Cavalcade of Whimsy - The Notre Dame Tragedy
Posted Nov 2, 2010

On and off the field, Notre Dame is in great turmoil and could undergo a major change. Pete Fiutak, in the latest Cavalcade of Whimsy, looks at the sad and avoidable tragedy, violence in football, and why it's time to stop saying that Boise State, TCU, and Utah could beat anyone on a neutral field

Cavalcade of Whimsy

Nov. 2 - Week Nine

Past Cavalcades
- 2008 Season | 2009 Season 
- Jan 19, Part 1 - Oh those wacky coaches 
- Jan 19, Part 2 - The sucky 2009 season 
- Sept. 7,  The Marcell Dareus Issue
- Sept. 14, The Boise State Issue
- Sept. 21,  MSU's Wild Weekend
- Sept. 28,  Is Boise State the new Florida State or Miami?
- Oct 5, Oh, that wacky Les Miles
- Oct. 12, Why the Brett Favre situation matters
- Oct. 19, Is Oklahoma REALLY No. 1?
- Oct. 26,  What if all the underclassmen come back?

E-mail Pete Fiutak

- Week Nine Part 2 - Why isn't Nebraska getting punished for its loss to Texas? 

Sorry if this column sucks, it's not my fault … conditions were "unremarkable."

Declan Sullivan, 20, Buffalo Grove, Illinois. … Oh no you don't, Jack Swarbrick.

Don't say anything that even remotely makes it sound like the tragic death of Declan Sullivan was a fluke, an anomaly, or something that couldn't have been completely and totally avoided.

The Notre Dame athletic director was on record as saying conditions "couldn't have been more normal" when Sullivan went up into the tower. Unfortunately for Swarbrick's statement, there's the chilling tweet from Sullivan himself noting that conditions were most decidedly not calm.

"I guess I've lived long enough," Sullivan eerily deadpanned.

Yes, Sullivan should've decided on his own not to be up there with the gusts that made him worried enough to express his concern, but to not do his job would've flown in the face of everything most student-assistants do. It is a really, really big deal to be a part of the team like that for anyone who does the menial, behind-the-scenes work for a college football team. Anyone who films the practices, or helps with the water, or works on the equipment, or does any one of a bazillion other things that makes the machine go really is a part of the show, and to not go up in the tower, even on a gusty day and even with all the fears involved, isn't a part of the thought process. If anything, fighting through the adversity would been seen as a badge of honor, and that's why the adults should've taken over and not let him go up there in the first place on a day like that, and should've brought him down immediately once it became obvious that this was no normal day.

No, Swarbrick, there isn't a need for any committee to be formed or task forces to do major amounts of investigating. No, this isn't the time to start lawyering up, or talking garbage about how the weather seemed fine, or to spin this in any way, shape, or form, even if you're trying to say and do the right thing. There is no price tag that can be put on a kid's life, but you work with Sullivan's family behind the scenes and you pay far more than whatever seems fair because of the school's negligence, and you don't play this out in the media in any way.

You establish a scholarship fund in Sullivan's name so that one student-assistant can go to Notre Dame and be a part of the team. And you build a tower. A permanent structure that can be used for filming practices as a reminder of the sacrifice made in the name of Notre Dame football.

But if you're going to can a guy for fibbing on a résumé … No, firing Brian Kelly doesn't all of a sudden fix the situation.

It's not like Cincinnati is doing any better … Don't you dare. DON'T … YOU … DARE. Notre Dame, don't you use the Sullivan tragedy in any way as a convenient excuse to fire Kelly after a 4-5 start. We all know that if Notre Dame was 8-1 right now, Jason Whitlock would be the only one even suggesting that Kelly should be gone. If you want to fire him because of the Sullivan tragedy, that's one thing, and if you want to fire him for sucking at his job this year, that's another thing. Don't combine the two, and don't use Sullivan as an easy out.

The Crist injury certainly didn't help the cause … Tulsa 28, Notre Dame 27. That's why you never use a tragedy off the field as any reason for motivation on it. You honor the memory, but you don't attempt to use it.

"There's a lot to learn here. We don't have those answers today." - Swarbrick … So what's the lesson here? It's not that tower safety needs to be examined; it's that there's never any excuse for the senseless loss of life when the disaster could've been easily been avoided by smarter decisions.

How many people drove home less than sober from the Tulsa game?

How many people drove home a tad buzzed from all the college football games, all the bars and restaurants where they were watching, and all the parties and gatherings last Saturday?

If you're outraged over Sullivan's death, then channel that anger into better decisions if you ever choose to drink alcohol and then drive a car. His death was 100% completely and totally avoidable, as are the deaths of thousands of other kids who die every year because someone drinks or gets stoned and then decides it's okay to get behind the wheel. Throw in those who text, call, or do any one of a number of other distracting things when they should be paying attention to the road, and there are plenty of other young people out there who can be saved if other people didn't screw up.

"True. Don't forget, Phil was always our designated drunk driver." … NCAA, if you're going to get all up and hard when it comes to players talking to agents, and if you're going to ruin the college career of Dez Bryant for lying, and not because he did anything wrong, then make it a policy that a convicted DUI means an immediate end to a player's eligibility. Playing college football is a privilege, and Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon should be denied the honor if convicted. NCAA, set your standards higher and take a stand on issues that really matter. Set an example that DUIs and DWIs will never, ever be tolerated by student-athletes. Ever.

Brian Kelly to Charlie Weis, Charlie Weis to Tom Brady, Tom Brady to Bridget Moynahan, Bridget Moynahan to Peter Reigert in In The Weeds, Peter Reigert to Kevin Bacon in Animal House … Talk about your bad snowball coaching effects. Brian Kelly is having a rough year with a 4-5 record. He left Cincinnati, who's floundering under Butch Jones at 3-5. Jones left Central Michigan, who went from MAC Champion to 2-7 under Dan Enos.

Dr. Frankenstein: [singing] If you're blue, and you don't know where to go to, why don't you go where fashion sits...
… NFL players and apologists, stop saying that the reason people watch football is because of the violent collisions, like that's the only reason anyone tunes in. There's a word for those people: morons. They shouldn't be marketed to, catered to, or appeased in any way.

You know what's really cool? Watching a guy lying on the ground unconscious! And when he's twitching …. Wooo, awesome! A leg snapping, a knee bending and blowing out, and a dislocated shoulder, yeah, that's why we all turn on the TV! But there's nothing, NOTHING like when a player breaks his spine and has to be carted off the field and into a life of being fed through a straw …. FOOTBALL RULES!

You want a real party? Gather together old-time, old school football players, watch them try to walk ten feet, and then see who can remember what they had for dinner the night before. Oh, the laughs you will have! And then you and your friends can hold a fantasy draft to see which brains, upon examination after an early death, have the worst case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy! What fun!!!

To cap off the evening, gather around the fire and listen to the stories from the wives and girlfriends who get to spend their lives catering to their loved ones like they were infants since they can't move, can't think, and can't function thanks to all the repeated bruises their brains suffered.

Yes, it is okay to watch football, enjoy the hits, and not want the players to be a total wreck when they're done. Even the normal wear and tear ruins their bodies, so diminishing the brutal hits really isn't a bad thing.

Of course all football fans like the physical part of the game. A huge hit really is cool, to a point, but there's a difference between a guy getting flattened with a tremendous block or popped by a ball-jarring hit and a player suffering a major injury on a kill shot from some linebacker trying to make a highlight-reel play. And there's a difference between the physical nature of football and pure violence. Football players have enough problems once they stop playing, and they don't need more traumatic blows that go above and beyond the norm.

People watch football for their fantasy teams, their investments, and their rooting interests. They also watch for the intricacies of the sport, the strategy, and the chess game that makes the game itself so endlessly fascinating. They watch for the speed, the skill, and yeah, the hitting. But would the NFL be any less cool if players weren't getting blown up left and right? Not really.

You're a football fan. You should be past the need to watch games just to see guys get jacked up.

Aussie Aussie Aussie … Oye Oye Oye! … If you really wanted to end the concussion problem, eliminate pads and helmets. Try telling rugby players they aren't manly.

"Well, can you hang around a couple of minutes? He won't be long." … Tough guy NFL players, and especially you Mike Ditka types, here's the deal. You can talk all you want about how football is violent and how it's a sin to try to create a way to keep players from being as physical as possible if you'll then concede that no one owes the players a damn cent when they become physically useless once their careers are over. 

I came to cut you up/ I came to knock you down/ I came around to tear your little world apart … As of this moment, I vow not to keep saying that Boise State, TCU, and Utah could beat anyone on a neutral field. You know who can beat anyone on a neutral field? Everyone in the BCS Top 25.

Schedules do matter, and in fact, they're everything, but deep down, you know that. What does it say that 21 of the top 25 ranked teams are from BCS conferences, yet three of the top five aren't? It's not that hard, people. Boise State, TCU, and Utah don't play week in and week out schedules that the BCSers do, and while that's been repeated ad nauseum, it doesn't seem to sink in that the reasons those three teams are ranked so high are because they're good and because they only have to get up for a few games.

Normally level heads (cough … Herbstreit and Palmer … wheeeeez) have gone Boise State batty, brushing aside the 400-pound schedule in the room. Of course the Broncos could beat Auburn or Oregon or Alabama or Ohio State on a neutral field. So could South Carolina. So could Wisconsin. So could Virginia Tech. So could Stanford. THAT'S THE POINT. The BCS teams have to do this, and on the road in some cases.

Does Boise State go unbeaten if it has to play at Michigan State, at Iowa, at Michigan and Ohio State, like Wisconsin does? If you don't think the Broncos would win all four of those games, not to mention a home date against Arizona State, then you have your answer.

Does Utah beat Texas, and Oklahoma State, and Missouri in a three-game stretch, like Nebraska had to deal with, and then does it beat Oklahoma (most likely) in a Big 12 Championship? It might win three of those four games, but if you don't think it could win all four, along with the rest of the Big 12 slate, then you have your answer.

Does TCU, Boise State, or Utah go without a blemish facing at Arkansas, Florida, at South Carolina, Ole Miss, at Tennessee, at LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn, with six teams getting two weeks off to rest of and prepare for each showdown? If you don't think so, then you have your answer with where you're planning on putting Alabama if it wins out.

I've purchased enough Nike products in my lifetime to get the honor … I want to get on the Oregon play call board. The Ducks use a coded card to signal in the plays, using characters like the Burger King, and Scott Van Pelt, as part of the combination, and I want to be on there, too. I want my image (left) to be associated with a short pass designed to get a few yards and move the chains. Nothing flashy; I'm not asking for the LaMichael James 64-yard touchdown run play. Just a little 3rd-and-four pass.

"Well, there's no beating my Balls. They're made from a secret Schweddy Family recipe. No one can resist my Schweddy Balls." … Because there's so little joy in the world, I bring you the name of Buffalo sophomore WR Alex Neutz.

"Hard work isn't enough. Everyone works hard." … I'm asking for a three-week moratorium on the standard answer every player and coach comes up with whenever asked what they need to do to improve/prepare/go forward.

"We have to keep working hard."

It's a nice, nebulous phrase that implies that the work being done in one locker room of film room is any different than what's being done at every other program. Everyone's beating their heads against the wall to try to come up with a winning, productive football team, and it's about more than just working hard. It's an answer that doesn't mean anything, because it's basically implying that the guy or team will continue to do what they're always doing, but without providing any insight as to why.

I've always tried my best to pry further whenever I'm given that answer, pushing more into what "working hard" entails. Some players need to go over certain routes a bit more. Others need to do a better job of sniffing out an opponent's gameplan by watching more film. Whatever it is, I'm asking every sideline reporter and every interviewer to do more to get specific info whenever the player or coach is lazy with the answers.

And I'm still pushing for GameDay to come broadcast from my breakfast nook, but I'd rather have the honor of the Oregon play card … It's Year Two, Week Nine of my open lobbying of the ESPN College Football Final show guys to give me a helmet sticker and the signed T-shirt, suitable for framing. Why do I deserve one this week? My daughters like Smarties, Nerds and the other sugary candies, but they were presented with the option of Snickers, Reese's, and Sweet Tarts. I had to help the little one pick, and as all right-thinking trick-or-treaters know, there are two right answers and one glaring misfit. I sacrificed to make a three-year-old chick smile. And then I ate one of her Kit-Kats. And then she slugged me.

- Week Nine Part 2 - Why isn't Nebraska getting punished for its loss to Texas?