SOUTH BEND – And now here it comes, all that lore and fable crashing on in. The Rockne stuff. The Gipper stuff. The Ara stuff, the Lou stuff, the Four Horsemen, Rudy flippin Ruettiger.
Notre Dame is playing for a national title again, and its playing Alabama. So of course there is going to be history involved, even for a generation that tends to regard history as the academic equivalent of eating all your vegetables.
Or in other words: Sooner or later, someones going to get asked what West Virginias Major Harris was asked back in 1989, the week of the Fiesta Bowl and Notre Dames last national title.
What percentage of the Notre Dame mystique is going to be a factor in this game? the question went, or something along those lines.
Uhhhh .. Harris replied.
And now its 24 years later, and here is someone else asking weird questions about mystique and history and tradition. Mainly about the latter two, and about what various Notre Dame players know now that they didnt when they arrived on campus.
Honestly, I didnt know a whole lot about it, tight end Tyler Eifert says.
I didnt know much about Notre Dame (coming out of high school), echoes defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore.
And you, Robby Toma?
I knew a few of the names, he says. Obviously the big thing was Rudy.
But of course.
And, OK, listen: These are not oblivious college kids who think history is what happened an hour ago. There are any number of players on Notre Dames roster – Bishop Dwenger grad John Goodman notable among them – who can bend your ear all day with the lore.
But sometimes geography and genetics play a bigger role. Eifert grew up a Purdue fan because his dad, Greg, played basketball there. Toma grew up with Manti Teo in Laie, Hawaii. And Lewis-Moore grew up in Weatherford, Texas, where the taste in college mascots ran more to Longhorns and Aggies than pugnacious Irishmen.
You know what, though?
They all learned. It kind of just happens here.
The more youre here, the more its kind of like instilled in you, Lewis-Moore says. Its constantly there. You just cant help but know some of the guys from the 88 championship team, cant help but know Lou Holtz, Ara Parseghian. Its something you kind of take upon yourself.
Safety Zeke Motta didnt know a lot about the lore, either, when he showed up from Vero Beach, Fla., but one of the first places he went – felt compelled to go – was the campus bookstore, where he found a video about Notre Dame football.
And then, of course, there are the Heisman trophies in the lobby of the Guglielmino complex, and the 88 crystal football. You look up on a Saturday afternoon, and theres Tony Rice or Jerome Bettis prowling the sideline. You walk into the postgame, and here are all those old team photos, generations of Notre Dame men staring a hole through you out of 1924 or 30 or 49 or 66.
Its almost nostalgic, Motta says.
Just hearing the names every day, seeing the pictures in the locker room every day you learned a lot about the history, Toma says.
Theres a lot of history here. And theres still a lot I dont know.
Best get crackin, then. That percentage-of-the-mystique question is on its way.