It’s become almost commonplace to fill this space (whether by me or my peers) with all that is wrong with sports, both college and professional. This past weekend, though, while in South Bend, Ind., to broadcast Yale’s hockey games versus Notre Dame, I was fortunate enough to witness firsthand the beauty of the athletic ideal.
First was a visit to the College Football Hall of Fame, located in downtown South Bend, a few miles from Notre Dame’s campus. In addition to several interactive features (which reminded me that I can’t come close to successfully kicking an extra point, never mind a field goal, or throw passes with pinpoint accuracy) the place exudes the history of the game. Whether it’s the display showcasing the evolution of helmets and footballs or the game ball from Yale’s historic 800th win in 2000, every item in the building leaves a fan in awe of the sport’s tradition.
A few miles up the road from the Hall is an equally inspiring sight — Notre Dame Stadium. Upon first glance from the outside I was a bit surprised at how modern it looked, and, quite honestly, it seemed to lack character. It lacked the uniqueness of the arches at Harvard Stadium or the portals at the Yale Bowl, and it seemed a bit too sterile. It wasn’t long, though, before I realized that rather than questioning its blandness, for lack of a better term, I should applaud it. The next day I had the extreme good fortune of being on a tour of the Irish locker room, a rare privilege extended as a courtesy to the Yale Hockey traveling group.
The locker room is very spacious, as one would expect, but not ornate in any way. Just think “Rudy.” The original walls still exist, despite expansion of the locker room. As you enter there is a simple display case with the jerseys of some of ND’s all-time greats. The lockers are made of solid oak, and each contained, without exception, a laminated copy of a newspaper photo and headline from the Gator Bowl in which NC State defeated the Irish. Under each article was a simple question: “What have you done to make yourself better today?”
We then proceeded down the stairway into the tunnel onto the field, passing the sign that said “Play like a champion today” (something the Yale hockey team did in their two games against the Irish), again, a la “Rudy.” Nothing about the place reeked of commercialism. Yet there is no question Notre Dame is one of if not the biggest Division I football programs in the country — just consider the fact that all of their home games are on national television, no matter who the opponent may be.
The best word to describe Notre Dame Stadium and locker room was simple. But in its sheer simplicity lies its beauty. Notre Dame — or any school — need not shun its tradition to succeed in the present; rather, as their football stadium clearly demonstrates, the Irish drive for success in the future is grounded on its desire to live up to the accomplishments of the past. The old wall in the locker room did not need to be replaced, so it wasn’t. The tradition and history associated with the wall was deemed more important than the aesthetic advantage of a new wall.
I left the locker room thinking of how great it was to see a place where the love of the sport came before any kind of commercialism and ornateness. No doubt there are some Notre Dame athletes focused on the pros, but overall, it’s about maintaining a tradition of excellence in competition irrespective of any commercialism.
It’s really a shame I needed to go to Notre Dame to think about sports in this way; I watch Yale teams play all the time within the Ivy League, a league which more than any other conference lives up to this ideal. So, next time you’re down on some aspect of sports, stop whatever you’re doing and go to Ingalls Rink, the Lee Amphitheater, wherever. It’s athletics at its purest, and thus, at its best.