Losing Not Bad Luck; It's A Disease

The difference between success and failure in sports may be a very thin line, but so often is it measurable. In this commentary for IrishEyes subscribers, F. Richard Ciccone captures the sentiments of thousands and thousands of Irish fans who realize Bob Davie must go. Davie and his staff came up with very creditable, and commendable, game plans for Tennessee and still took a hard-luck loss. But, as Mr. Ciccone writes, losing isn't luck. It's a disease, and it's become contagious.

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The EyeGlass—Commentary

November 4, 2001

Losing Not Due To Luck; It's A Disease

By. F. Richard Ciccone
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

Of all the athletic clichés, none is more accurate than the excruciatingly fine line between success and failure.

In so many contests of sport, the line is measurable.

It can be the putt that lips out, barely a half inch or less from success.

It can be the slider that moves a few inches to the center of the plate so that Yankee ninth-inning  heroics join World Series lore.

It can be a three-point basket that rattles the rim before spinning away or the slightest fraction of time separating two sprinters at the tape.

Or a football rocking quietly two yards from the end zone where it was dropped.

For all the momentous exploits of athletes and coaches it is curious that some of the best remembered are those most narrow of failures: the ball that rolled between Bill Buckner's legs in 1986, the hanging curve that Ralph Terry threw to Bill Mazeroski in 1960, Jack Dempsey's 1927 "long count," and perhaps, if the Yankees prevail, the back-to-back ninth inning homers yielded by Byung Hyum Kim.

Every team, every school, has it's regrettable moment of failure that often lives as long as dozens of more triumphant times because it represents the most disappointing aspect of all endeavor: we could have won.

Coaches are fired quickly when they go through a few seasons of hapless battering. Pitchers who don't find the plate don't last long enough to be remembered.

It is more agonizing when a Randy Johnson enters the post season not as the most dominating pitcher in baseball but as the one who had lost seven straight playoff appearances because he was expected to win.

Notre Dame is expected to win.

For five years under Bob Davie it hasn't won enough. That might be reason enough to replace him but Notre Dame thankfully doesn't act like Alabama or Auburn.

Davie's won-loss record is not why he will be replaced although despite its lofty preaching about total excellence rather than bowl appearances the powers that run Notre Dame know the financial realities of 4-7.

 In a season that has eerily been reminiscent of the Gerry Faust era, Notre Dame keeps losing games it has a chance to win. That is not due to the combination of talent or preparation or play calling or turnovers or luck.

 It is a disease.

When teams repeatedly lose games they should or could win it becomes contagious and a new set of recruits can't change it because the leftovers have learned how to lose. It is far easier to recruit the best quarterback or linebacker than it is to change the attitude of 85 players who work hard, risk injury, promise victory and somehow don't know how to claim it.

Nothing in Notre Dame history better exemplifies what a winning attitude is than the arrival in 1964 of Ara Parseghian who inherited players that had just gone 2-7 and had won only 15 games in the previous four years. He taught them how to win and they came within two minutes of an unbeaten season and a national championship which he got around to picking up two years later.

The whole business of how the talent drain is hurting some schools and helping others doesn't matter when a team knows how to win, or forgets it.

Virginia Tech, an upstart power that was ranked No. 4 only two weeks ago, was thrashed Saturday by the worst team Notre Dame has seen all year, Pitt. That should make supporters of both schools wonder.

 In the Faust era, when Notre Dame honorably resisted the pressures to fire the coach before the end of his promised five years, Notre Dame was not short on talent. Notre Dame was not short on enthusiasm. Notre Dame was not short on integrity.

But Notre Dame came up short on the scoreboard in the most unimaginable and inopportune ways. In short, if there was a way to lose they found it.

Bob Davie has recruited talent, provides enthusiasm, maintains integrity and undoubtedly believes as Gerry Faust did that he is the victim of bad luck. Strangely, bad luck doesn't seem to happen in Florida.

The Davie teams act like the Faust teams.

In the 2000 opener, Notre Dame took Nebraska into overtime and everyone took heart. Notre Dame should have taken the game instead. In both the 2000 and 2001 games against Michigan State, Notre Dame found a way to lose when it should have not only won, but was the better team.

There is no sense rehashing the last two games. They should have been victories.

The last two games erased some of the fundamental criticisms about the coaching. They found the right quarterback. They know how to build an offensive plan. They have capable skilled players.They don't know how to win.

They need someone to teach them.


(F. Richard Ciccone, Notre Dame '61, is former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and a noted author whose most recent work is, "Royko: A Life In Print." He is a contributor to IrishEyes.)

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