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Things of Little Importance

This past spring Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis was recorded saying some less than flattering things about the Michigan Wolverines. It wasn't in front of the general cavalcade of assembled media, but in front of a bunch of fans and donors who had forked over big bucks to attend the Blue and Gold luncheon and spring game. It was supposed to be a closed event. It was supposed to be just for the faithful. It was supposed to fire up Notre Dame's core donors and get people excited about their upcoming season. In that respect it was a success. People left excited about Notre Dame’s chances in the 2008 season. Some were even predicting going into the USC game undefeated.

Then, someone either too excited about the season or too dumb not to keep their little video camera tucked away, put Weis' comments up on the net for all to see. The result was a couple of "Oh yeah? Well same to you, too!" postings around the Mich-o-sphere, which appeared more the result of little news during the off season than any real interest in what Weis had to say. The general reaction among Michigan fans was "He said what? Really? What a dumbass. Ok, let’s grab lunch." Nothing more.

Now, despite the irrelevance of Weis’ comments, they’re back. Within 24 hours, four major news sources (ESPN, The Ann Arbor News, The Detroit Free Press, and The Detroit News) have all run substantially the same story. Two of them even start the exact same way (Ann Arbor News and Detroit News). It's a story about comments made five months ago affecting the present. But the real story in all of this is that there isn’t one. There is nothing to report on. There is nothing in Weis’ comments that have anything to do with this game. And more importantly, there is nothing in either team’s reaction to Weis’ “To Hell with Michigan” statement that warrants a quote or even a second glance.

It’s possible to claim that the reason we’re talking about this is Weis himself. Ever since arriving in South Bend he’s managed to be more of a headline than the teams he coaches. He’s quotable. Accessible. Admirably or Loatheably confident, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. And he’s the head coach of the nation’s premier independent football program. Face it, if he sneezes, someone’s going to report on it. He’s also presided over the worst Notre Dame season in modern history. In 2008 a lot is expected out of the Irish, but after a less than convincing 21-13 win over San Diego State, there aren’t many positives to focus on.

So back into the treasure trove of quotes the writers have delved. But Weis’ presence isn’t enough to justify dragging a five month old non-story out of the cobwebs. There are other reasons this came back and to stop there would be to tell half the lack of story.

Frankly, it’s not like Michigan has done anything to change the topic. Were Michigan 2-0 and in possession of a bona-fide starting quarterback, perhaps the stories would be different. If Michigan had shown signs of life against a mediocre Miami of Ohio team, or beaten a good but overrated Utah team, we’d be talking more about the positive changes in the program than about what Weis said in April. Perhaps if the coaches and players simply ignored the stupid “Did you hear what Weis said?” questions we’d be focusing on Michigan’s passing game or lack thereof. It’s possible if Rodriguez hadn’t been so overloaded with the buyout-litigation, learning a new team, recruiting from scratch, and so on that he would’ve ignored the initial comments and avoided giving them any credence.

The fact of the matter is neither team has given either fanbase much on the field to cheer or write about on this year. Sure there are stories, like the excellent one Brian unearthed on Brian Nowicki, Michigan’s new starting left tackle who was a 6’9” 380 pound walk-on who’s dropped 40 pounds, earned a scholarship and is now starting on Michigan’s line. There’s the sad yet heartwarming story of how Michigan’s team and players have rallied around freshman Elliot Mealer, who lost his father and girlfriend in a horrible car accident over the spring. Even the Canadian press got that one right. There’s the story of Michigan’s Jekyll and Hyde safety situation which alternates brilliant pass breakups with coverage errors that will eventually cost Michigan a game this year. Or maybe the story about how Notre Dame’s offensive line only paved the way 105 total rushing yards against a San Diego State team that gave up over 200 against D1-AA Cal Poly. But those are human interest stories or negative stories about your/our team. Why run those, they’re depressing or cut too close to the bone.

No. The unwashed masses don’t want to read things that actually have a bearing on the game or have some actual informative value. No. They want drama! They want meaningless antagonism! They want blood. Bring them blood and they’ll love you. As an added bonus, you don’t have to do any research! Just drag it out and slap a fresh headline on it like “U-M still recalls Weis' remarks.” Of course they do. You keep reminding them!

Bulletin board material is just that. Something you pin up in the weight room to get you to do that extra rep after three hours of listening to speed metal and doing power squats has you tapped out. It’s a reminder that you’re playing a rival. Past that, it’s nothing. To the unwashed masses, it’s something you can use to get excited about a game that, on paper, doesn’t seem to offer much to get excited about.

But if you’re vested in either team, or simply a college football fan, Weis’ comments offer nothing that is worthy of print, much less four main stream media outlets. They’re irrelevant. They have no bearing on this game. There are far better stories to cover. Far more interesting ones too.

If there’s one quote that deserves more airtime, it was delivered by Tim Jamison in responding to the whole, stupid affair. “I believe you talk with your pads and your helmets.”

I wish writers could remember this. What an opposing coach says in April is irrelevant in September. What is important is talking these young men do with their pads and helmets, and they’ve been doing it for two weeks. I wish the press would realize this. The lead into this weekend’s game would be a lot more interesting and a lot more informative if they did.