A Week of Sadness, Loss, Frustration

A vibrant young life is needlessly lost.

A campus is shocked and sorrowful.

A football program is battered and reeling.

Certainly, these have to be among the darkest days for Notre Dame in a long time – maybe since March 31, 1931.

Yesterday, Declan Sullivan was laid to rest. At his wake and funeral in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, he was remembered as an energetic, fun-loving, multi-talented member of the ND family.

Those who know and love this University are grieving on many levels. Above all, empathy is shown toward a family suffering from incalculable pain.

And then there are the nagging questions. How did this happen? This was still a 20-year-old kid. Where was an adult to assess the situation and insist he come down from the lift.

This tragedy was entirely preventable. A mistake…not a random accident.

Many Notre Dame followers we’ve talked with have had the same thoughts: they wanted to hear the University, probably Father Jenkins, step forward to say, “We made a tragic mistake…we failed this young man when he most needed our protection.”

Instead, it feels as though every word coming from ND officialdom has been carefully vetted by attorneys. Even the prayer before Saturday’s game seemed to lack soul.

Especially cringe-worthy was athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s assertion that Wednesday seemed like a completely normal day to him, when this sudden burst of wind came out of nowhere. Seriously? How obviously is that the foundation of a defense argument. (And one at complete odds with the National Weather Service data for the wind speeds of the entire afternoon….not to mention common sense.)

Worse for Notre Dame is that the school, by having an internal investigation, will only invite criticism as to its partiality. So it’s good that state and federal OSHA officials will investigate as well. Those who value accountability have to be somewhat relieved, if that’s possible.

And perhaps there may be some long-term good to come out of it all, such as more detailed NCAA regulations on the use of hydraulic scissors lifts for filming football practice.

From a football standpoint, the tragedy has loomed over a program seemingly in the midst of a mind-boggling series of setbacks.

The week started with the hangover from a terrible performance in the loss to Navy, and ended with an inexplicable decision that cost a likely victory over Tulsa.

Then add the seemingly endless parade of star Irish players seeing their season end with injury – first Kyle Rudolph, then Ian Williams, and now Dayne Crist, Armando Allen, possibly Theo Riddick – and the recent defection of three incoming recruits who have de-committed.

One has to wonder if this program is simply star-crossed.

Indeed, those who study things like energy fields and flows could probably come to campus and find significant negative energy at Notre Dame Stadium, and now the LeBar Practice Fields as well.

To say the energy at Saturday’s game was low would be an understatement. The crowd was understandably subdued. (In fact, one woman in our row was busily absorbed all afternoon….doing her knitting!)

The loss to Tulsa was somehow fitting for a program on the brink of disaster. There was almost a feeling of inevitability. Yet the Irish had to work hard to give the game away. The defense shook off the Navy debacle to only allow 13 points to one of the top offenses in the country. But breakdowns by the offense (TD interception return allowed) and special teams (TD on punt return, and extra-point returned) more than spelled the difference.

Yet, you almost get the feeling that if our field-goal kicker’s perfect 18-for-18 streak was to end, this would have been the day.

The loss not only dropped the Irish to 4-5 on the season, with difficult games against Utah and USC standing in the way of bowl eligibility, but gave the current class of seniors an all-time mark of 20-26. The 26 losses are the most in any four-year period in ND football history, topping the 25 losses suffered from 1960 through 1963.

(For statistical accuracy, we must point out that the 1960-63 record of 14-25 is a winning percentage of .359, while the current 20-26 mark comes out at .435.)

After the game, as if adding to the ignominy of the loss, the classless, clueless Tulsa band tried to drown out the Notre Dame band playing the post-game alma mater on a day of special remembrance.

The result of all this: a combination of sadness, anger, frustration, resignation.

Notre Dame at the top of its game – winning and doing things the right way — seems like light years away right now.

It will take plenty of positive energy in the coming days and weeks to overcome all that has taken place in the last few days.

Let us hope everyone involved is up to the task.


Naturally, our thoughts and prayers go to Declan Sullivan’s family and friends, and the entire Notre Dame community.

We would also like to offer our condolences to the community of Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Illinois. Declan was a 2008 graduate of Carmel, and leaves behind numerous friends among the students, faculty, staff and alumni there.

The family has established a memorial fund to support a variety of charities in Declan’s name. Donations may be sent to the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Fund, c/o JPMorgan Chase Bank, 791 Elm St, Winnetka, IL 60093.

A page of remembrance is located at http://www.declandrummsullivan.org./

In honor of Declan Sullivan, a portion of the sales of our book Loyal Sons: The Story of the Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions purchased through Forever Irish during November and December will be donated to the fund. Click here to order.

R.I.P., Declan.