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Touchdown Jesus: Faith and Fandom at Notre Dame Hardcover – October 4, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In his nuanced account of the 2004 Notre Dame football season that saw the firing of head coach Ty Willingham, Eden, a class of '97 Irish alumni, weaves a story staggering in breadth: the culture at the relatively small university where religion and football have all but merged, the team's expansive and dedicated fanbase, and the relationship of spirituality and sheckels. By visiting tailgate parties where Irish fans-between beers-celebrate Mass, and using postings from Notre Dame fan websites and chatrooms, Eden captures the Notre Dame community's dwindling enthusiasm for Willingham, who, upon his 2002 hiring, was viewed as a "messiah coach." But as the 2004 season progressed and a championship slid farther away with each game, fans, benefactors and trustees made clear their unhappiness, and Willingham was fired. Eden plays several interesting angles on the controversial decision, including the impact of the team's successes on merchandising revenue-so lucrative an income that the school has trademarked the word "Irish." Neither a love letter to his Alma Mater nor a dirge for the glory that was, this is one of the rare football books that will appeal even to those who've never touched a pigskin.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There are only about 100,000 living graduates of Notre Dame, but there are millions of die-hard fans who consider their rooting interest in Notre Dame football a tangible connection to the institution. Eden, a 1997 Notre Dame grad, coveres the 2004 version of Notre Dame football in depth and supplies a historical context for the building turmoil that resulted in the ouster of third-year-coach Ty Willingham. In 2002, his first year, Willingham guided the team to an 8-0 start and was hailed as the man who could bring back the glory years of Rockne and Parseghian. Though he includes numerous anecdotes, many quite humorous, regarding the fans and their devotion to the team, Eden's focus is on the tension that exists among the theocratic administration, the athletic department, the real alums, and the fanatic fans. Has the university fomented turmoil through its frequent firing of coaches, or has a demanding fan base driven the school to take action? It's probably an unanswerable question, but Eden provides a richly detailed basis for discussion. Expect significant interest; Notre Dame followers are everywhere. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
However, parts of the book stuck with me over the years, to the point that I decided to reread it. I discovered a depth that I had missed the first time around. The author paints some indelible portraits of representatives of wealthy alumni/trustees, highly educated priest/administrators living under vows of poverty, tough children of poor Catholic immigrants, a massive nationwide network of subway alumni and their Internet communities and upper-middle class students with the SAT scores to get into Notre Dame.
The most surprising part is how many intimate personal interactions there are among these representatives of radically different socio-economic groups: the New York beat cop who pals around with the President of Notre Dame, the widow from Chicago in the Notre Dame football Hall of Fame simply for being a fan, the high-ranking priest in his 60s shooting hoops in the gym with kids in their teens and early 20s and the unlikely close friendships formed over beers in the parking lot before the game, and in Internet forums. This is not an alliance of disparate groups to support a common ideal, this is an integrated community.
Touchdown Jesus is firmly anchored in this micro-analysis supported by personal interviews, which gives it authority when it reaches out to discuss the Catholic immigrant experience in America, the development of professionalized college football and the politics of running a world-class university with a strong religious character attached to one of the most famous and profitable athletic teams in the world.
I recommend this highly even if you have little interest in Notre Dame or college football or anything that happened in 2004. In 1967, a Catholic University graduate student named Eliot Liebow decided to hang out on 11th and M Street NW in Washington for 18 months, and write a book about the people he met. The result, Tally's Corner, remains a classic not because anyone still cares about people and events of a random street corner 46 years ago, but because Liebow's close observation and writing skill managed to make sense of large issues starting from a narrow focus. Scott Eden has managed something similar in this entertaining and enlightening work.
If you have not attended a game in South Bend, this book will make you feel as if you have never missed one.
The pull of the place to folks who have never attended a class at any University is attempted to be put in words....It is a must read for a College Football fanatic.
There are, of course, interviews with alumns (subway and graduated) and their reactions throughout Notre Dame's long history. But these provide some buffer and outsiders' perspective to chapters that delve deep into the University's financials, or pieces together administrative politics from interviews with Holy Cross priests and press script transcripts. Most memorable were the sections detailing Notre Dame's history in ways I had never once heard or read of in my four years. Detailing the fans at ND-Army games in Yankee stadium, Rockne's avoidance of playing other Catholic schools, and pre-Hesburgh administrations are just three quick examples of some of my favorite stuff. Where and how Scott dug this up will surely be a question many "know-it-all" fans and Observer sports columnist should be asking.
Most interesting (to me) was Scott's investigation into the uber-popular fansites like NDNation that so many fans belong to. He neither condemns it nor condones it; the book gives a fair, unhysterical overview of the process, text, and reaction to the internet-fueled "Call For Change" movement but also gives a lot of Monk's view of this growing mobocracy and their inability to ever be fully satiated. Most of the topics are dealt in this similar light: I walked away feeling there are shades of gray about online fandom, academe aspiration, subway alumni, and collegiate football.
Scott's ability to create a richer, detailed story stands out in a genre that seems to be content playing up all the same tried stories at a superficial level to the fans to sell copies on game day. (see: Return to Glory) The book is appropriately long, but ends right when you feel you've had about enough Notre Dame for awhile. His prose is thoughtful, investigative fair mixed with interview quotes that do not shy away from the profane and the profound.