Father Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame, prepared this statement of his philosophy of football for an undergraduate magazine, The Scholastic, where it appears this week. In earlier articles for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, he defended the proposition that academic and athletic excellence are compatible. Now, with the U.S. still simmering over the tie game with Michigan State, Father Hesburgh warns of the dangers of prolonged seasons and the "increasing orgy" of bowl games.
Another football season has passed, another great and even fantastic one, thanks to Ara Parseghian, his staff and his stalwart warriors, who practiced hard, played hard against the best and solidified a proud Notre Dame tradition of doing everything with style, spirit and excellence.
A football season is a lot like life in microcosm. The season begins with warm and sunny days filled with optimism and hope. As the season progresses, the sunshine wanes, the warmth diminishes, and optimistic hope is qualified by the hard, lifelike realities of fierce competition, unexpected injuries and the innate difficulty of sustained human effort. The days grow colder, the rains come and optimistic vision becomes more realistic. It is always easier to declare the top position in anything than to reach it. While hope perdures, ultimate victory is again a fickle lady, ever to be wooed with all one's might, but never in this life to be securely or forever won. Each week is a new encounter; each season a new challenge. Life is like that, too, because it is spent in time, amid all the vicissitudes of personal trials and existential difficulties. Anyone who thinks otherwise lives in a dream world, where reality has been entirely replaced by fantasy. But a football season, like life, is authentic and real, as well as somewhat fantastic.
So another football season passes, with all its very real excitement, effort, hope, youthful optimism and ultimate success, the national championship. You have lived with it and through it. The cheers all fade away into the dusk. The tissue-draped trees and lawns are cleaned up again for the last time. We return to the real and hard world of books, quizzes and work yet to be done before the Christmas vacation begins. The stadium, stark and silent, is etched against a gray, wintry sky. Close by, the library beckons with its myriad lights.
Was it all worthwhile, in this time and in this place? I think so, if we see the deeper meaning of it all. Reality is enriched by fantasy, if fantasy is allowed to illuminate reality, but not to engulf it. In another age, as harsh as our own, there were jousts and jesters, tournaments and trials of skill and strength to lighten the harshness and illumine the lessons of life. A football season has all the same qualities for our day. Life would be dull indeed without these interludes which, in their own mid-20th-century American way, can explain life to us, make it more deeply understandable and, therefore, livable.
I say all of this in the face of those who, in a seemingly superior intellectual fashion, depreciate, denigrate and deplore the football season in our land. Collision on the gridiron is still better, I believe, than violence in the streets. Both have their own relationship to equality of opportunity in the United States, one positive and one negative.
I would hope that in the larger university community in the United States we might see the football season, with all its appeal to young and old alike, in the perspective of a larger meaning of learning, and education, and life. The football season can, of course, be overdone, wrenched out of all perspective, so that even the fantastic becomes the phantasmagoric, as is done by prolonging the season unduly, indulging in an increasing orgy of bowl games, the psychedelic dreammakers of collegiate football.
Kept within proper bounds of time, place and emphasis, I believe strongly that the football season is indeed worthwhile. The noise is ephemeral and does die away. The display, the spectacle, the color, the excitement linger only in memory. But the spirit, the will to excel and the will to win perdure. These human qualities are larger and much more important than the passing events that occasion them, just as the ebb and flow of all our daily efforts add up to something greater and more enduring if they create within each one of us a person who grows, who understands, who really lives, who does not merely survive, but who prevails for a larger, more meaningful victory in time and, hopefully, in eternity as well.