Michael J. Graham, S.J.
Being 90 miles down the road from Columbus, it was inevitable that we here in Cincinnati would get swept up in Game of the Century fever. Cincinnati Enquirer articles on area players now on the Michigan or Ohio State squads, and on households with divided Wolverines/Buckeye localities—like blue states and red states on a political map—added a dash of local color to the steady hum of ESPN hype. On campus, I seemed to see an extraordinary number of Michigan and Ohio State sweatshirts and ballcaps as the week before the game counted down. And though the outcome was less than satisfactory to this loyal son of the Maize and Blue, the BCS pundits say we might have a rematch. We shall see. I suspect USC may weigh in on the matter. And Notre Dame waits in the wings.
Truth be told, however, football fever had swept the Xavier campus long before the days leading up to November 18. As you may have heard, football returned to Xavier’s campus this fall. The fact that it was club football didn’t make a difference, and people in general seemed pleased to hear the crack and crunch of shoulder pads and helmets colliding on campus for the first time since 1973. The brainchild of last spring’s winning student government executive ticket, the renewal of Xavier’s football tradition generated remarkable enthusiasm. Students turned out in force for all three games, and outnumbered the opponent’s student cheering section by a large margin at one of the two away games at least. Parents, too, turned out to see their sons in their quest for gridiron glory, just as good parents should.
Most striking to me, however, was the number of alumni who showed up—former football players especially. To see the sparkle in their eyes was to know that some dreams long deferred had suddenly come true. You could almost hear them say (as Scripture’s Zechariah said when he beheld the infant Jesus), “Now, Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace.” Fittingly enough, Mike Conaton—there is no one who loves Xavier or longed for Xavier football’s return more—was right square in the middle of the action. Whether cheering from the sidelines or leading the team in prayer as acting chaplain or tossing the first coin as honorary captain, Mike enjoyed himself thoroughly. I’m grateful to the student government executives and their efforts on behalf of Xavier for many things. For the revival of football itself, first of all, but more. I am grateful to them most for welding together all the members of the Xavier community—from the youngest freshman to the oldest alum—in this terrific new way. Quite a victory for the Xavier family overall, nevermind the team finished 0 and 3. There is always (as always) next year.
And as this magazine arrives in your own households in the middle of the holiday season, my hopes for all of you would be that your families as well will find themselves drawn together in the way that club football drew us all together over the course of those weekends this fall. Young and old, from far and near, I hope that you will all come together and discover within one another all over again those things that matter most—just as our freshmen football players could listen to Mike Conaton and spot in him the older brother they didn’t even know they had. Just as Mike’s heart became young again in the company of those kids whose cleats he had once walked in himself.
As luck would have it, this Christmas season will bring Xavier football to a curious kind of national stage. The feel-good movie of the season looks to be “We Are Marshall,” which recounts the resurrection of that school’s football team after a tragic airplane crash. Their first victory came in their first game back, and on the very last play. And while I won’t tell you who it was they played that day, I will say that I will certainly understand it if any member of the Xavier family happens to be cheering for the blue team at the end of the movie, and not the green.
God’s best blessings to you and those you love best—from Christmas through the BCS Championship and all through the New Year.