Tradition won't be a factor for Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – C’mon guys, you can do better than that.

Oodles of questions surround the beleaguered Notre Dame football program, and the best questions a couple Nashville reporters could come up with for coach Brian Kelly Friday night dealt with the Irish practicing on the same field as the Father Ryan High Irish, and the tradition that makes the Notre Dame program special.

That says a little bit about the perception of this team and this season outside the cloistered realm of ND Nation.

While the fans who bleed Blue and Gold are fretting over the prospects of a two-quarterback fiasco or a defense that has resembled a sieve against the run late in the campaign, the rest of the world’s casual fans want to hear about leprechauns, Rockne and great teams gone by.

To Kelly’s credit, during his first pre-Music City Bowl briefing with a small media assembly, he politely chose to downplay history and lore to concentrate on those pressing issues at hand.

“We’ll take any (good omen by practicing at the home of the Irish),” Kelly said. “We’ll kiss the Blarney Stone; we’ll do any of those things if they help. I’m not much in the way of superstitions or luck. It’s about preparation and how you play.”

That’s just who Kelly is, an ol’ ball coach who knows that his team … and his program … are in a world of hurt right now.

There’s a need for something good to feel about heading into the winter hibernation period that’s called the stretch drive of recruiting.

After putting up with the personnel minutia — Malik or Everett? How’s Lombard’s back? Redfield and Shumate the only options? — another Tennessee reporter couldn’t resist throwing the Rockne thing out there.

“Certainly, the history of college football runs through Notre Dame in so many ways,” said Kelly, bending over backwards to be nice. “The early success of Rockne; so many stories. Still, it’s something that feeds on.

“There are so many great stories. Playing coast-to-coast lends itself to that. We’re not pigeon-holed into one geographical area. This is just another great opportunity, playing LSU as many times as we have now (10 previous times), lends itself to that kind of opportunity.”

That just goes to show that the national perspective of Tuesday’s bowl game is more of a curiosity than a matchup riveted in relevance. In the grand scheme of things, how much will it matter if the Tigers run roughshod over Notre Dame? How would an Irish upset change the course of history?

Just one line on a sheet full of confidence picks.

Bowl games are a roll of the dice for a coach. Lou Holtz always said it’s never the same team in a bowl game that played the rest of the season.

In Notre Dame’s case, that could be a good thing. After losing four in a row and five out of six to end the season, what’s there to lose?

The risk is that a team packs it in and refuses to show up for the game. Re: Illinois (a 35-18 loser to Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl) and North Carolina (a 40-21 loser to Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl).

With a majority of underclassmen with plenty to prove, and a big-name Southeastern Conference opponent, there are plenty of reasons why the Irish should be locked in and tuned into the message Kelly is trying to get across during his team’s visit to Nashville.

But, who knows? These are 18-to-22-year-old young men whose season went from the penthouse to the outhouse in a month. The toll of such a free fall can be devastating. The Irish are about a month removed from being embarrassed by their bitter rival in a game that probably carried much more significance than this one.

No telling who will show up and what the disposition will be.

The only thing for sure is that history and lore won’t factor in the outcome.

Blocking and tackling will mean a lot more.

As long as Kelly has his way.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team to the stage during the Notre Dame football pep rally on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, at Notre Dame in South Bend. On Saturday, Notre Dame competes against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN via FTP