But if it's not one thing, it's another. The people who despise Notre Dame football will always have it out for the Irish. Head coach Charlie Weis has brought fresh life back to the program this season but still people seem to want to criticize Notre Dame's every move. The team can silence a lot of doubters with a win over Ohio State in Monday's Fiesta Bowl. Weis has some thoughts on why people love to hate the Irish.
"It's like the Yankees," Weis said. "I grew up in Jersey as a Yankee fan and I never understood that either why everyone either loved them or hated them. I think that because Notre Dame is an independent, is not affiliated with a conference, has it's own TV deal with NBC, it's own radio deal with Westwood One, there are a lot of people that might get jealous.
"Why wouldn't Notre Dame do what they're doing? Some people feel it's a resentment but it shouldn't be because that's just being smart. It's not being dumb. Anyone who goes to Notre Dame and walks the campus for four years knows it some place special."
*Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman enters the Fiesta Bowl with 1195 rushing yards on the season, tops for any player on either team. The sophomore from Akron, Ohio is averaging a hefty 5.4 yards per carry. Pittman and quarterback Troy Smith, who average a combined 163 yards on the ground, can create headaches for an opposing team's run defense. Notre Dame defenders have come away impressed by Pittman's production.
"For starters, he's a very tough runner," Irish linebacker Brandon Hoyte said, who is part of a defense that is surrendering 119 rushing yards a contest. "That's the one thing you see on film. He reminds me of (Michael) Hart from Michigan. He's always keeping his feet moving. This guy hits the hole. The offensive line is very physical. You better bring your lunch pail to work against this group."
Pittman is not the only reason why the Buckeyes are racking up 189 yards per game on the ground. The men opening up holes for him have a little bit of experience under their belts. Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who also coaches the offensive line, is appreciative of the work the front five has done for this Ohio State team.
"They've played well,' Bollman said. "They are a pretty experienced outfit. There are four fourth-year guys and one third-year guy. They are all Ohio guys. They are all pretty close and do a pretty good job. In that position, experience and that knowledge to draw from is really, really important. Overall, their knowledge of the game and the communication between them is good."
*This will be only the fifth time in each school's history that Notre Dame and Ohio State have met on the football field. The series is currently tied at 2-2 with the Irish winning the first two contests while the Buckeyes came back to win the next two ballgames in a home-and-home series in the mid-1990's. Two powerhouse football programs rich in tradition and history and geographically close to one another would seem to meet more frequently. It leads to this question: if it were up to Irish defensive end Victor Abiamiri as to whom Notre Dame would play more often, who would it be?
"Notre Dame-Penn State would be a good match up," Abiamiri said. "They played back in the early 1990's and the Snow Bowl game was great. The tradition in both programs and with Joe Paterno being there, it would be a wonderful match up."
Abiamiri won't have to wait long to get his wish. The Irish host Penn State September 9th in the season opener at Notre Dame Stadium.
*Weis took the Irish players to downtown Phoenix on Tuesday night to watch the Insight Bowl between Arizona State and Rutgers. As many can painfully remember, Notre Dame played in that very same bowl last season and was beat by Oregon State 38-20. Weis rented out the Friday's Grill in the outfield in order for the players to enjoy the game. The trip was well worth it for the team.
"It was fun," Hoyte said. "When you play sometimes, you forget what it means to be a fan. We're sitting with the fans and when a guy makes a play, all we hear is, ‘Oh my God, what was he thinking?' I wonder what they are saying about us when we're playing. It was really cool to relax and just being able to enjoy the game."
The contrast between last year's bowl game and this season's BCS contest is one more example of how far this team has come. At the Insight Bowl, the Irish did not have their new head coach on the sideline and the program was being bombarded by the media for the Tyrone Willingham firing. Now, Willingham is an after thought and Weis is primed to have Notre Dame in contention for more BCS bowl games down the road.
"It was weird," safety Tom Zbikowski said. "But you felt good because of how far we've come in one year. We were playing in that game last year and now we're in the Fiesta Bowl."
"One of the guys on the team said, ‘We've come a long way,'" Hoyte said. "If you really think about it and analyze this team, that's one thing that I've grown to realize. There is so much maturity and self-respect on this team because a lot of people would have caved in. We had a new coach coming in. This time last year, the things the media said about Notre Dame football we're horrible. They were saying we had no talent and they aren't going anywhere and start out 0-6. All our guys did was work harder. We pushed it harder than anyone else. That to me shows what hard work can accomplish."