Never Underestimate a Leprechaun Scorned

I’ve been looking forward to this week for a whole year. I know, opening weekend was three weeks ago already (I was excited for that too!), but this week holds a whole different level of intensity for me. Why, you ask? In one word: Michigan. Two more words, Denard Robinson. ONE more word, and the most important, I might add… REVENGE!!!

Now before I go all William Wallace on here, let me explain what fellow Notre Dame fans already know: we owe them a loss. Or better yet, they owe us a win, as we’ve coughed up the W to them in the final seconds our last three meetings.

2009: ND leads 34-31 with 2:19 left on the game clock. Tate Forcier goes 5 for 6 in a drive downfield that results in a 5-yard touchdown pass to Greg Mathews with 11 seconds remaining. Kick is good, blah, blah, blah, Notre Dame loses.

*Side note for this game: Head coaches were Charlie Weis and Rich Rodriguez for this one. Cringe.

2010: The Irish overcome a 21-7 halftime deficit, while holding the Wolverines scoreless in the second half… until Denard Robinson scores from 2 yards out with 27 seconds left to play. Michigan wins 28-24.

*Note: Robinson accounts for 502 total yards and three touchdowns in this, just his second-career start. My I-respect-you-but-loathe-you relationship with him begins.

2011: Notre Dame enters the 4th quarter leading 24-7. I had already sent out some taunting text messages to a few Michigan fans at this point. Of course, Michigan comes roaring back, eventually leading 28-24. That score rings a bell, right? Well, the Irish have time to answer back this time, scoring a go-ahead TD with 1:22 remaining. What do I do? I go crazy. I pick up my daughter, swing her around, scream, cheer, and pose for the following picture (which I have never shared until this day, due to shame).

I thought we finally had this one in the bag. But no. Robinson drives 80 yards to score with TWO seconds remaining. I am stunned. I am angry. My husband is scared.

*Note: Two things in reference to the picture. 1) My daughter, Ava, was clearly not as excited as I was, and 2) I am guilty of one of my own pet peeves… holding up the #1 sign when we obviously weren’t #1. We were 0-2 entering the game. Geesh, Alexis. Alas, I digress.

Now, I’ve never been a math whiz, but let me see….

948 (Denard’s total yards vs. ND) × 7 (touchdowns he’s scored vs. ND) – 4 (the number of points ND has lost by each of the past three match-ups) × 42 (the combined number of seconds it’s taken for Michigan to score THREE game-winning touchdowns in the past three years) = ONE incredibly fired up and vengeful Irish squad this Saturday.

Mark my words. Led by Manti Te-o, an inspired Irish defense is going to do something no group has ever done to Denard Robinson: tie his shoe laces so tight he loses feeling in his feet and can’t run at all.

Just kidding, but they are going to get some stops. Robinson doesn’t have the protection up front he’s had in recent years. Plus, the Irish frontmen appear to be the best they’ve been in a while. I believe that this go-round is going to be very different.

The old saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Well, I am a woman scorned by Robinson & the Wolverines. I hope the Fighting Irish have the same mentality come 7:30pm this Saturday. Better yet, I hope Brian Kelly is drilling it into their brains all week long!

In closing, I want to know who YOU are rooting for in this matchup. This question applies to EVERYONE. I’m always curious about which team outsiders (especially fans of Big Ten teams) tend to root for in this long-standing rivalry. Or in other words, which team you hate less. 😉

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And you thought YOUR relationship was complicated…

Have you ever had your heart broken? Believed in something too much, too soon? Have you ever realized perhaps a little too late that you’re in over your head? Very few of us, if any, have been exempt from heartbreak throughout our lifetime. Think about your first big break up. Now consider a few words to describe how you felt at that time: Devastation? Confusion? Hopelessness? Of course it’s the great times in that relationship that make the loss so tough to swallow, right? Or maybe it’s the potential you saw in the object of your affection? So goes the life of the underdog fan. Last week, a reader made a comment that really made me think. He stated, “MOST relationships do not last as long as that developed at an early age with a favorite team.”

I had never really thought about my connections to my teams in that term: relationships. Then suddenly… the lights dim. Over the inspiring melody of the Rudy theme song (play this for optimal experience), I picture myself at my first Notre Dame game: 1998. 12 years-old. Losing feeling in my toes and buried deeply under my stadium blanket. Thrilled as I watch Autry Denson float across the field en route to his school record 4,318 rushing yards. The Golden Dome is behind me, Touchdown Jesus to my left. Man, it doesn’t get better than this! I’m officially smitten. Fade to black…. [and turn off Rudy]

Fast forward to October 15, 2005. The No. 9-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish host the No. 1-ranked USC Trojans as the Irish hope to avenge literal butt-kickings at the hands of the Trojans the previous three seasons. Notre Dame dons the sacred green jerseys. I didn’t have to be at the game to feel the excitement. Fourth quarter. USC trails by three and are just a few yards away from the end zone. There is only enough time on the game clock for one more play. Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart (#11) takes the snap, keeps the ball and hits a wall of Irish defenders at the goal line. Enter: Reggie Bush. Play this. Leinart twists, turns, and throws all of his 230-some pounds toward the end zone as Bush (#5) grabs his quarterback by the jersey and PUSHES him in from behind (if you were wondering, NO, you can’t do that). The result, a play that will go down in history as the “Bush Push,” and a 34-31 USC victory. The result for me? Devastation. Confusion. Hopelessness… maybe some tears… [end Nazareth song]

The Irish have lost far more big games than they’ve won in recent years. Believe me, I’ve felt the heartbreak, along with thousands of fellow Irish fans. The ups and downs of this courtship have been utterly draining at times. You can probably relate in some way, shape or form, right? However, my love for the Irish still doesn’t qualify me as an underdog fan…. my affection for the Browns does. While my relationship with Notre Dame is definitely more serious and passionate, I care enough for Cleveland to admit that they’ve hurt me too. If the Cleveland Browns were a boyfriend, he’d be one that you don’t expect a lot out of, so when he does something even slightly nice for you, you get overly excited. You think, “maybe he’s changed!” This is when the “Believeland” shirts come out. Maybe THIS season will be different. The thing is, we really do believe that! No joke! Just like the ever-loyal and faithful girlfriend, Cleveland fans never give up on their Browns – no matter how many times they mess things up! Call it a dead-end relationship if you want. We have too much invested in this to let it go.

Well, the Browns dropped from 3-3 (which, let’s be honest Browns fans, we weren’t too upset about) to 3-4 with a loss to San Francisco this past Sunday. While I would have loved to have been above .500 for at least a week or so, I have to admit, I’d rather take a loss to the 49ers than one to the Steelers. Or the Patriots. Or any other team that is used to winning. The NFL has been great this year in that a slew of underdogs have been extremely successful thus far.

In the NFC, San Francisco is atop the West at 6-1, having already matched their win total from last season (they finished 6-10). After a perfect 4-0 start, the Detroit Lions are now 6-2, with one of those losses coming from San Fran. The Lions were also 6-10 last year, and an even more dismal 2-14 in 2009.

In the AFC the Cincinnati Bengals have gone from a 4-12 worst-finish in the North a season ago to 5-2 so far in 2011. However, the gems of the underdog studs this season in my eyes are the Buffalo Bills! They’ve also improved a 4-12 2010 record to 5-2 thus far. The difference here? This squad has not had a winning season since 2004! If I had to put any group of fans in the same category as Browns fans, it would be that of the Bills. These fans even sit in the face-frosting, painfully cold, crappy, lake-effect weather to (usually) watch their team lose like we do! I only know a couple of Bills fans, but what I’ve appreciated about all two of them is that every season they know exactly how bad their team is, but it doesn’t make a difference, the love doesn’t fade. It’s like a tattoo. Once you get it, you’re pretty much committed whether you like it down the road or not.

So there you have it. Are the Browns a one or two-loss team this year? Nope. Will they be next year? ABSOLUTELY! 😉 The point is, I’m happy for Bills fans. I’m happy for Lions fans. I’m happy for 49ers fans, and…. and I’m going to stop there (the Bengals are still in the Browns’ division, after all). Anyway, you all deserve the excitement of having a winning team. We know what it’s like to put in our time even when it’s not always fun. Therefore, win-on, fellow underdogs!!

Now ladies, on to this week’s assignment. Last week you were to pick a team (you did, right?). This week, place a friendly bet on that team. Make it a dollar, a lunch, $20…. or if you really want to raise the stakes…. bet your favorite handbag. I dare you. If that doesn’t get you screaming at your television come Saturday or Sunday, I don’t know what will! This week you will have a little something more invested in your team. You can now consider yourself a couple dates into this relationship. Stay open-minded and just see where it goes. 😉