Love, Loss, and the Fighting Irish

One of the things I like about local man-about-town Ben Mahony is that I have managed to construct a solid friendship with him despite scant regard for logistics.

I have spoken to him on the phone less than half a dozen times and we have never gone for a hike. But we do frequent the same haunts — where we typically meet by coincidence, prop our elbows on the counter, and discuss matters of socio-economic importance with ever-diminishing coherence.

Another thing I like about Mahony is that he is of Irish-Catholic descent. I’ve always had an anthropological fascination with his heritage and he’s provided me with a valuable portal into the traditions of his people.

So about a month ago, when Mahony informed me that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish would be playing in the BSC National Championship football game on January 7, I knew I had to watch the match with him — even if it meant engaging in the usually-scorned art of event planning. After all, the last time Notre Dame won a National Championship was January 1989 when Lou Holtz led the team to a victory over West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.

Arrangements were made to watch the game at Megan Hill’s apartment and prior to kick-off we plunked ourselves down on her sofa, poured a couple sippers of Jameson, and ate her delicious chili.

When the coach of Alabama — Notre Dame’s opponent — was featured in a pre-game interview, Mahony muted the television and we watched a YouTube clip of legendary Irish coach Knute Rockne instead.

“When we get ‘em on the run we’re gonna keep ‘em on the run,” said Rockne. “We’re gonna go, go, go, go and we’re not gonna stop until we go over that goal line.”

An inspiring speech to be sure, but one that was, unfortunately, delivered in 1928. The 2013 Fighting Irish didn’t “go over that goal line” once in the first half, and ended up losing 42-14 to a superior Alabama squad. The bottle of Jameson bore the brunt of our dejection.

My disappointment was superficial but Mahony’s ran deep. Whereas I was introduced to Fighting Irish football through the film Rudy sometime in the mid-90s, Mahony grew up with the ghosts of Notre Dame. The mythology of the team courses through his veins. He trudged home like a soldier who’d lost a friend in battle.

Yet strangely, I envied him. Much like our barstool discussions of Catholicism, I had once again been rendered an anthropologist — an outsider looking in at a phenomenon I could only understand antiseptically. It was Mahony who felt the defeat, while I pontificated about it academically.

As he shuffled into the Yukon night I thought of Garth Brooks’ song “Standing Outside the Fire.”

To really give your whole self to something is to risk agonizing defeat, marrow-draining disappointment, and almost certain heartbreak.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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