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Football, Fandom and 'Friday Night Lights'

Manti T'eo #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waves to the crowd as he leaves the home field for the last time after a 38-0 win against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
Manti T'eo #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waves to the crowd as he leaves the home field for the last time after a 38-0 win against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

I understand why some people aren't into sports. They can be boring. There's a lot to keep track of. Worst of all, they can be heartbreaking. Yet, despite the ongoing potential for heartbreak, sports are a way of life for many.

I went to the (sometimes) illustrious University of Notre Dame. Its football team has become a sort of American entertainment institution.NBC Sports believes in the team's power to draw a viewing audience so much that it will air all home games until at least 2015. A pre-presidential Ronald Reagan portrayed a Notre Dame football player and earned himself a lifelong catchphrase.

And then there was the true story of 5'6" walk-on famously played by Sean Astin in the movie Rudy.

Notre Dame football has been a thing of cinematic drama for decades, and the current season has all the makings of a classic sports movie. At the beginning of the season, most people had written the team off. They hadn't been #1 since the early '90s. They hadn't won a national championship since before I was born. The Fighting Irish were, in a word, underdogs.

As if that's not enough, set aside an ailing team and focus on a major player: Manti Te'o, the senior linebacker and potential Heisman candidate who could have gone pro this year, but instead chose to stick with his team. A month into the season, his grandmother and his girlfriend died within hours of each other. Instead of sitting out that weekend's game against the Michigan State Spartans, he played. And won.

Fast-forward to this past weekend. Third-ranked Notre Dame easily defeated Wake Forest. Then everything fell into place for a classic sports movie climax: No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon lost, making the Fighting Irish the only undefeated team in the country. For the first time in the school's history, it was ranked No. 1 in the BCS rankings.

Enter the villain: the USC Trojans, Notre Dame's arch-rivals and final opponents of the regular season. They are the only team that stands between Notre Dame and a BCS championship bid. It's a classic face off between good and evil.

This Saturday will be a lot like an episode of Friday Night Lights. Coach Kelly, in lieu of Coach Taylor, will rally around the ragtag team of kids he whipped into shape. Instead of chanting "Clear Eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose," he will tell them each to "Play like a champion today."

I will be an absolute wreck.

My impending heart attack aside, this week I'm going to soak in the fact that right here, right now, we are No. 1. The end of this story hasn't been written yet. The good news: there are no spoilers. The bad news: even if we win, there's still the championship and several more weeks of stress ahead of me. I feel like I'm living in one of my favorite TV shows, and let me tell you, despite riding a days-long wave of adrenaline, it's a lot better than being on the other side of the screen.

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