The sleeper hit film of the summer of 2011, at least critically, was a bro-friendly rom-com titled "Crazy, Stupid Love." The movie starred Steve Carell playing a cuckolded husband, Cal, who has lost his mojo. At a singles bar, he meets uber-dude Ryan Gosling, Jacob, who gives him a harsh but candid scouting report:
"You're sitting there with a Supercuts hair cut, you're getting drunk on watered Vodka Cranberries like a fourteen-year-old girl and you're wearing a forty-four when you should be wearing a forty-two regular, you throw too many interceptions in the red zone, you fumble the ball on the one-yard line -- TWICE! -- and you've utterly forgotten how to win football games in California..."
Okay, I don't recall the scene verbatim, but you get the idea. Cal was once decisive enough and virile enough to land Julianne Moore (this was some time, apparently, before she was appearing in porn films with Dirk Diggler and after she had married Annette Benning), but he has lost his sense of himself. The years have absconded with his identity.
So along comes Jacob, who puts gel in his hair, teaches him to drink a cocktail without using a straw, and forces him to ditch his New Balance sneakers and khakis ("Be better than The Gap") in favor of Giorgio Armani jackets and asymmetrical helmets for his Shamrock Series contests.
Here's the problem: Cal's problem isn't that he needed a new image, that he needed cleats that match the Irish flag, that he needed to brand every game played and turn his entire being into the marketing group's wet dream. Cal just needed to return to being the best Cal that he could be.
Which brings us to the unveiling of the Notre Dame uniforms for their Shamrock Series contest versus Miami. Everything that is wrong with the Irish, their entire devolution as a program worthy of its mystique from 1988 to 2012, is visible in this game.
•In 1988 Miami, No. 1, visited Notre Dame, No. 3. Both were undefeated. The animosity, due to a series of butt-kickings Miami had administered earlier in the decade, including a 58-0 emasculation in 1985, was real. This year both schools are full-throttle myeh programs.
•In 1988 an enterprising senior in Dillon Hall, Pat Walsh, had an idea for a T-shirt. He printed up a few thousand "Catholics Vs. Convicts" T-shirts and made a bundle. Better, he ORGANICALLY provided the brand name for that game without the use of focus groups or marketing majors. This year Notre Dame is in control of "The Shirt", which, while benefiting charity, is an exercise in conformity. Worse, once upon a time, and SI's Rick Telander described them as such, Notre Dame students were "a generally restless, brainy and athletic group of wise guys (and not a few wise girls) who rise like fish to meal when it comes to slogan-painting and hero-bashing." Now they remind many of us alums too much of Niedermayer, Mandy and Babs, politely watching the contest as they remind themselves when their next Kaplan Review appointment.
•In 1988 Lou Holtz, the Notre Dame coach, didn't spend much time discussing uniforms before the game. Players such as Michael Stonebreaker and Chris Zorich --who turned his own jersey into a midriff-revealing half-shirt -- didn't care much how they looked. I doubt their current spiritual brother, Manti Te'o, cares either. But, he was trotted out for a photo op yesterday.
You watch all the desperate moves that Notre Dame football, which is 32-32 in its past 64 games, is making -- the Adidas-brokered "LOOK AT ME!" uniforms, the disco-gold helmets, the Freekbass video (Never forget!) and you wonder how long until the program gets breast implants and a red Lamborghini. A hair weave.
Listen, kudos to the Irish for holding our attention. Between the Shamrock Series uniforms -- which, actually, I don't even loathe -- and Rick Reilly's column on Tuesday a program that you won't find ranked higher than 24th in the preseason is No. 1 in our Twitter feed. NBC must be pleased.
On the other hand, Cal really never wanted to bang every divorcee in that singles bar and he was never going to have a torso that looked "Photoshopped." Cal just wanted to be who he used to be, the premium version of himself. Brian Kelly and his team might want to remember that.
Aesthetically, the uniforms are not that horrible. Culturally, though, they tell everyone that Notre Dame no longer thinks looking like Notre Dame is that special. Darth Vader never wore Tommy Bahama. The New York Yankees always wear their pinstripes at home and grays on the roads. Some brands are immaculate. Like the woman they're named after.
Another viewing of "Rudy?" No, thanks. A first viewing of "Crazy, Stupid Love" may be in order for Kelly & Co.