Alpha Male: Charlie Weis

My friend Tim has a HUGE head. Combine that with thick black hair and a graying goatee, a five o'clock shadow that reaches to the tops of his cheekbones, a blocky torso leading to an incongruously small backside and short legs and it adds up to nearly 300 pounds of pure simian silverback.

An impression only enhanced by a trip to the Bronx Zoo once where a REAL silverback in the gorilla exhibit, a true alpha male, went by the improbable name of Timmy (resulting in a lifetime of knuckle-dragging jokes at my friend's expense).

I was thinking of Tim the other day and, subsequently, of Timmy. And because, as Sept. 2 approaches with agonizing sluggishness, I view everything through the prism of Notre Dame football, I was reflecting on our own alpha male. As in, we finally have one. But Charlie Weis' ascension to the role, long-awaited and fiercely celebrated during his short tenure, has led to an acceleration in the normal Notre Dame media cycle.

The traditional cycle, in which media portrayals of Notre Dame progress through predictable stages from requiem to redemption to dominance to backlash, seems to have short circuited this time. In less than two years' time we have skipped the dominance stage and jumped directly to backlash (in part, with a good shove from the hometown paper). Why?

Since the ignominious end of Lou's brilliant run we have been without a silverback, a leader who engenders worship and hatred rather than pity. Davie was out of his league from the beginning. His propensity to bemoan his team's lack of talent (especially in relation to the MSU juggernaut) and his steadfast adherence to the thesis that it was the administration that prevented him from getting more, doomed his attempt to assert his dominant status.

Willingham, on the other hand, had some of us (yours truly included) fooled. We mistook inscrutability, a stilted manner of speech and a pedigree from one of Monk's aspirational peers for depth and character. But when things started going wrong his words were revealed for the meaningless blather they were. And he didn't blame the players' lack of talent, he saved his disapprobation for their execution, leaving his own unexamined. His passivity on the recruiting trail mirrored his failure to reach alpha level forcing him west to seek the top dog status he could never muster in South Bend.

Then came Charlie. From his very first appearance as the face of Notre Dame football he asserted himself and made a promise.

"You're gonna have an intelligent, hard-working, nasty football team."

There are many reasons that contribute to the seemingly short honeymoon Notre Dame has enjoyed in the press. There is the messy Willingham divorce, the hiccup in the Fiesta Bowl and the simple, traditional hatred of ND set against a backdrop of all-pervasive media. Don't underestimate the effect of the emergence of the blogosphere. Fans now have access to the thoughts of other hardcore fans of their team and links to the thoughts of fans of hated rivals. All in real time, with virtually no filter. Short of traveling to an away game, there was very little opportunity to be bothered by the ravings of one fanbase or another ten years ago, or even five, and then you only had to deal with the yahoos in your section. Now it's an onslaught of opinion. Often message board and blog posts are picked up by traditional outlets and reported as news. The evolution of media has speeded up EVERY news cycle, not just Notre Dame's.

These are all reasons the feel-good stories of last year and early this summer seem to have given way to pettiness and groundless criticism, especially in the excruciating lead up to the first game of the season.

But more than anything else, opposing team's fans, media and the simply jealous now have to contend with a traditional power in the hands of a focused leader. From that first press conference and those words to his obvious command of detail to his establishing himself as the sole voice of the program to his killer offense, Charlie served notice to all challengers that OUR silverback has returned. As a result, the rest of the pack has become fearful. Their place – that of programs like Ohio State, USC, Michigan, LSU, Auburn, Texas and the rest of the contenders – is suddenly in doubt, all due to Charlie. If our expected success follows, the Notre Dame program will regain its own alpha male status at the head of the college football pack, leaving the others searching for a mate.

After Aug. 31, thankfully, writers will have games to write about. After that date it becomes all about performance. Dominance is won or lost along with football games. Each win will add another silver hair and make it more difficult to criticize. A loss or two more than expected will open the floodgates of media cynicism and possibly tilt the cycle all the way to requiem.

Either way, it's been a long off season. Let the games begin.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories