Rarely does this column delve into football, especially Fighting Irish football. However, while in New York City last weekend, I had the most unusual encounter.
After viewing a Broadway play, our party ventured to the restaurant Iguana. On any given day, celebrities like Al Pacino dine with patrons on sandwiches literally stacked with three inches of meats and cheeses. Last Saturday was no exception for us as I sat next to Joy Philbin and two men who were wearing paper bags on their heads.
I guessed that Regis and his television producer, "Gelman," were under the bags while poor Joy sat alone and exposed to the world. I tried to identify the two as I sat quietly listening to their conversation.
"You know, Regis, I would like to be frank with you. May I?" asked the brown bag.
"Sure coach, if you let me," replied the white bag.
"It's a deal. First, Reege, you really bug me when you mention your alma matter on your show. Those of us affiliated with the team appreciate it, but you sound like those Domers I run into every day who can quote statistics relating to every facet of Notre Dame football. I know one who calls students randomly on campus just to hear rumors and gather information. He can tell you the average number of yards per running play ND had in every game back to the Knute Rockne era."
The white bag shouted, "If Gelman could only hear this! He wants more Notre Dame stuff ... says it is wholesome and entertaining. I keep telling him the team has to win for me to convert chatter into ratings."
"We're trying," the brown bag said.
"Well, try harder. And you think you have it bad? I run into Domers who not only can recite insignificant statistics, but who beat my ear as though they were auditioning to become television announcers. If I hear, `he-could-go-all-the-way' one more time!"
The brown bag shot back, "Think that's bad? Try dealing with people who never pay their share of meals, transportation or ticket prices."
"What are you complaining about? You don't have millions of dollars in sponsorships riding on your performance. You play a pretty good season, then get blown away in a bowl game, but still get a five-year contract extension."
The brown bag shot back, "What are you talking about? Notre Dame is an icon in college football. But with that honor comes a higher standard from which the Irish must operate. It may seem unfortunate, but it's true. We don't get the best players because we must recruit players with higher academic standards."
"Is that your final answer?" asked the white bag. "If so, it is pretty weak. My programs are successful because I work long and hard and prepare extensively for each aspect of my quest for my goals."
"So are you saying I am doing less?"
"No, I am saying that the best coaches are those who revise their programs around great players instead of trying to mold the player into a set program. Do you know why your team has more fumbles this year than last year?"
"Why is that, Mr. Statistician?" asked the brown bag.
"Different quarterback. Last year's wizard is this year's goat. He is riding the bench and your fumbles have increased on the field along with your number of losses."
"So Mr. Television Personality, what makes you an expert over everyone else?"
The white bag repled, "Have you ever been to a game with national championship consequences riding on the outcome? The intensity was immense, the play spectacular and the drama draining. They are classics. You will not play that type of game until you demand excellence in yourself, everyone you coach and everyone you hire. It is that simple."
"So I should call my program, `Who wants to be a National Champion?' and get a final answer from everyone?"
The white bag answered, "Don't forget to be creative. I think you've benched a Heismann candidate in favor of running the option. But I am only a spectator and will not second guess you."
At this point I approached the two bagheaded men and interrupted. "I happened to hear Notre Dame mentioned," I said, "and just wanted to show you my Notre Dame ring."
Then turning to me, both said in unison, "Nice ring."
"Did you attend Notre Dame?" I asked.
"Nah, we were crying about the Yankees," said the white bag. "They would have won if they demanded excellence."
I turned away thinking of how the Yankees barely reached game seven of the World Series, and only because they had demanded excellence. Could I expect excellence from Notre Dame football in the future or more conversations from beneath a paper bag? I guess it depends upon whose contract gets better ratings at the end of this month.
Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame '73, served in President Clinton's administration as a Congressional and public affairs director. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached at Hottline@aol.com
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, November 16, 2001