I grew up in Indiana, which is a state in that landlocked and unsexy part of the United States (U.S.) called the Midwest. We’re known for four things that I can think of: sweet corn, the Indianapolis 500, basketball, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (American) football team.
The latter two bolster steep traditions of success and a widely popular film each: Hoosiers (1986) and Rudy (1993). Watch Hoosiers and you might just find yourself feeling nostalgic about shooting jump shots at a rim that dangles off the side of an old barn, even if you–like me–have never actually experienced such a thing yourself. I grew up in a town of 1,400, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’m still pretty lost on a farm. But my dad did coach basketball at a local high school, so at least I got to soak in that part of our culture (or should I say stereotype?).
For better or worse, the best way to measure our state’s emotional pulse may involve taking a look at two university fan bases, each for their own preferred sports. While there are plenty of capable universities in Indiana, and Butler University has certainly grabbed all sorts of basketball headlines during recent years, the two schools with the most athletic aura are almost certainly Indiana University for its basketball and Notre Dame for its football. Although some wouldn’t admit it, and I am not one of these myself, there are plenty in the state who follow Notre Dame in the fall and IU in the winter, this despite the fact that the two schools compete at the same level and could, depending on the year, actually compete against each other.
How these two teams perform might well be a better indicator for how people feel than the state’s unemployment rate (like most of the country, not good), church attendance (definitely exaggerated), who the U.S. president is (the Hoosiers cast their electoral votes, quite convincingly, for Mitt Romney a few weeks ago). Despite those frustrations, the state is currently on an ecstasy-like high, at least if recent Facebook posts are any indication.
Why? Well, four games into head coach Tom Crean’s fifth season at the helm, his Hoosiers have maintained their #1 ranking, which they’ve earned by pulling in brilliant recruiting classes and an impressive Sweet 16 run last March. There is plenty of season left to go, but there is also reason to believe IU is a real contender for the first time since they lost in the NCAA final against Maryland in 2002. The Hoosiers last won a national championship in 1987.
So what about the Irish and their American-football playing? Well, Saturday night’s 22-13 road victory over their hated rival, the University of Southern California, completed a 12-0 regular season and all but clinched an opportunity to play for the national championship on January 7. You may recall that this Fighting Irish team began their season in Dublin, knocking off the Naval Academy, 50-10 in the Emerald Isle Classic. This year’s success is a long time in coming; Notre Dame hasn’t played for a national championship since they last won it in 1988.
What are the chances that IU basketball and Notre Dame football, both of which have wallowed in mediocrity for the better part of two decades, would finally rediscover their greatness in the same year? It is not lost on me, of course, that this all happened a few months after I moved to Belfast. Maybe I am the one who has held IU basketball and Notre Dame football back for so long?
Check out the highlights from IU’s game vs UNC last night where the Hoosiers absolutely dismantled the Tar Heels. (How hard is it to just lose by less than 11 points with a predicted top 5 lottery pick in your starting 5! Sort it out Roy! – Niall)