Green Bay Packers and Notre Dame: Devine Revelation
There's nothing like the sights and sounds of game day at one of the shrines of college football. They can leave you speechless long before you've glimpsed the field...
Frank: I'm just back from one of my finest experiences as a fan: A Saturday under the gaze of Touchdown Jesus.
Artie: That's a moniker I've often used myself, with some amplification, when a team scores against the Packers or Badgers. As in, “Touchdown, Jesus #%@amp;* !!!”
F: Of course I'm referring to the mosaic wall of Notre Dame's library—official title The Word of Life—in which a preaching Jesus, arms outstretched, looks toward the stadium and seems to signal six points for the Fighting Irish.
A: So you were in South Bend to see the golden helmets take on Navy.
F: You betcha. My brother's younger son just started at ND, and I joined the family's visit from Long Island.
A: You saw a surprisingly tough game, ain'a?
F: A 38-34 final, and Navy was around the Irish 30 when they were finally stopped. ND was bedeviled by the Middies' option offense, which piled up 331 rushing yards. But even a loss wouldn't have spoiled this day.
A: Sunshine gleaming off all those helmets, the crisp fall air...
F: Nope. Leaden skies, cold wind and stands dampened by periodic rain that somehow stopped by game time...
A: “Somehow”? Surely waving off the rain is part of the Touchdown Guy's job.
F: Anyway, we didn't need our slickers. And even if we'd gotten soaked, just the pre-game experience would have been worth it. I'm sure it's much like a game day at most of the traditional football bastions...
A: Like the little operation in Madison...
F: With UW games I think there's a sense that a city's going on too. But Notre Dame's campus is relatively compact and separated from South Bend, so it's a world unto itself.
A: Like they must have in “Happy Valley,” the home of Penn State. I picture that place as Brigadoon—it only exists for a few hours on a few Saturdays.
F: Anyway, I've scoffed at notions of the rah-rah stuff of a Notre Dame game day, but when you're a part of it, with family ties, it's really cool. ND is strict about beer on campus...
A: What? With the nickname of Fighting Irish?
F: Truly. But we did some tailgating in our fairly distant parking area, and on campus lots of student clubs had fundraising burger-and-brat stands. The awesome ND band marched across campus to the stadium, and just the whole experience of 80,000 people strolling to the game was real chummy.
A: And in the stadium?
F: The band was terrific, the students appropriately goofy in their orchestrated displays, and because it was the Navy game the Blue Angels buzzed the stadium—twice! I've questioned the expense of such folderol, but gee, when the jets are screaming past you don't care what it costs or who's paying.
A: I've got to say there were times I actually rooted for Notre Dame. I think their fight song is one of the top three—after “On, Wisconsin,” and Michigan's. I was all for the Irish in the '60s and '70s when Ara Parseghian coached.
F: He's immortalized in bronze outside the stadium along with the other ND coaches who've won national titles.
A: Knute Rockne, of course...
F: Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz—and then there's a sight that stopped me cold. The fifth bronzed coach, with a title in 1977, is...
A: Holy cow, I remember...
F: Dan Devine. Yes, the Dan Devine who was vilified when he coached the Packers from 1971-'74.
A: He always was a good college coach.
F: At Arizona State and Missouri to start. But there was something about him with the Packers...
A: Lousy teams, except a one-and-done playoff squad of '72. And a defensive, grumpy personality. And that little parting gift in his last season: Trading FIVE freakin' draft picks, including two first-rounders, for has-been quarterback John Hadl.
F: All of which made Devine mighty unpopular—as shown by the urban legend that a disgruntled fan killed one of his dogs.
A: You mean that's not so?
F: From the Web I learned that in his autobiography in 2000, Devine wrote that two of his dogs were shot, one fatally, but because they wandered about and harassed animals on neighboring farms. Devine, who died in '02, said he didn't begrudge the fatal shooting.
A: Another great tale ruined.
F: In fact, Devine's Green Bay record wasn't THAT bad— 25-27-4, a winning percentage of .481. His successors were Bart Starr (.406 over nine seasons), Forrest Gregg (.403 over four) and Lindy Infante (.375 over four).
A: Enough painful memories!
F: Seeing that statue of Devine, flashing the No. 1 sign atop a pedestal inscribed with his 53-16-1 record at Notre Dame, was a good reminder that one town's pariah can be another's hero.
A TIME FOR SPORTSMANSHIP
A: You can't be happy about the World Series.
F: Well, it wasn't as bad as in '04, when the Red Sox came from 3-0 down against the Yankees in the ALCS before they swept St. Louis for their first championship since 1918. and it was no worse than '07, when they scored another sweep over Colorado. But it sure wasn't enjoyable to watch.
A: So that would make three titles for the Bosox in the last 10 seasons. Or three times as many as the Yankees.
F: Thanks for the reminder. But under my ideal of “gracious in victory, gracious in defeat,” I can say that I'm happy for three friends here in town who are Red Sox fans. There's Larry Baldassaro, the former UWM professor who's also the author of Beyond DiMaggio, a terrific history of Italian-Americans in baseball.
A: I remember sharing a fine time at County Stadium with you and Larry.
F: There's also Greg Pearson, a former colleague at the Journal Sentinel and also the author of Fenway Fanatics: 50 Boston Red Sox Fans Tell Their Stories. And finally there's Mike Buckley, the local restaurateur whose Boston accent is as delightful as his bistro on Cass Street.
A: Well, those are gracious comments indeed.
F: As for the Red Sox triumph, these things take on an air of inevitability once they're over. But I think that if the teams played another nine series, the Cardinals might just wind up 5-5.
A: But the Boston pitching sure was tremendous.
F: And it had to be, because the Sox hit only .211 for the Series. If not for Big Papi's other-worldly numbers—.688 hitting, .791 on-base percentage—they would have been in trouble. And who could do that repeatedly?
A: But of course they only get to play the Series once. And this one, despite mostly low scores, had games that as usual lasted way too long.
F: Only one of the six games was less than 3 hours, and Game 3, the one that ended with the obstruction call, took 3:54 for nine innings and a final of 5-4.
A: Game 4 was opposite the Packers-Vikings game. I stayed with the football for the post-game hubbub and the Aaron Rodgers-Greg Jennings hug, and I was amazed that the baseball game was still on—and only in the eighth inning, I think!
F: That game took 3:34, which meant it ended around midnight in the Eastern time zone. As usual, all of Major league Baseball's blather about how much it cares about “the kids, the next generation,” is worthless. If they really cared they'd put World Series games on at least a little earlier. But of course kids don't buy cars or beer. The networks don't care, and therefore MLB doesn't care.
A: They dance to the tune of the folks who sign the checks.
F: Part of the problem in the post-season is that there are longer between-inning breaks than in the regular season. In Game 5 I timed the break between the bottom of eighth and top of ninth at 2 minutes 40 seconds—plus a few seconds of lead-in to the break after the third out. Multiply that by 18 such breaks and you get almost 50 minutes of commercial time!
A: Man, I used to love those daytime World Series when we were kids. In those days, I had to see those games. I came up with some of the biggest “stomach aches” in history back in October of 1959, '60, those years.
F: And your mom bought it?
A: Well, she had a job she had to get to... But by the time the games were over, wow, did I have miraculous recoveries!
F: By the way, as fun as the Notre Dame experience was, the only reason that game came in at 3 hours was because ND couldn't stop Navy's ground game, so the Middies stayed with it, using up more clock on each play. There were the same outrageous commercial patterns as you see in NFL games—touchdown, ads, kickoff, more ads. And at the end of the first quarter we had this: Navy punt fair-caught with 6 seconds to play, then ads, then ND's one play to end the quarter followed by more ads.
A: Must have been fun for you folks out in the cold.
F: The last people on earth the networks care about are the people in the stands. It was even worse on two occasions where a player stayed down with an injury. They must have cut to four minutes of ads each time, even though each player was taken off the field fairly quickly.
A: Those unexpected breaks must be gold!
F: Another piece of baseball news: Carlos Gomez's winning the Gold Glove for center field in the National League.
A: The Brew Crew's first Gold Glove since Robin Yount's at shortstop in '82!
F: If ever anyone deserved one, it's a guy who made over-the-wall catches to save games in the ninth inning—both of them here and against Cincinnati.
A: Plus I was glad to see that the Gold Glove voting now includes some consideration of this new-fangled statistic of “defensive runs saved”—of which Go-Go had 38, tops among centerfielders.
F: I don't know how those are figured, but it sounds pretty precise.
A: In the old days I think a lot of guys won Gold Gloves just on reputation—win a couple at first and then just get by on that year after year. I think Brooks Robinson won a couple of times at third base after he retired.
F: I was kind of surprised to see that Gomez also had 12 outfield assists, second-most in the league. I've often felt that although he has a strong arm, it's not necessarily an accurate one.
A: But it must have been accurate enough a dozen times. I'm just so glad he's on the Brewers. I love to watch him, not just for his defense and base-running but for his energy and enthusiasm. He makes me want to watch the team!
TOO EARLY, TOO INJURED
F: So how are you feeling about the Bucks after their first three games? I saw only a little of the games in New York and Boston and none of the home opener, being in South Bend.
A: Well, there's not much to say about 1-2 when their top two point guards have been missing.
F: Brandon Knight went down with a hamstring at the very beginning of the New York game and it turned out that Luke Ridnour had a bad back that's kept him out completely.
A: The good news is that the rookie, Nate Wolters, has performed well after being thrown into the fire. He's got the goods, including 10 assists Saturday night against Toronto. Sure, he's made mistakes, but he'll be just fine.
F: A bad news, good news thing is that the Bucks have fallen behind quickly in each game but rallied each time.
A: They led in New York with 3 minutes left, they rallied to beat Boston and they had it tied against the Raptors in the late going—even though they got out-rebounded for the game by a huge margin, 60-38.
F: So the Bucks must be doing a good job of scrapping.
A: They're fun to watch. But until they get really healthy it'll be hard to make any judgments.
F: I was interested to see the crowd listed for the home opener— 16,046, well below capacity. And I know that the TV announcers spent a lot of time hawking ticket deals for that night. The Journal Sentinel, in its story about the needed repairs for the Bucks' new floor, noted that fans who bought “select upper seats” for the opener were promised a free ticket for every game up to and including the new floor's return. Something that open-ended indicated a certain amount of worry about attendance.
A: “Select upper seats”—and don't forget your binoculars.
F: I suspect those seats were for the front parts of the upper level, which always looked empty in newspaper photos last season.
A: Well, they've still got some selling to do, on the court and off.
Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek is waiting for an offer from the right sculptor.