Fighting Irish can win this one for the Gipper
SIDELINE CUT:Today’s meeting between Notre Dame and Navy is not just about winning a game. It’s about celebrating a rich and proud tradition that has defined a generation, writes KEITH DUGGAN
WOULD AMERICA even be navigable in our imaginations without its sports teams and stadiums? If you scan a map of the country and try to fathom the thousand of miles that separate its coasts, there is no doubt that the scale is made more manageable by the presence of its most enduring names and houses – Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Candlestick Park, Madison Square Garden, Wrigley Field – which have become places of pilgrimage for the millions of visitors and residents of those cities over the decades.
Some of the most beloved American sports grounds – the Polo Grounds, the Boston Garden, the original Yankee Stadium – no longer even exist. But their mythology alone helps to make sense of the geography and the vastness of the country. Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, where the college football team have played their football games since replacing neighbouring Cartier Field in 1930, shines as brightly as any of the big city fields or arenas. In fact, Indiana has made its voice known through sport more so than most of the American states.
No single phrase encapsulated the small town/big city contrast as neatly as Larry Bird did when he joined the Boston Celtics in 1978 after emerging from obscure town in middle America as one of the most preternaturally gifted basketball players ever: “No matter how good I become, I’m still just a hick from French Lick,” he said in tribute to his Indiana home town.
And not too many people had heard of Bobby Plump when a modest sports film starring Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper was released in 1987. Because its title – Hoosiers – was deemed too foreign for this part of the world, it was released as Best Shot in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It was, like most sports films, an idealised portrayal of a moment that had passed into mythology – in this case an immortal jump shot with which Plump won the 1954 Indiana State school championship for Milan, with an enrolment of 161 pupils against the mighty Muncie Central.
In the decades since, it has become one of those enduring films – a Christmas perennial – that people with no interest in basketball have somehow found themselves watching, perhaps for the thorny romantic subplot between Hackman and Hershey or for Hopper’s achingly hopeless drunk or for the magical tracking shot of the trail of car headlights returning home across the flatlands after a game: it is a scene still replicated on the roads leading to Irish towns and villages after big GAA days in the capital.