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November 8, 2012
Call it an “us against the world” mentality, or survival of the fittest, or thriving on negativity.
At home, the 2012 Fighting Irish have won five games by a total of 23 points. Away from home, Notre Dame has out-scored its four opponents, 141-29, although two of those venues - Dublin and Chicago - were Notre Dame user-friendly.
But the fact remains that in two hostile environments against two above-average football teams - Michigan State and Oklahoma - the Irish played some of their best football of the season, defeating the Spartans, 20-3, and overrunning the Sooners, 30-13.
“It’s understanding where we’re at, knowing the terrain, knowing that we’re not at home,” said linebacker Manti Te’o. “It’s just a heightened sense of knowing that all we have is each other.”
The next test is this weekend where, despite the home team’s 2-7 record, the Boston College fans will happily greet the undefeated Irish with all they have. The fact that it’s a night game will only add to the merriment.
“Personally, I like that underdog mentality when you go into someone else’s house,” said linebacker Dan Fox. “ There are people booing you when you jog out and everyone’s making remarks about my hair and things like that. So it’s something I kind of like.”
“I don’t really pay a whole lot of attention,” said even-keeled center Braxston Cave. “But I do love the hatred that comes with playing on the road. It’s makes for a real live environment.”
“I love playing on the road,” said nose guard Louis Nix. “I like going to different people’s stadiums. Everybody’s against you, all their fans are booing you?I love that kind of stuff.”
Not all of the Irish players are inclined to let the barbs simply roll off their backs. Some - particularly during pre-game when they can be a little less focused on the task at hand - enjoy the verbal exchanges with the fans.
“I hear some things that make me chuckle,” said running back Theo Riddick. “Somebody said something to (Robby) Toma and I remember laughing. It was at the Oklahoma game. (The fan) said something like, ‘I’ll see you guys back here in three plays.’ It just made me chuckle.”
Toma, all 5-foot-9 of him, is a frequent target.
“Personally, I love it,” Toma said. “Every stadium I go to, I get ripped by the crowd because of my size. But I look forward to what the opposing crowd has to say to me.”
Toma received a little extra attention in Norman.
“A guy started in on me, saying something about my chin hair, about how long I had been growing it, something childish. I came right back at him, and Theo and Cierre (Wood) lost it on the bench.
“We shouldn’t be doing that, but there are certain guys that have that on and off switch, and as long as we stay focused, I don’t see a problem with it.”
The abuse can be a bit more subtle.
“Sometimes it’s comments, sometimes it’s gestures,” smiled offensive tackle Zack Martin.
Most players have to learn how to deal with the crowd on the road before they settle in.
“It can be a little unsettling when you’re young,” Fox said. “You get kind of emotional and you just want to do the best you can, and sometimes that’s not the greatest mindset to have on the road. It’s going to be a battle no matter what. You just kind of (learn) how to handle your emotions.”
Familiarity with certain venues helps.
“The more you play, the more you come back to different places,” Fox said. “I’d already been to Michigan State, I’ve already been to BC, so it’s something that you get used to over the years.”
Riddick has learned to block it out as his profile and responsibilities to the team have grown.
“To be honest, it’s irrelevant to me,” said Riddick of the opposing fans’ chatter. “You’re going to get that regardless where you go. We’ve just got to stay focused and do what we have to do and we’ll be okay. I really pay no mind to it because once you let them get into your head, you don’t know what can happen.”
Nix, the always-affable Irish junior, was a bit taken aback by the source of one of the comments made during Notre Dame’s trip to Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
“One guy at Oklahoma called me fat and he was fat himself,” Nix said. “I didn’t like that. In my mind we should stick together. We’re both big guys, and you want to call me fat? I didn’t like that.”
That’s life on the road.
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