Where is the Spirit, Desire?

So how are Irish fans describing Saturday’s 35-17 shellacking at the hands of Navy?

Disheartening. Embarrassing. Depressing.

“Walking across the (Meadowlands) parking lot after the game,” said one disgruntled ND rooter, “I just wanted to take my (ND) T-shirt off.”


Losses are one thing (and there have been plenty in recent years — 27 in the past 47 games).

But a loss like this, in which the Irish appear listless and clueless, well, you can’t help wondering:

  • Is the new coaching staff no more skilled in preparing a team than its predecessors?
  • How does a team on a three-week win streak, including two victories over recent ‘nemesis’ opponents Pitt and BC, take such a huge step back?
  • Are the Irish so fragile that a few injuries make them into a sub-par squad?

But the bigger question on so many minds:

Where is the spirit, heart and desire that should be the hallmark of a Notre Dame football team?

Surely, a lot goes into creating college football success – recruiting, player development, strength and conditioning, game planning and preparation. Sometimes luck.

However, all that can be in place and a team still needs to execute with heart and desire. The mental aspect of the game – any athletic competition, really – cannot be overstated.

In college football, the winning player has to want to do what’s necessary to succeed on every play. Not just when it’s easy and the play comes to him. Not just when the scheme works perfectly. Not just when the team is ahead in the game.

In the final analysis, the benefit of playing this game is the feeling one gets from giving a maximum effort every second of playing time, of drawing out every possible ounce of energy you have (and maybe some you didn’t know you had).

Like the kind of effort and energy displayed Saturday at the Meadowlands…by Navy.

It hurts to read words like, “I’m sure glad it’s those guys who are manning our country’s defenses, and not the Notre Dame players.”

Shortly after the Navy game, football fans were able to switch channels and watch another team operating without its leading wide receiver, without its All-American tight end and with its top two running backs (among others) slowed by injuries. Yet that team – Wisconsin – fought through the challenges, in one of the toughest Big 10 venues (Kinnick Stadium) and ended up with a hard-fought victory against a Top 15 opponent, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

What’s the difference in the outcome of so many athletic contests like this? Effort and energy. Team spirit. Heart. An attitude that says, “Right here, right now. We get it done.”

The key in all of this – it doesn’t take 5- and 4-star recruits to have such an attitude. How many Navy players, based on size and skill, would start for Notre Dame? Yet they brought an incredible mental approach that allowed them to excel physically.

Where is the Leadership?

Looking at the Irish, there is also the question of leadership. Quality coaching is one thing, but it must be complemented by leadership among the players.

As an institution, Notre Dame prides itself on developing leadership among its undergraduate students. Whether it’s in the res halls, campus ministry, scholarship or service, students are challenged to take leadership roles, to become effective leaders.

One has to ask: where is the leadership on this football team? Do we see it in the quarterback? In the seniors? In the starters?

How often do we see players firing up one another, either on the field or on the sidelines? It’s about encouraging one another, but also challenging one another. As well as just basic communication needed to perform well.

Other words are being used to describe the Irish, and they hurt as well.

Soft. Spoiled. Selfish.

Even hinting that those might be true is tough to swallow for anyone who takes pride in this university.

Was the Navy game a one-afternoon aberration, or an indication of things to come?

Tulsa’s high-powered offense suddenly looks unstoppable, especially when you add some key ND defensive injuries to the mix. Army is running the option nearly as well as Navy. And then there is #8 Utah and the USC Trojans.

If ever there was time for a “gut check” this is it.