It just isn't the same at Notre Dame anymore.
Once, last Saturday would have been a festive occasion. The tailgating would have started before noon with the sun glinting off the Golden Dome and the campus jammed with excited alumni, students and fans. And then, on a gorgeous October afternoon, the Fighting Irish, looking to get even for an embarrassing defeat a year ago, would have charged into Notre Dame Stadium and buried Miami.
But this is 1984.
This is the age of uncontrolled television in college football and undeniable frustration at Notre Dame.
Because of that, the scene here Saturday bore little similarity to the glory days of the past. For TV's benefit, the game was played at night. By the time the tailgaters arrived late in the afternoon, the once bright skies were clouding, the temperature dropping.
Shortly after kickoff, the rain started falling. Shortly after that, the Irish did a pratfall in the mud, embarrassed, 31-13, in their own stadium by Miami. They left the field wet, depressed and with boos ringing in their ears. Their coach, Gerry Faust, walked slowly among them, his body seeming to sag a little further into the turf with each painful step.
Moments later, senior safety Joe Johnson glanced around at his teammates dressing silently around him and said, "You know, when I came to Notre Dame I never dreamed I'd hear the fans booing us in this stadium.
"But," he added, his voice dropping lower, "I never dreamed we would have the records we've had either."
Since Johnson arrived here 3 1/2 seasons ago, the same year as Faust, Notre Dame's record is 21-17-1. In six years here, Dan Devine was 53-16-1. The alumni drove him out.
Faust's arrival was greeted with glee because he is as outgoing as Devine was reclusive, because he is as friendly as Devine was isolated.
Now, with wry looks, people here look back at Devine's regime and say, "Yeah, Devine, the good old days."
Gerry Faust sat in the comfortable armchair with his feet up, his smile still quick and easy but his eyes betraying exhaustion. He had left Notre Dame Stadium shortly before midnight, driven to a nearby TV studio to tape his weekly show, stolen a few hours sleep and returned to look at film.
It was a gloomy Sunday afternoon, the rain coming down even harder than it had the night before, the skies just as dark.
Three years ago, Faust had sat in this office with the world at his feet. He had just coached his first game at Notre Dame, a 27-9 victory over LSU. The team was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Faust, who had been lifted from the high school coaching ranks by the elders of Notre Dame, was being compared to Knute Rockne one game into his college career.
As Faust fidgeted -- he is almost never able to sit still -- he was asked if he remembered that week.
"Oh yeah, I sure do," he said. "I remember going to one of my assistants and saying, 'Maybe we ought to quit right now.' "
He laughed heartily at the irony. Faust is no quitter. He admits frustration with records of 5-6, 6-4-1, 6-5 and, this year, 3-2. That's not good enough for Faust or Notre Dame. The school entered this season with a 97-year winning percentage of .765. Faust's is .544. He has already equaled the 17 losses he accumulated in 18 years at Cincinnati's Moeller High School.
No one has to recite numbers to Faust. "I always knew how good winning felt but I never really knew how frustrating losing could be," he said. "I know people expect a lot at Notre Dame but I do get a little tired of it sometimes. No one's asking Bo Schembechler what's wrong and he's 3-2 just like us. Most teams have one or two losses by now.
"I know what people at Notre Dame expect. They get frustrated because they care so much. Sometimes it seems like everybody's got the answers to everything."
Actually, there are few answers right now. Faust is in the fourth year of a five-year contract. Notre Dame doesn't fire coaches in the middle of a contract. But it goes without saying that if the Irish don't get to a New Year's Day bowl this year or next, Faust will be gone.
Faust and Athletic Director Gene Corrigan insist it is too early to wonder about the future. "It sure as hell is too soon to talk about what might happen if we don't win," Corrigan said. "We've played five games and we're not the only ones who have had our heads handed to us."
Faust says the same thing. "We're 3-2 now and if we finish 9-2 everybody will feel great again. People blow with the wind. Before Saturday, the support around here was great. Now, it won't be so good. I understand that."
Faust also says he understands the boos he heard Saturday night. In the shadow of the Golden Dome, though, Notre Dame football teams aren't supposed to hear boos. Only cheers.
"They were booing because we punted late in the game," Faust insisted. "Heck, my first year they booed Joe Paterno at Penn State because they couldn't score from the goal line. It happens to every coach sometimes. Ara (Parseghian) told me when he was here he had to put up with the same kind of crap."
Corrigan heard the boos, too. "It makes you feel sad, it makes you feel angry," he said. "You wonder, are they booing the coach or the players or the whole team? You feel a lot of frustration."
That is the word everyone keeps coming back to. Outwardly, Faust maintains a confident profile. The players are confused and upset but insist they aren't giving up. They can't afford to say anything different.
"This feels horrible," senior linebacker Mike Golic said. "We wanted to beat this team (Miami) so badly. We go out and play a good half and then the second half it falls apart. I don't know why, I wish I did. It's just so frustrating though, I can't even believe it."
One year ago, in the Orange Bowl, Miami humiliated the Irish, 20-0, on national television. Faust had a shouting match with senior quarterback Blair Kiel on the sidelines after a Kiel interception. The Notre Dame players said the Miami players taunted them throughout, rubbing dirt in their wounds.
This was supposed to be the night the Irish got even. During the week, they were very frank about not liking Miami, about wanting to get even. Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein said that Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar was not a class individual. It was all there: emotion, revenge, a three-game winning streak, the home field.
Then it all fell apart. Notre Dame led, 13-7, early in the second half and Miami proceeded to score 24 points on its next four possessions. The Irish looked confused and overmatched. That isn't supposed to happen here.
"I don't like being on a rollercoaster," running back Alan Pinkett said. "But that's the way it's been around here. We have to try to look for the positives. If the fans want to boo, that's their perogative. I don't know how much a ticket costs, but they paid for it. We can't control things like that. We want them cheering for us, but we have to earn their cheers."
No one seems to have an answer for the team's troubles. Corrigan admits that Faust wasn't ready for college coaching when he arrived here but says that is no longer a problem: "He's a big boy now," he said simply.
Faust tends to fall back on the usual litany: injuries, breakdowns in execution, tough schedule, tough academic standards. All true at Notre Dame. But all, with the exception of injuries, are always true at Notre Dame. Faust ends the litany by adding, "I don't want to make excuses. There are none. We just have to play better football."
And, he adds, "When this does turn around, it's going to be that much sweeter because of the frustration we've gone through."
Certainly, Corrigan is right when he says it is too soon to begin composing an epitaph for Faust. But these are crucial times for him. Games with Air Force and undefeated South Carolina, at home, are next. They simply have to be won. The last four games include LSU on the road, Penn State and Southern California on the road. Only Navy appears to be a breather.
The Irish could win all six. Faust says the team is good enough to do that. But, everyone here is waiting, almost with a sense of foreboding, to see what will happen.
"There's no sense talking about what happens if we go 6-5 because right now we're 3-2," Corrigan said. "If we go 6-5, we'll deal with it then and so will Gerry."
Because Faust is universally well-liked, because he is such a decent person, no one wants to see him fail. But Saturday night as he stood near the steps that lead from the locker room to the field, the task he now faces was never more apparent.
Above him was a plaque listing all of Notre Dame's award winners over the years. To his left, above the steps, was a plaque listing Notre Dame's national championship teams, the year first followed by the record.
At the bottom of the plaque someone had painted in "1984? . . . "
The 1984 team will not have its record filled in on that plaque. As Gerry Faust walked up those steps Saturday night, he knew that.
"Life's not easy," he said, forcing one more smile. "But you learn to live with the struggles."
At Notre Dame, they are struggling.