I grew up loving Notre Dame. I remember wondering why anyone would ever root for another school since Notre Dame seemed so pure with their golden helmets, cold weather and plain uniforms. The Irish were the preferred football brand for Midwestern middle school boys in the 1990s regardless of religious affiliation or sensibility.
I got off it a little when my sister transferred out of Notre Dame. I got off it a lot when I transferred to Carolina. I wondered why I was ever on it when Carolina scheduled Notre Dame for a home-and-home series in 2006 and 2008.
I went to the 2006 game in South Bend. The experience was what I expected; lots of tailgaters spread over acres of concrete, posting the Irish flag and blasting U2. Some partied in and around permanent trailer homes built near the stadium specifically for tailgate rental six or seven times per year. Football traffic signs linger all year as inefficient homage to their fanaticism. I have to say that their tradition is impressive but they are still the Irish. It is our job to hate them. They can love themselves if they wish.
That game in South Bend stayed close enough until the very end. Carolina sacked Brady Quinn several times, and Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate both posted resume games. Fledgling quarterback Joe Dailey also had his career game in the NBC spotlight.
"What's your record again?" a bewildered Irish fan asked in the throes of Carolina's third-quarter comeback.
"One win, seven losses," I said with I-don't-care and you-suck bravado.
The 2008 game in Chapel Hill was witness to a different college football landscape. The 4-1 Tar Heels were ranked at 22, their first ranking since I arrived in 2003. The Irish were also 4-1 but could not get any respect from voters for the first time since the four horsemen broke the October sky.
The first Irish drive did not use any backs except for quarterback Jimmy Clausen. This took away all run-pass guesswork for our linebackers, but we still could not cover Golden Tate and company. The drive seemed like a bad omen, and we all hoped that Notre Dame would use a running back to break the rhythm.
They did, and the defense found its footing when the blitz seemed to expose invisible holes in the Irish line. Carolina trailed for most of the game but stayed close. Then Cameron Sexton jumped into the end zone and over a diving Irish defender. Brooks Foster caught a ball, but the referees saw it differently.
When the ball was in the air on the final play, it seemed that Notre Dame would pull off a comeback upset. But they fumbled inside the 10, and the rest is one of only two bright spots in Carolina-Notre Dame history. And through all of this, Rameses fell asleep.