Back in 2004, when I enrolled at Notre Dame Law School and became an “Irish Trojan,” I wasn’t sure initially whether I would become a fan of Notre Dame’s sports teams. After all, my undergrad alma mater was USC, archrival of the Irish. I figured I’d wait and see how I felt about ND sports once I got there.

One thing I knew for sure, though: at a bare minimum, I would root for USC when they played the Irish.

When I arrived on campus in the land of Domers, I quickly fell in love with the school, its traditions, and yes, its sports teams. My first football game was an upset of a Top 10 Michigan team, which ended with the students — including myself and fellow USC alum Steve Shim — rushing the field. I was instantly hooked on Notre Dame football.

Whatever some Irish die-hards (in particular the reprobates at the ND Nation message board cesspool community) might say in the years to come, I became a genuine fan of the Fighting Irish right then and there. Love thee, Notre Dame. I cheered for the Irish every week, and I cheered hard. Well — every week but one, and there’s the rub. Regarding the rivalry game, I stuck to my guns: when Notre Dame played USC, I would of course root for the Trojans, my first alma mater. Indeed, USC’s epic win at Notre Dame in 2005 became a defining day of my entire decade. I would root for Notre Dame eleven games per season, but in that one game each year, USC-ND, I was a Trojan through and through.

Even way back in 2004, however, I do remember repeatedly articulating one nagging thought, distant and unrealistic though it seemed then, back in the glory years of Pete Carroll and the waning days of Ty Willingham: what the heck would I do if Notre Dame ever played USC in a situation where the Irish were undefeated and in the running for the national title, while USC was out of the BCS hunt, playing a game that’s essentially meaningless to them (outside of the rivalry itself) and simply attempting to play spoiler? Would I still root for USC, even though it meant destroying an Irish dream season for no tangible gain beyond the simple satisfaction of doing so? Or would I, in that unique situation, make an exception and root for the Irish?

My answer then, when I occasionally pondered this issue, was: “I’m just not sure.” That situation, I acknowledged to myself (and I’m pretty sure I said aloud on one or two occasions), would be genuinely difficult, and I really did not know how I’d handle it. And, in the more than eight years since then, I’ve never had to decide.

Well, now I damn well have to decide.

Next Saturday, Notre Dame will play USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It will be the marquee game of the post-Thanksgiving weekend, College Gameday will be there, and with good reason: the Irish will come in as the #1-ranked team in the country, thanks to tonight’s losses by Kansas State and Oregon. Win, and Notre Dame is going to the national championship game, probably to play Alabama or Georgia. Lose, and they’re almost certainly out of the title hunt (and we get into a situation of total #CHAOS that could result in the nightmare of an Alabama-Florida BCS title matchup).

USC, meanwhile, is 7-4, and bound for some crappy third-tier bowl regardless of Saturday’s outcome. The preseason #1 Trojans will be playing for pride, and to be a spoiler — nothing more. Arguably, a loss to Notre Dame could even be beneficial to USC’s longer-term prospects, as such a disastrous end to the Trojans’ season against their two hated rivals might force Pat Haden to fire Lane Kiffin, whatever he says now. Regardless, the Trojans have essentially nothing to gain in the big picture by beating the Irish, whereas Notre Dame has everything to gain, and an enormous amount to lose.

So, what the Hell do I do?

I discussed this in a Facebook post last week, back when it was still a hypothetical possibility. I wrote, in part:

All these years, since I became an “Irish Trojan” in 2004, I’ve faithfully rooted for USC over Notre Dame every time they’ve played, indeed I’ve rooted EXTRA HARD for USC when the Trojans were playing the Irish, really living up the whole dual loyalties thing. I’ve said “I root for Notre Dame in every game but one” more times than I can count. Over and over, I’ve proclaimed that I always root for my first, original alma mater, my undergrad over my law school. Always.

But… but… in this unique situation… where Notre Dame is playing for a shot at the national title… and USC is playing for nothing (except for the mere fact of beating Notre Dame, which is, of course, never literally “nothing”)… is it justifiable to make an exception? …

I know that, if root for ND, I’ll be tarred and feathered by a “bandwagon” fan, probably by both USC fans and to some extent ND fans as well. But let me just say, the issue is NOT which team is “better.” If USC were 2-9 and Notre Dame were 9-2, there’s no question I’d root for the Trojans. Likewise, if Notre Dame were 11-0 … and USC were 10-1 and ranked #5, but still had a shot at the title if they beat ND and other dominoes fell, I’d definitely root for the Trojans. The only reason this is an issue is because ND has a shot at the national title while the game is effectively meaningless for USC.

Right now, I sort of feel like, when they kick off, my heart is going to be with Notre Dame. But I’m not sure. And I feel like I should feel guilty about that. Maybe.

I asked for people’s comments on my dilemma, and the reactions were fascinating.

Some folks — including some fellow USC alums – were sympathetic to my situation, and to the uniqueness of the circumstances, and said I should feel free to root for the Irish, just this once:

Despite being a Trojan, I say root for ND in this circumstance. The game could be very valuable to them, while it is essentially meaningless to USC, and you have a legitimate reason to cheer for both teams with actual connections to both schools.

Root for ND :) it pains me as a Trojan to say that but that’s what I’d do. Just don’t get overly disappointed if USC wins :)

Stop trying to justify that you’re going to root for Notre Dame and just embrace it. No one doubts your love of USC football.

I think you have to root for Notre Dame. I think you would agree that you are a fan of both teams. You long to see both teams do well year after year. This year, beating USC means a lot more to the Irish than it would to USC to beat the Irish. Therefore, if one were to add the equation, rationale says that you should root for Notre Dame. On top of that add the emotion and the fact that Notre Dame doesn’t seem to have national championship caliber seasons as often as the Trojans do.

You’re going to know who to root for when the game starts. What’s more, you already know that’s going to be Notre Dame. Sure, you have fond memories of your days at Southern Cal and Notre Dame; but you have no memory (nor do any of us, I’d venture to guess) of a time when the Southern Cal v. Notre Dame game almost always carried National Championship implications. A Notre Dame win wouldn’t only breathe new life into the storied history of the Fighting Irish, but it would also elevate the intensity of a once great rivalry.

[comment by David K., who attended USC for one year, then transferred to & graduated from Washington] Having faced this dilemma myself, I say root for Notre Dame. I definitely rooted for SC one year when the Huskies bowl chances were shot and SC was playing for an undefeated season.

Others said I should be neutral, or play it by ear, or otherwise hedge my bets:

Be agnostic.

Root for the defense. (or offense, if you prefer) Just enjoy the game itself.

Alternate quarters.

In a situation like this, I say cheer both teams. Whoever wins, you win. You can’t lose because they are both your teams. You cheered for the winner.

Perhaps as a cycling fan the agnostic thing is a lot easier. But that’s how I’d go, root for a good game. I’d rather a good tour over a boring one regardless of who wins.

I think you will just know who you are really rooting for once the game starts, based on your reaction to the plays. It’s probably impossible to decide this sort of thing before hand. So, once you realize what you really want just embrace it, regardless.

You won’t know until kickoff. Once toe meets leather, the team you truly want to win will just hit you.

Still others firmly declared that I absolutely must root for USC; anything else would be high treason:

As a true fan, you make no exceptions when it is convenient. maybe you should just not watch the game.

If you promised and proclaimed to cheer on the Irish in all but one game a year then I think that is where your loyalty should lie. No matter the situation with ND having a National Championship possibly on the line you are first and foremost a Trojan.

This is easy. You root for your alma mater. No exceptions. Law school means nothing.

FSU fan my whole life. FSU undergrad. Went to UF for law school and I root against them no matter who they play. When the Gators have been in the hunt for the title I would rather anyone win then them. There is absolutely no situation where I would feel differently.

[Comment by NDLS classmate and fellow “Irish Trojan” Steve Shim] I think you’ll just naturally tell who you’ll be rooting for come game time. Me, I’m definitely rooting for usc regardless. Nd winning a bcs bowl against a really good team isn’t a bad reality by the way. Oh and I also think kiffin needs to go.

Choose what you feel you must. All I’m saying is that at some point you have to make a choice, and this is one of those moments, and you can’t take it back. If you choose Notre Dame, you don’t get to come back and root for USC again. You’re rescinding your membership in the club. And hey, I understand why you want to see ND go for the title. It makes sense. But you’re already cutting it close with this “Irish Trojan” business. At some point you have to pick your side. Pick wisely. :) … I would add, against ANY other team (except UCLA) you could get away with a one game waiver. Not Notre Dame. You turn on SC against Notre Dame, you can’t call yourself a USC fan anymore. This is when you have to root for USC the most. It’s not about championships. It’s about how you stand against your rival. This is the test. There’s no going back.

Undergrad ALWAYS trumps grad school in terms of sports allegiances. I think if you root for Notre Dame then you should feel guilty. And you’ll never live it down with the naysayers, for the rest of your life.

Perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of cheering for USC over ND, circumstances be damned, came from Katherine Kirkpatrick Bos, a fellow “Irish Trojan” (NDLS Class of 2009), who — unlike the FSU/UF commenter, and many others who attended rival schools — gets the “dual loyalties” thing; she loves and cheers for both ND and USC. But she wrote:

Brendan, I am in exactly the same situation, and as much as I ADORE the Irish and would love to see them in the title game, there’s no question here. Stay loyal to your undergrad. Stay loyal to the Trojans. To do otherwise would be the ultimate fair weather fan move.

At least one commenter, though, pushed back against that idea:

I don’t understand the fairweather fan or bandwagon comments. This game is like choosing between your mom and your wife in a fist fight. You can’t be blamed when on one occasion your head says mum but your heart says wife (or vice versa, depending on your mom).

And of course there was this sentiment:

Anyone who would threaten to excommunicate you from either team’s fandom for this officially takes sports too seriously. Take a bowl of chill pills.

In response to the FSU/UF and similar comments, I wrote:

I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s different, I think, at Notre Dame Law School… most of my classmates really did get into the football team, moreso than I think is typical for professional school, and I did too. Maybe because ND is “special,” maybe because there’s nothing else to do in South Bend, I dunno. I wasn’t sure how I’d react until I got there, but once there, I definitely found myself emotionally embracing the whole Notre Dame experience, including football… EXCEPT when they played USC. So the attitude of “law school means nothing” or “went to [undergrad’s rival] for law school and I root against them no matter who they play” is just not my experience. The only time I ever root against ND is when they play USC; that’s been true ever since I enrolled there. If I wasn’t a genuine fan of Notre Dame, this obviously wouldn’t be an issue. But I am. So the only question here is whether to let my secondary fandom overcome my primary fandom just this once, based on the unusual circumstances.

Yes, that’s the question. But what’s the answer to that question? The Ultimate Brendan Loy Dilemma is now a reality — it’s not theoretical, it’s not hypothetical, it’s real — and the clock is ticking: kickoff is 6:00 PM Saturday.

But I still… don’t… know… what… to… do.

One thing is certain: a USC flag, not a Notre Dame flag, will be flying from our house Saturday. Becky will make sure of that. We have both schools’ flags, and have alternated throughout the season, depending on which team had a bigger game that weekend. Sometimes we’ve even flown one flag in the morning, for the early game, and one later in the day. But it will be all USC, all the time, between now and next Saturday.

As for my rooting interests? I dunno. I still feel like my heart is gonna with the Irish, probably. But I’ve literally never, ever rooted against USC since I started going there (before which I didn’t care about college football), so the concept is bizarre, and I may not actually be able to do it. Maybe I’ll find myself cheering for the Trojans after all. Perhaps I’ll end up cheering for whoever has the ball last. I’m really not sure.

I’ll keep y’all updated if there are any changes with regard to my existential dilemma. :) In the mean time… uh… FIGHT ON TROJANS! BEAT THE IRISH! GOOOO IRISH! BEEEEAT TROJANS!

TUESDAY UPDATE: I was on the Crash Davis Show on KFAB 1110 AM in Omaha, Nebraska this afternoon, discussing this dilemma. Crash Davis discovered me during Hurricane Sandy, and we did two segments about the storm. Remembering that I’m an “Irish Trojan,” Crash — himself a big football fan, and a big nerd — asked me back to do a USC-ND segment. Here’s the audio clip:

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Comments on "Goooooo Irish, Beeeeeeat Trojans?!?!?"

12 Responses to “Goooooo Irish, Beeeeeeat Trojans?!?!?”

  1. Mike Says:

    I would like to point out that the two individuals you have declared to be your Voices of Reason — me and Bea — are two of the individuals who told you to root for ND this week despite both of us having USC and not ND connections.

  2. David K. Says:

    There is one and only one person who can know whether you are a true fan of a team or not. You. People can suggest, people can advise, people can say what they would do or have done (as I have) as much as they want but YOU know where your heart lies when it comes to each team and if you are still a fan or have moved on from being a fan.

    To those who declare that should you choose other than they would that you are not a true fan or have given up your right to be a fan etc. well to them I say:
    Who the hell died a made you the fan police? What gives you the right to declare wether Brendan’s loyalties and love are true? Surely some other fan could chastise YOU for lack of support or having differing motivations and priorities. Ever skip a game? Did you travel to all away games or watch them all on TV? Are you donating as much as the next guy or gal to the athletic department? Seriously get over yourselves. Chances are in the eyes of some other fan YOU don’t deserve to be one either.

  3. Marcelo Teson Says:

    As the person who said “If you choose ND, don’t come back to USC” I want to clarify my comments so David doesn’t burst a vein calling me “the fan police.” ;)

    I would bear ZERO ill will towards Brendan if he chose Notre Dame. I understand very much why he wants to do it. My objection is not really as a USC fan, it’s more as someone who respects the sanctity of the concept of fandom. It has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with denying Brendan his history or his personal allegiances or what not.

    If we’re going to say that honor in fandom means something, that when we choose teams we do it because they mean something to us, and that loyalty is a value when being a fan, then Brendan absolutely has to stick with USC. You don’t get a waiver to root against your alma mater the moment the title implications match up exactly in the right way, ESPECIALLY against one of their major rivals. He made a choice long ago to root for USC over Notre Dame. He should honor that choice.

    That having been said, it really feels like for this one Brendan wants ND to go all the way to the title more than he wants USC to beat ND. If he should decide “okay, I’m rooting for ND this time,” he should honor that choice in subsequent years and root for ND over USC every year. Fandom evolves, loyalties change. I dig. The sin is not switching sides so much as it is switching sides and then expecting to be able to switch back the next year when the title implications aren’t there anymore. The fact that a situational issue can click on or off who you root for is the problem.

    Brendan loves Notre Dame, but it doesn’t say much for his Notre Dame fandom that the only time he’s going to root for them against SC is when they have a shot at the title and USC is ready to spoil it. Similarly, Brendan loves SC, but it doesn’t say much that when all USC has left to play for is its honor and pride against a hundred year old rival, that Brendan’s ready to root for the other team because a title shpt is on the line. Switching back and forth situationally (even if the situation is really special and specific) is disrespectful to BOTH teams and their fans.

    And maybe that choice sucks and it’s not fair and there should be room for measured responses and nuance, but hey, this is college sports, not international diplomacy. Lines are pretty clear cut, especially when 100 year old blood rivalries are at stake. We can acknowledge that Brendan has storied histories with both sides, has legitimate ties to both sides, and yet STILL insist that he make a consistent choice. Fandom is primarily about loyalty. Loyalties are tested. It’s not always fair and it’s not always pretty, but then again neither is life. You have to make shitty choices like that all the time.

    Can I just also say that aside from that, to me the title scenario Brendan envisions as the one time he would change sides is not a convincing argument to switch because the BCS is a sham to begin with. When you start worrying about title implications and BCS math and rooting for this other random team to lose to a team you beat because it helps you in the math, etc. then you’ve lost your way. Titles come and go, the math figures itself out. What matters are the rivalries. At the point where chasing the sham BCS title trumps the 100 year old storied rivalry between these two legendary college football institutions, it just makes me shake my head.

  4. Brendan Loy Says:

    For what it’s worth, Marcelo — and to perhaps short-circuit a possible flame-war — I respect your position, and I don’t think you’re being some sort of vicious thought-police. I ultimately disagree with your one-size-fits-all definition of sports fandom (though I recognize that many reasonable people who are sports fans, including my beloved wife, share it–while plenty of other sports fans do not). However, the way I interpret your position isn’t, “If you do X, your feelings about fandom are invalid, false and contrived,” but rather, “If you do X, then I, Marcelo, do not believe you are a ‘true’ fan and don’t respect your fandom as much, if at all.” That’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it, and that’s fine. The only thing that really gets me mad is when people argue that my fandom for one team or the other is some sort of contrived or invented fraud — basically denying how I feel, rather than merely saying “I get that you feel this way, but I think you shouldn’t.”

  5. gahrie Says:

    This is not meant as a shot against Brendan.

    A true USC fan realizes at this point that the only possible redemption of USC’s season is to beat Notre Dame, precisely because it would end ND’s chance at playing in a title game.

    As an abstract point, I like, admire and respect Notre Dame. In another universe I could have easily attended that university. That is what makes the rivalry so special. If I hated or disrespected Notre Dame the rivalry would be meaningless. (Which is why this game is so much more important than the UCLA game)

    I get Brendan’s anguish. (Which is one reason why I oppose dual citizenship) Divided loyalties are tough. I agree with the idea that one has to dominate however. Up to now, USC has been your primary loyalty. Now that loyalty is being tested. You need to decide, is USC still your primary loyalty? If it is, your choice is simple. If you root for Notre Dame for any reason against USC, your loyalty has shifted. You either no longer have a primary loyalty, and are in effect a frontrunner; or your primary loyalty has shifted to Notre Dame, and that is OK.

  6. Sandy Underpants Says:

    I don’t think beating Notre Dame can salvage USC’s season, and I don’t think this Trojan team has the heart or pride to put up a fight against ND. For some reason, the defense is not into this season. They’re very talented players, so it must be the DC that isn’t getting something across, because they can’t do anything. This is the first time this millenium that I don’t care if USC wins and don’t expect them to. And I almost bought a ticket to the game this past friday, but ran out of time to go get it.

    If I were in Brendan’s position I’d definitely cheer for ND, going to a national championship isn’t as easy as Nick Saban makes it look.

    And a special message for David K.– Utah still sucks and they still will never compete in the Pac-12. They should go back to the MWC where people like you can complain about them getting shut out of the BCS for being just as bad as they are now, but going undefeated because they play nobody all year.

  7. David K. Says:

    Yes, because two years of Utah being in the Pac-12 is perfectly valid to draw a conclusion from. How about Washington, we went 0-12 a few years back, are we ever going to compete? What about Colorado who won a national championship in 1990, will they ever compete? I bet Oregon, who had no more than 6 wins in any season from 1965-1988, and often less than that, will never compete in the Pac-12. Cal in the 80’s with its one winning season? WSU who spent the better part of the last century struggling managed not one but TWO Rose Bowl appearances since 1997. Clearly THEY can NEVER compete.

    Oh wait, sorry I’m trying to use facts against the same guy who thinks the moon landing was faked, sorry about that. I’ll let you get back to your magical fairy land where everythings made up and the facts don’t matter. Sorry to interupt.

  8. David K. Says:

    While Brendan may respect Marcelo’s position, I thinks it’s absurd. Life is complicated and people often have legitimate conflicting interests that are situational yet still completely valid. I find it particularly bizarre that someone who looks down upon the unbending codes of conduct of certain religious groups would seek to apply such an exacting standard to a much lesser aspect of life, namely sports.

    I voted for Barack Obama, a known pro-Choicer, does that mean I have forfeited the right to ever hold a pro-Life viewpoint? No, of course not, that would be absurd. Why? Because politics is complex and the odds of finding a candidate whom one agrees with on every single issue 100% are slim. Well sure, but this is sports, not politics, either you are for a team or you aren’t right?

    How about another scenario from my life. Ichiro Suzuki is my favorite baseball player and I want him to win a World Series at some point. But I also can’t stand the Yankees for a variety of reasons. If I temporarily set aside my rooting against the Yankees to root FOR Ichiros success and chance at a World Series ring does that mean I am now committed to ALWAYS being for the Yankees? Of course not.

    Here’s another potential scenario. What if you have a friend, say from Germany who is an Olympic caliber skier. Is it ok too cheer them on and want them to win a Gold medal, even if that means the US would have to lose? If I did that does that mean Im a bad American who should never root for the USA again and should move to Germany?

    Life is complicated and circumstances matter.

    Here’s a question for those who agree with Marcelo, should Brendan have turned down his admission to Notre Dame, a first rate law program in order to stay a true Trojan? Surely if he can’t root for Notre Dame, he shouldn’t even go to Notre Dame right? I mean no TRUE Trojan would after all. Same with say UCLAs medical school. Clearly no one who went to WSU should ever attend UW for nursing school, even if its the top program in the country right?

    Obviously every o e is entitled to their own opinion, and clearly people who don’t actually know Brendan can dismiss his arguments, but those of us who DO know him know that he is an honest, thoughtful, and respectable man and he’s not just doing this on a whim. I don’t doubt for a minute this is a tough call for him, even though in the grand scheme of life it’s just football, it’s just a game. I honestly doubt he will come to a conclusion, I think doubts will plague him from game start to end and beyond. He might be happy that Notre Dame ends up in the championship game but I honestly doubt he will take any satisfaction from USC losing. It’s a complex issue, like many things in life.

    But can we keep some perspective here too? This isn’t life or death. This is sports. We enjoy it, we are passionate about it, but if it it starts to come between friends and makes us start questioning each others honesty and integrity can we agree to take a step back and realize that? I love football, I loved playing it, I love watching it, I’m glad it exists, but it’s still just a game.

  9. Sandy Underpants Says:

    Yeah, Colorado in the 90s is really relatable to today.

    Utah was undefeated and ranked #8 in November 2009, the season before they joined the Pac-12. In fact, they were a perennial top 20 team, who the non-AQ whiners of America, like you, were pointing towards as the persecuted martyrs of the BCS era because they were so good, but unfortunately played in a lesser conference. Now the truth is told, just as I expected it would be. When you take a big fish from a little pond, and put them in a big pond with a lot of fish, they get pecked apart and end up at the bottom of the ocean. I didn’t mention the connecting river outlet for debris.

    Utah may be the team of the 20s, but that doesn’t settle the debate that’s already been won, by me.

  10. Sandy Underpants Says:

    *Of course I meant that Utah was ranked #8 and undefeated in November 2010.

  11. David K. Says:

    LOL you are such an ignorant tool Sandy. So you have won a debate according to yourself based on arbitrary criteria you are setting after the fact so it favors you? I suppose Arizona and Arizona State, two other big fish from little ponds are doomed to forever be unable to compete in the Pac-12 too right?

  12. gahrie Says:

    So what did you decide?

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