But tonight's game is really, truly, absolutely the end of the college football season.
Except for the various all-star games (which are really pro tryouts), but let's not be hyper-technical here.
In the Curmudgeon household, we have a number of reasons to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame tonight. To wit:
When I was a boy, on the South Side of Chicago, and enrolled in the parish school, the good sisters spoke of only one college in the entire country -- Notre Dame. There may have been some other schools Out East somewhere, Harvard or Yale or something like that, but Notre Dame was the school to which we should aspire.
We watched Notre Dame football games (*ahem*) religiously when I was a boy.
My father used to say it was important that a big town like Chicago have two pro football teams (the Bears being the other one). He could be cynical at times, yes.
I had my period of rebellion, too.
My rebellious period may have begun one fall afternoon in the early 1970s as I was raking leaves at my parents' home in Boondockia. I was in high school then, listening to the Notre Dame game that day on the radio as I worked. The Domers were strafing the Air Force Academy that day, and they won by something like 45 points.
Because I was working, I didn't go and turn off the radio immediately when the post-game show came on and the drooling idiots began calling in. Coach Devine (Notre Dame's coach at the time... he's the head coach in Rudy, too) was an idiot, the callers said, a bum. A good coach would have beat Air Force by 75 points, or maybe 100.
It was a shocking glimpse into the twisted psyche of Notre Dame fandom... not all of whom attended school under the Golden Dome. In fact, as I only eventually came to realize, the Subway Alumni (those who never went anywhere near the school) may be the most obnoxious... or at least the least polished of the fan base. And probably the most numerous.
During my rebellious period, I laughed at all the old jokes:
How many Domers does it take to change a light bulb?Or this one:
Twelve. Only one actually changes the bulb, but the rest are there to tell you how the new bulb will never be as good as the one that burned out.
How do you find the Domers in a crowded room?Many years passed and Oldest Son got accepted there. I began to soften. Somewhere the nuns smiled.
Don't worry. They'll find you.
As the parent of a Domer, I had the opportunity to go to two football games a year. I'd never gone to a college football game before (my college had no football team) and the fact that I had to sit up where the echos get shaken down from the sky was really of no consequence to me. I was thrilled with the pageantry and ritual of a Football Saturday in South Bend.
Some of my hardness remained. I've sometimes referred to the place here as the cow college in South Bend.
But a corner had been turned. My attitude toward the place really softened when Oldest Son found a nice wife and a good job, both thanks to Notre Dame. Yes, it resembles a cult in many ways, but they do seem to take care of each other.
When Oldest Son was a student, parents weren't allowed a crack at football tickets for Michigan or USC, but we were allowed in for Army, Navy or BYU.
One year I took my cousin to the Navy game. He'd been a Captain in the Navy, so that seemed appropriate. I had to give away my tickets to the BYU game, though: I didn't know any Mormons.
No, actually, the reason I had to give away my tickets was that one of my kids was scheduled to be confirmed on that particular Saturday and Long Suffering Spouse insisted. "The Bishop would understand," I protested, "I've got Notre Dame tickets." But Long Suffering Spouse would not relent.
At the Army game a year or two later, I got all misty-eyed during the National Anthem. Everyone was standing, of course, but down on the Army sidelines, I couldn't help but notice that the perky little Army cheerleaders, in their perky little cheerleading outfits, were saluting. Saluting, ramrod straight, as is appropriate for future officers in the Army of the United States -- for young people who might be off the football sidelines and on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan in a year's time.
I used to like heading to Mass at the Basilica on campus following the game. I got my Sunday obligation out of the way and allowed traffic to clear. And when I couldn't get into the Basilica, it seemed that most of the dorms offered Mass after the game as well. My son's did. I had to stop off there a couple of times instead.
Oldest Son loved to play football (I wrote about how Long Suffering Spouse and I reluctantly let him start playing in grammar school). He wasn't going to play for the varsity in South Bend. Given his love of the sport, I remember trying to get him to consider playing small college ball -- but I think that ended for him the day his high school coach brought a couple of kids from Aurora University (a Division III school out in the far western suburbs of Chicago) to practice.
"They were huge!" Oldest Son told me at the time. "Their necks were enormous! And these were just DBs!"
(Defensive backs, Bee, are among the more normal-sized players.)
I may have told him about the kid who was a couple of years ahead of me in high school in Boondockia. He eventually went on to play in the NFL; he has a Super Bowl ring. Obviously, I didn't see much of the guy after he went to the pros, but I did see him once or twice at parties or something. He was a DB too -- and his neck was enormous -- but it had been a pretty much standard-issue neck back when he was in high school.
If I told him that story, though, it did no good. Oldest Son seems to have abandoned plans to play college football from that day.
But at Notre Dame they play football as an intramural sport -- each men's dorm has a team -- and, it being Notre Dame, they play with full pads and equipment on regulation size fields with referees and everything.
Oldest Son was impressed with the skills of his fellow teammates. "Dad," he told me in one phone call freshman year, "I'm playing on a team with guys who were all state in high school. OK, they were small states, but still...." (Guys who were all state in Florida or Texas tended to play on the varsity.)
I was therefore prepared to accept that the quality of the dorm football would be pretty good even before I went there for the first time and had to ask someone to direct me to the proper field. "Some years," the lady told me, after pointing me in the right direction, "the dorm games are better than the varsity ones."
Actually, during some years of Oldest Son's tenure, that may have been true. The Domers had trouble navigating past Navy. I don't remember whether Oldest Son was already gone when Navy finally sank Notre Dame. They did it a few times before this year.
But, this year, the Irish are back and I'm rooting for them openly. I made some comment on Facebook and a college friend snapped back, "Who are you and what have you done with the real Curmudgeon?"
Still, I don't know if anyone can beat Alabama Coach Nick Saban in a championship game. And all the experts, even most of the local ones, are predicting the Tide will roll over the Irish. But I'll be glued to the screen tonight, hoping for the best.