat college football as weekend-long events rather than just three-hour games where you show up 30 minutes before kickoff and leave immediately after. For that reason, I’ve never had disdain for any of the 12 (now 14) SEC teams. I don’t even hold LSU’s 41-14 pasting of Notre Dame in the 2007 Sugar Bowl against them because, well, LSU fans are awesome.
It’s quite pleasurable living in the South and being, for all intents and purposes, a neutral party. Not living through orange or crimson-colored glasses has allowed me to become more of a student of the game, something far more challenging when your emotions hinge on every turnover and first down. Notre Dame and the SEC rarely collide, as the Irish have played just seven games against SEC foes in the past 16 years, all against Tennessee and LSU.
For the next three weeks, however, my neutrality has been compromised. I’m now the enemy. For the first time in six years, I will be adamantly cheering against an SEC team. Of course, it’s all for naught, since Notre Dame and their South Carolinian quarterback, Georgian defensive end and Floridian nose tackle are just a bunch of overrated Yankees who are simply the next team to pop up in the SEC’s annual Whack-a-Mole party also known as the BCS Championship Game.
I jest, of course. SEC fans are the best and most knowledgeable of any sports fans. The year-round passion is unmatched, and the vibrant combination of hospitality before a game and hostility during a game is what has entrenched college football as a way of life in the South.
I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to explain that Notre Dame and Alabama are more similar than they are different. Notre Dame has modeled its program after that of an SEC team, winning with defense and a physical brand of football. Head coach Brian Kelly has even referenced “the process” on more than one occasion (although his background in politics has made him such a comfortable public speaker that he doesn’t constantly flail his arms when speaking like Nick Saban). The school has become a bit more SEC-like in its tailgating scene, opening up more areas of its picturesque campus to pregame festivities. The lack of sundresses will always be a major drawback, but when temperatures in South Bend are already in the 50s by mid-September, it’s simply not feasible.
Notre Dame may not win its first national championship since 1988 next month, but it won’t be the end of the world. I still get to live in the only part of the country worth living. The weather is the best, the people are the nicest, and the stress is the least. When I go to the beach, there’s white sand, blue water, and best of all, no Snooki. Despite our temporary differences over the coming weeks, that’s something on which Alabama and all SEC fans will agree with me.