A Second Chance at Senior Day

(This special contribution to Forever Irish is from Liz Lefebvre, ’09)

A friend of mine had been pestering for me for weeks to consider coming to the Wake Forest game. “It will be Manti’s last home game!” he urged. I was hesitant, feeling at this point—as we were strolling around campus before the BYU game—that the Irish season might be too good to be true. I said he should ask me again after the Oklahoma game. If we beat the Sooners and seemed to be on the path to an undefeated season, I’d come to Wake Forest. Minutes after the Oklahoma game ended in a definitive 30-13 victory for the Irish I received a text message from my friend saying that he’d already bought our tickets to see the Irish play the Demon Deacons on Senior Day at Notre Dame.

A 2009 graduate, my senior game in November, 2008, took place under gray clouds, a blanket of snow and ice, game day temperatures hovering around 30 degrees, and the specter of a mediocre-at-best 6-5 Irish squad facing an abysmal Syracuse team that had already fired its head coach. I always anticipated shedding a few tears at my last home game, but rather than basking in the memories of my four years with the Band of the Fighting Irish, I stood on the field with the marching band after the game, tears freezing to my face after the Irish had found a way to lose to the Orange. Students had thrown snowballs at the team. In the bitterness of the loss (and in the bitter cold) I could hardly muster any enthusiasm to shout “Go Irish, Beat Trojans” in the postgame marchout from the stadium, despite the fact that I’d be part of the historic trip the following week to bring the entire marching band to the Coliseum for the first time. If we couldn’t even beat lowly Syracuse, what reason did I have to believe that we could actually beat USC?

This past Saturday could hardly have been more different. A relatively warm and sunny November day energized a stadium already bursting with pride in an undefeated team and outstanding leadership from seniors Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert, and Kapron Lewis-Moore. The student section had donned leis to honor Te’o, the face of the program, and waved them in unison as Manti ran out of the tunnel one last time. The only tears I had shed in the context of this game were the ones that fell while reading various articles profiling Te’o’s character and the remarkable Irish season. This time around, the only projectiles came from the traditional senior class marshmallow fight at halftime. I watched a cheerleader pick up a stray marshmallow that had found its way onto the field, hold it up for a moment, and pop it into his mouth. This time around, I happily joined in with the students at the end of the game for a few rounds of yelling “BEAT SC! BEAT SC! BEAT SC!”

Senior Day 2012: A great day for the Irish

The game had all the elements of what one traditionally expects from a Senior Day game.  Before I could blink the Irish were out to a 21-0 lead, thanks to an explosive touchdown run from senior Cierre Wood and impressive catches from fellow seniors Tyler Eifert and John Goodman. In addition to the touchdown, Eifert set the career ND record for most catches by a tight end, breaking a mark that stood for 35 years. Coach Brian Kelly called a time out not to frantically avoid a delay of game penalty, but rather so that Irish fans could stand and applaud the senior defensive players who would leave the field for the last time and leave their teammates with a commanding lead. Dedicated team members short on playing time were able to take the field for their last game in South Bend. The Irish controlled the game from start to finish, just as they have controlled their fate this season by simply winning games, including ones that in years past could easily have been losses.

After the Wake Forest game, as I tried to keep track of the events unfolding in Waco, Texas, and Eugene, Oregon, it still seemed inevitable that many would discredit the Irish, even as we ended the night as the last bowl-eligible team without a loss and poised to recapture the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1993.  For all the talk that we would “need help” from the other unbeaten teams to improve our ranking, the whole season we have done nothing but help ourselves. When all is said and done, we have done our part. We have gone up against 11 opponents and come away with 11 wins.

I thanked my friend profusely for convincing me that Wake Forest was a game that I needed to attend. I didn’t fully realize until I was there just how much this team has done to erase the negative auras of recent seasons past.

In 2008 I watched the Irish fall to USC 38-3 without even mustering a first down through the game’s first three quarters. This time around, on the heels of a dominating Senior Day performance, the Irish have given me plenty of reason to believe that they can do it: Beat SC.