Optimism Takes a Break

In 1977, Ken Olsen, the founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. said, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." DEC, which was an innovative technology company at the time, followed its founder's lead and concentrated on mini-computers for the scientific and engineering communities, ignoring the greatest technological leap since the invention of television.

It was one of the most astonishing examples of poor corporate planning and lack of executive vision ever recorded. There are days, though, when I wish Olsen's version of reality had come to pass. That Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had gone to work for Whirlpool and Maytag and competed over the next big development in washing machines. That Time Magazine had chosen E.T. as its Man of the Year in 1982 instead of the personal computer. Some days I even wish that Al Gore had never invented the Internet.

James Wilson made a verbal commitment to play football yesterday at the University of Southern California. That makes yesterday one of those days.

From 1986 when I entered Notre Dame to as recently as the beginning of this decade, this would not have been a problem for me. I roared at every great play and agonized over every bad break and blunder of every game. But during the time span between the beginning of January and sometime during the summer when the annual Street & Smith College Football Preview magazine hit the newsstand, I was forced to concentrate on other things.

I saw movies, played lousy golf, chased girls on Cape Cod, didn't catch many, found my first real job, got fired, went to graduate school, found another job, did better this time, moved to New York City, drank 16 oz. cans of Budweiser at Brother Jimmy's on White Trash Wednesdays. I squeezed a lot of life into those eight months every year. I could only feebly attend to my ND football jones in tiny doses each month when the new Blue & Gold Illustrated showed up in my mailbox.

Ten years ago I would have been blissfully unaware of James Wilson until he showed up in two or three years when the Trojan offense was introduced at the beginning of an NBC or ABC telecast. Given the anonymity of offensive linemen, I probably would have used that moment to replenish my beer and NEVER have been aware of him.

That is no longer the case.

In 2001 I stumbled across my first Notre Dame message board. In the interval since, there might be a cumulative two months of days that I did not log on to one site or another just to see what was up. Even during the offseason, when the only thing to talk about is recruiting. Obsessively.

The thing is, I LOVE the access to information we have now. I love the conjecture on the boards regarding who might be coming and who might not. I love the work that everyone at Irish Eyes does. I love hearing from the recruits themselves on Power Hour. I love the tidbits that come from other Scout sites (even if it's misleading, inaccurate or just plain wrong). I love the guesses, both informed and wild. I love screaming at the monitor in disagreement, amazed someone could have typed what they just did. I love it all.

Right up until a recruit we really need chooses another school. Then the board becomes unreadable to me.

If the response doesn't devolve instantly into "this kid just made the biggest mistake of his life," (which, in the case of Wilson, it thankfully did not) posts in the immediate aftermath of an announcement that does not go our way fall into two main categories:

1) This is horrible. It could not come at a worse time. This recruit was not only vital to our overall recruiting effort, but is probably the one player who would have ensured glorious victory for the next four years. Who's going to play defensive tackle?


2) This is clearly not the end of the world. We're doing very well so far. Didn't we sign the number one recruit in the country from right under Pete Carroll's nose? Could we please wait until signing day to pass judgment on the success or lack thereof of the 2007 recruiting class? Let's move on.

Not to piss off half my audience here, but I find myself sympathetic to the second group's position.

I know the pessimists pay their monthly subscription like everyone else and one of the main functions of a message board is to provide a place to vent frustration. Being emotionally invested in a situation often leads to that. I just tire of it quickly. It actually chases me from the site.

Since I don't ever want to get fired again, that's probably not the worst thing in the world. But hiding while all the Chicken Littles and Eyores invade my lively little corner of cyberspace is annoying. More frustrating than that, though, is the utter lack of perspective of the totality of Notre Dame's situation at this moment in time. Are we not in better shape right now than we were a year ago at this time? Two years ago? Ten? Reading today about our ghastly recruiting effort, mostly what I felt was disbelief that we could finally be in such capable hands, yet so many could find so much to criticize.

It is the flip side of the highest expectations. The assumption is, now that we have taken the first steps toward straightening out the mess of the past decade, everything will fall perfectly into place. We'll get every recruit we want. We'll win every game.

The fact is, we won't.

Are you concerned about how recruiting is going? In August? Seven MONTHS before signing day? That's fine. You have every right to express that concern. Just let me know when Joseph Barksdale is announcing. Maybe I'll play some lousy golf that day.

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