More sacred than 'Touchdown Jesus?'
Posted September 13, 2012
Updated September 14, 2012
Unveiled in May of 1964, it is officially known as the "Word of Life" mural on the Hesburgh Library on campus at Notre Dame. But many know the painting as "Touchdown Jesus" for the raised hands and the location of the mural behind the north end zone of Notre Dame Stadium.
The way the Irish talk, is their football independence more sacred than "Touchdown Jesus"? Football independence, "It's central to our identity and not just athletically," Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said.
As conference after conference tried to lure Notre Dame to join their league, the Irish held firm to their ability to schedule as an independent and get payed as a powerful independent. The Big East allowed the Irish to enter and keep their independence and so did the ACC. But there was a major negotiating point the ACC insisted on.
Notre Dame has to play 5 ACC opponents each year. "That was a very key point to this," ACC Commissioner John Swofford firmly stated. "Anything less than that, we would not have come to this point."
It was interesting to be in the room at Kenan Stadium where the press conference was held to announce the changes. (It was in Chapel Hill because UNC chancellor Holden Thorp is in his one-year rotation as chair of the ACC's Council of Presidents.) After the presser as new partners exchanged handshakes and pats on the back, I introduced myself to Father John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame. "Welcome to the ACC," I said. "You have already seen one game here (at Kenan Stadium)." Father Jenkins had a reflective stare as he looked out at the field and said, "Yes I have. Things were going well until that interception."
That interception was in 2008 when Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen found Carolina's Quan Sturdivant who returned it for a momentum changing touchdown. The Tar Heels won the game 29-24. (But it's on the NCAA voided list.)
I point out Father Jenkins' comment because it helps illustrate Notre Dame's love for football, from top to bottom. It's a fabric of their life and their campus.
When they do play ACC football games on the road, expect a great turnout in green and gold. Just ask Wake Forest which hosted the Irish last year. It was their biggest crowd of the year, 36,307 and the 4th largest crowd in school history. Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch had a gleam in his eye when I asked him about that game. "When Notre Dame came to Winston-Salem it was like nothing that has ever happened," Hatch explained. "Notre Dame just has a unique kind of mystique."
That's why every conference in America would love to have the Irish. That's why the ACC spent decades trying to get Notre Dame to go with them to the prom. The invitation has finally been accepted.