By Brendan Loy
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:
Root for the defense. (or offense, if you prefer) Just enjoy the game itself.
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:
Comments on "Goooooo Irish, Beeeeeeat Trojans?!?!?"
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