Wednesday, December 29

WILLINGHAM -- BAH HUMBUG!

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish left their fight and something more in South Bend, as they fell to Oregon State last night, losing their seventh consecutive bowl game in a fashion that exemplied their entire season -- you just never knew which Irish team was going to show up and you invariably got the sinking feeling that the Irish coaching staff didn't know either. "Win one for Willingham" turned out to be a hollow commitment and came as close to mirroring the legendary "Win one for the Gipper!," as have many other elements of Irish lore during this now long-suffering, ignominious stretch of also-ran seasons. Team speed remained an issue, as did one of the most porous secondaries in college football. But worse were the moments of glaring ineptitude that spoke volumes about Willingham, his staff, and their collective inability to prepare and execute a worthy gameplan and to make the necessary adjustments at halftime to win. I don't know how any Irish fan could watch last night's debacle and continue to participate in the handwringing over Tyrone Willingham's ouster. Willingham may not have been walking the sideline last night, but that was his team out on the field looking so mismatched against an inspired and aggressive Oregon State team. Notre Dame no longer keeps Christmas well (nor New Year's Day, for that matter). They're never in the hunt for the National Championship and even when they land a no-name bowl bid, they can't muster the wherewithal to win. It is good, therefore, that the incoming president of the university was visited by three spirits in recent weeks: the Ghost of Christmas Past (the powerful alumni); the Ghost of Christmas Present (frustrated Irish fans); and the Ghost of Christmas Future (the promise of Charlie Weis to restore the lore and luster of a once inimitable football program).