Friday at 4: Farewell and remember, Notre Dame fans, this is supposed to be fun


Dear “Inside the Irish” fans, “Inside the Irish” foes and, of course, my parents —
Dear longtime colleagues, bad influences and South Bend bartenders —
Mostly, dear Notre Dame fans, Notre Dame spectators and reasonably optimistic 2024 Irish fans —

Yes, that last grouping of people is meant genuinely. Notre Dame has handled its offseason — from a roster management perspective, an offseason already effectively over — just about as well as anyone could have hoped.

Irish head coach Marcus Freeman added two offensive assistants he has a history with, coaches who have developed more prolific offenses than Notre Dame has known in some time. Along with them, the Irish snared arguably the best quarterback on the market for the second winter in a row.

This era of college football demands top-tier offenses. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden has raised the Irish floor to double-digit wins with one of the country’s most consistent and responsive defenses, but Notre Dame’s modern ceiling will always be determined by its offense.

That combination, a suffocating defense with a new-look offense led by a possible first- or second-round NFL draft pick at quarterback, can and should inspire optimism.

But if the Irish fall short of hosting a Playoff game, short of being a top-eight team after the regular season, short of the Notre Dame tradition of a third-year title chase, next season can still provide plenty of joy.

If the Irish again fall short in the biggest moment like they did on the goal line against Ohio State, if dreams are dashed at USC to end the season, if 11-1 hopes become 10-2 realities or 10-2 Playoff thoughts become 9-3 frustrations, that Saturday should still be enjoyed.

Next Friday would mark seven years for me in this gig. Notre Dame has gone 73-17 in that stretch, with me in attendance for 48 wins and 10 losses, missing one win to attend a funeral and one loss to attend a wedding.

Before I followed in Keith Arnold’s footsteps — a thank you to Keith for recommending me for this job, a leap of faith I hope I have since justified — I asked some of his readers why they frequented his writing. The one I quoted in my introductory column will be the same one I reflect upon in my exit.

“We are smart, informed sports fans with an irrational passion for ND football, and appreciate writers who share those traits but are professional enough to step back from the irrationality and put things in perspective. … We like a realistic take, not a knee-jerk reaction.”

The knee-jerk reaction is, by definition, too short-sighted. And any passionate fanbase specializes in that. Doubting Freeman’s future potential because Notre Dame had only 10 defenders on the field to close the loss to the Buckeyes was such a pitfall. Doubling down on those angsts because the Irish committed seven combined turnovers at Louisville and at Clemson was akin to doubling on a 10 against an ace.

Sure, Casey McCall can defend that blackjack choice but needing to underscores the mistake.

McCall is a “Sports Night” reference for anyone unfamiliar with the name. Back in the first season, about two years after yours truly first reported on Notre Dame football by shouting out the garage window as Allen Rossum returned Purdue’s opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, McCall spent an episode lamenting a coach’s decisions like Irish fans did after Ohio State.

“He made a bonehead move on fourth down with the game on the line,” McCall said, ready to lambast his alma mater’s head coach on air. “It's not the first time he's made a bonehead move. I'm a commentator, I'm a pundit, I am doing my job.”

Before McCall could air his complaints, his romantic rival took time to extensively agree with McCall, concurring in-depth on the play-calling mishap. Coming from that particular individual, the sports anchor gave the entire worry a bit further thought.

“I've had three days to think about it, he had seven seconds,” McCall said. “So it's a lot easier for me to make that decision than it was for him. But since you asked me what play I would've called, I'll tell you. Now that I think about it? I have no idea.”

That’s a work of fiction, but that B-plot was based in a reality all sports fans know and too few remember. In forgetting, those emotions overshadow the only feeling that should matter when watching these games.

It’s supposed to be fun.

If Notre Dame loses to USC to close next season, the better thing to remember will be the group you are watching with. Maybe it is another young father. Perhaps some old college buddies have found a reunion following Thanksgiving. Best-case, your father is watching the game with your nephew.

The redeeming value of fandom is who you are fans alongside.

The anger, the frustration, the excessive lamenting only take away from the entire point of being a fan. Furthermore, those reactions are often, if not always, misguided.

If Annie Savoy were ever to ask me what I believe in, that would make the list.

I believe it is in our fall that we become legends. After all, Joe Frazier fell five more times after that iconic call before they stopped the fight. I believe ducks fly together, music sounds best loudest and fire burns brightest at night. The only food worthy of being capitalized is Bacon. That isn’t because of Francis, that’s because of the wonders of pig fat. And I believe sports fans would be blessed with a touch more self-awareness, a glass more bliss in their fandom, a better appreciation for failures among successes.

Those bounties of valleys make a single peak the moment to remember.

Thank you for reading for seven years, for reaching out, for caring so irrationally.

But now, it’s late Friday afternoon. I believe I’ll have a beer. I know a bar that serves them by the 20-ounce mug. I bet I have two.
- Douglas.

Editor’s Note: The team at NBC Sports is deeply grateful to Douglas Farmer for his years of dedicated coverage of Notre Dame football. We look forward to continuing that coverage of the Irish and college football nationwide for years to come, and to welcoming new voices into the space that Douglas so passionately helped to build.