Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Take the Irish Bowling | by Jay

Four years ago, in the dawning days of this blog, I wrote a bit called "Insightless" about how going to the bowl was a bad idea: Willingham had just been fired, the rest of coaching staff were lame ducks (and even traitors, in the case of Greg Mattison), we were playing a tough team we didn't really match up with, the cost of the trip was exhorbitant, and so on. Charlie had already been hired, and this bowl game felt like one final, frustrating delay before the massive house cleaning that was going to get the Irish back on the winning track. Good Lord, just get it over with already. Get this lame duck bowl game done, sweep away the old staff, and let's start fresh.

This year, there are plenty of legitimate complaints about playing in the Hawaii Bowl. For starters, some folks say that a .500 Irish team should never go to a bowl game, and I hear where those people are coming from -- there's something to be said for maintaining that stubborn Irish tradition of self-dignity. And while I'm less chagrined than some of my colleagues about this year's tropical destination, or the appearance that this is some sort of "reward" for a lackluster season, there's no getting around the fact that playing on Christmas Eve simply sucks. Of all the time slots in the bloated bowl season, it's unquestionably the worst.

I think this year's circumstances are quite different than in 2004, however, and that's why I'm glad we're going bowling, regardless of the where and when. Four years ago we should have turned down that Insight Bowl (just like we did in 1996, during another coaching transition), as it just delayed the inevitable, but this year, the trajectory is entirely different. While the 2008 season was an overall disappointment, we can all see that this is a young team still trying to find itself, a young team that's still on the rise. Expectations for next year are going to be very high, and rightly so: all that budding talent is just popping up through the topsoil. They need more practice, more reps, more live fire, and another chance to prove themselves. A bowl game is just the thing.

If you watched any of the captains' interviews this week over on, you know that the motivation for the senior class "band of brothers" is to put an end to the bowl losing streak and exact some revenge for being tagged "the worst recruiting class in ND history." (Like Paul mentioned to me, I'm sorry, but after watching the Grimes-Crum-Bruton press conference, all my opposition to the Hawai'i Bowl as a destination, Christmas Eve or not, vanished.) But for the rest of the team, for all the guys returning -- and that's most of them -- I think playing a bowl game is an important rung on the ladder towards continued improvement.

And just imagine if we actually won this thing. A bowl win would put a capper on the disappointment of 2008, and begin to set the stage for next year. An Irish bowl win would be a stocking stuffed with gifts, instead of a lump of coal. It'd be like George Bailey being visited by that Angel. It'd be Brian Boitano brokering a peace between Jesus and Santa Claus. It'd be the former Bishop of Turkey putting a present in your wooden shoe, instead of hitting you with a switch.

All in all, it'd be a bona fide Christmas (Eve) miracle.