Lesar: The football was OK, but there really was sizzle to Army-Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Someone forgot to tell more than 45,000 people that Notre Dame’s football team isn’t very good this season.

And that Army was … well … Army.

Not a lot of sizzle, schizzle.

Don’t tell that to all those folks who paid big bucks to see an Irish “home” game in the Alamodome, 1,298 miles from Notre Dame Stadium, deep in the heart of Texas.

Since it was just a day removed from Veterans Day, it was almost sad the way the Irish treated the Black Knights in ND's 44-6 Shamrock Series victory.

“I really don't know what to say after a tail-whipping like that,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “We hadn't had our fannies kicked like that in over a year, and it's tough. Tough to have to sit out there and watch it, and tough on our kids. They probably, at times, felt helpless.”

It was a phenomenon in college football. How many teams with a 3-6 record could pack their bags, head several states south, and expect their fans to follow them?

That’s why Notre Dame is Notre Dame.

OK, granted, probably most of those fans bought their tickets in August, or earlier, when Notre Dame was still considered to be a contender for a double-digit win season. But heck, credit them for packing their enthusiasm and not unloading their tickets and cancelling their plans.

Instead, they lit the city on fire.

Friday night on the Riverwalk, the place was crazy. Some members of the Notre Dame band were put on a pontoon boat to play for the large crowd gathered on both sides of the city’s downtown landmark. Every authentic Mexican cantina was packed with Irish fans.

Several hours before the game, folks outfitted in Notre Dame gear flooded the Alamo to gain a historical perspective and be part of a ceremony honoring the heroes of that ill-fated battle with Santa Ana’s men from Mexico.

They were loud and boisterous during the game. Of course, it didn’t hurt that they sold beer in the Alamodome.

Remember the Alamo for the experience, not necessarily the football.

The Irish were good. Effective. Efficient. Army just happened to be the worst team on Notre Dame’s schedule. The Black Knights have feasted on the likes of Rice, UTEP, Lafayette and North Texas, and will become bowl eligible by beating Morgan State next week.

Notre Dame scored on five of its six total possessions in last week’s loss to Navy. The Irish put points on the board on all six of their first-half possessions against Army — including C.J. Sanders’ game-opening 92-yard kickoff return.

Even senior quarterback Malik Zaire fumbling his first snap (he then recovered it) — in mop-up duty in the fourth quarter — on his own 3-yard line didn’t spoil the effort. The backup made up for it with a first-down run two plays later.

Sure, would have been nice to see how he could have run in a hurricane a month ago.

This was hardly the same triple-option offense that confounded the Irish last week in a 28-27 loss to Navy. Notre Dame was much more in control this time around. Granted, there was no power runner like Will Worth under center.

Whether it was Army not being that good, or the Irish having seen it for the second week in a row, it didn’t matter.

What did matter was the way these two teams played the game. They were physical and they dished out punishment, regardless of the score.

The players on each team appreciated the effort — to the point of saluting each other by being a part of each team’s postgame singing of their alma mater. That just doesn’t happen in big-time college football these days.

“This is the second week now, in terms of (playing) the academies…,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, we play these games for a reason. They're tough to play these games, first of all. These teams are tough.

“Navy and Army are tough teams to play. But when you're done playing the game, there's just a natural respect that you have for them, and for how they do their business, in the classroom, out of the classroom; their preparation, their sacrifice, and then to go on the football field and compete against them and then share in singing the alma mater together.

“With all those special moments in the game, it's the right way to finish it, by singing the alma mater together.

“It just makes it a special event.”

That’s how this weekend will be remembered.

Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire (9) carries the ball against Army in a 44-6 Irish win, Saturday in San Antonio, Texas. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)