A Practical Man

Last year, the Discovery Channel conducted a survey asking viewers to rank the greatest Americans.

They built a series of shows around revealing the list and, as usually happens in regard to list shows, it had me totally captivated and so angry that the cat was giving me a seriously wide berth (for perspective on this, the list had Oprah three spots ahead of Thomas Jefferson. Not just in the top 25. AHEAD of him. I know, I know. She got the entire country reading again. Perhaps our newly literate society should reacquaint itself with the author of the FREAKING DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE!)

To my utter dismay, Benjamin Franklin came in fifth. Rational arguments could be made for three of the four men above him: George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. But I'm sorry, while I happen to be a fan of Ronald Reagan, his presence in the top spot (greatest American of ALL TIME, mind you) proved yet again the perspicacity of the journalist H.L. Mencken when he famously said, "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." It was simply embarrassing.

But back to Franklin. There may not be one man responsible for a wider breadth of accomplishment than Ben Franklin. Leaving aside his considerable contributions as a statesman and theoretical scientist, he may just have been the most practical man ever. He invented or created such useful things as bifocals, the lightning rod, the odometer, and the Franklin stove. He found and mapped the Gulf Stream, founded the first U.S. hospital, started the first library, the first police and fire department. He is an eminently practical man and, as such, one of my heroes.

I found out yesterday that an Internet message board is a difficult place to be a practical man.

It's especially difficult when Notre Dame's recruiting momentum has screeched to a halt and murmurs of dissatisfaction have turned into shouts of outrage – or, at least, as close to outrage as they can get without directly charging Coach Weis with bungling this year's recruiting effort. There are some harsh critics of ND's standing right now, but no one is willing to go that far. Yet.

The tone of recent posts on the subject suggests that day is coming. All depending on the outcome of the actual process, of course, and not our premature, and relatively uninformed, speculation.

While the concerns of IE members about recruiting are varied and wondrous, posts on the subject tend to break down one of two ways. Either, "Benn, Little, Barksdale, Best, [plug in name of high school stud here] are obviously going somewhere else. Charlie better get some more offers out right now. We are NOT going to be able to contend for a national championship the way this thing is playing out." Or, "I trust that Charlie and his staff know what they are doing. He has many aces up his sleeve and this will all work out fine in the end."

I don't subscribe wholeheartedly to one camp or the other on this (though my tendency is to lean toward trusting a coach who has gotten most things right since he stepped on campus). My main point here is that I engaged in a thread yesterday where each of these camps was represented because I felt compelled to ask a question of representatives of the negative side of this argument.

As a practical man, one of my stock responses to people who are complaining or griping about a situation, whether those gripes are valid or not, is "O.K. What now?"

I asked this of the recruiting pessimists, many of whom seem on the edge of panic, because I'm sincerely interested in the answer. Suppose your worst fears come true? We get shut out at defensive tackle, Benn inexplicably chooses Illinois, Martez follows Ben Martin to Ohio St. Chris Donald stays home to go to Tennessee. What if, in spite of both your worrying and the optimists' faith, all this happens?

What has your worry accomplished? You were right. Now what? Can you do anything to change what has happened? No. Do you have any sway with the coaching staff to make sure it never happens again? No.

This is the great downside to fandom, to emotional investment. In the end, regardless of how much energy you put into analyzing recruiting, it doesn't matter. You are powerless.

Your choices are, wait until the situation improves or stop following the situation. Hopefully, your emotional investment is rewarded in the future (as it was in the last 62 seconds of the UCLA game). If it isn't, though, your blood pressure will thank you to stop getting so worked up in the meantime. When signing day has come and gone and Notre Dame did or did not meet your arbitrary expectations you can be suitably elated or depressed then.

Predictably, not everyone was able to see the merits of my argument. The sentiment of those not in agreement was "What the hell do you think a message board is for?"

It's a good point. And, perhaps hypocritically, my practical response to people kvetching about the current state of recruiting does not also extend to evaluating the actual performance of the team on game day. I don't get impatient with long treatises on the deplorable state of the defense or explorations of why the offense isn't as good as we thought. How the actual season plays out is visually documented for all to see and pass judgment on. You've earned the right to do that by sitting through every minute of the eight games ND has played so far.

But to me, recruiting is different. And I get VERY impatient with people who are charting our success years in advance on the merits of a recruiting class that isn't assembled. Recruiting is conducted in private with only the hunches of men about the feelings of boys there to provide evidence for evaluations of events they cannot possibly predict.

I hope Ben would agree with me. That would be cool.


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