Listening to coach Brian Kelly after Notre Dame’s 31-14 loss to Alabama in the Rose Bowl on Friday reminded me of Frank Costanza, the perpetually aggrieved character on “Seinfeld.”
Costanza, played by the late, great Jerry Stiller, invented the holiday “Festivus” as a time to air grievances over perceived slights.
“I’ve got a lot of problems with you people,” Costanza shouted, “and now you’re gonna hear about it.”
Throughout the last few weeks, from the lead-up to the ACC title game to Friday’s semifinal loss to Alabama, Kelly has had a lot of problems with a lot of people, including California government officials who wouldn’t allow players’ families into the scheduled semifinal Rose Bowl in Pasadena because of COVID-19 restrictions, College Football Playoff officials who wouldn’t move the game from its historic venue and media members who suggested the Fighting Irish could not compete against the stronger and faster Crimson Tide.
Kelly’s threat to turn down a playoff invitation if families weren’t allowed into the stadium led to the late switch of the Rose Bowl to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the only reminder of the traditional New Year’s game was a rose spray-painted at midfield.
It might as well have been the Boll Weevil Bowl presented by Capital One, “The Grandweevil of Them All.”
But at least the game was being played and the families of Notre Dame’s players got an opportunity to watch Alabama run around, past and over Irish players in a rather convincing win. The Crimson Tide scored the first three times they touched the ball on drives of 79, 97 and 84 yards, averaging 14.4 yards per play, and tailback Najee Harris created an incredible moment that will be replayed forever, hurdling over Nick McCloud on a 53-yard run that set the tone for Bama’s “30 yards and a cloud of dust” attack.
It was nothing for Notre Dame to be ashamed of. They lost to a top-ranked team that clearly was superior and covered the 19 1/2 point spread, the biggest in the brief history of College Football Playoff games. Only die-hard Irish fans believed they had a realistic chance.
But afterward, Costanza, er, Kelly, spent much of his postgame news conference airing his grievances about reporters’ questions.
“The margin is not the issue, losing is losing,” he said, adding the Crimson Tide made “a few more plays on the perimeter” than the Irish.
“You watched the game. I watched the game,” he said.
Yes, and it wasn’t much of a game to watch after Alabama scored on those first three possessions to take a 21-7 lead.
“I guess everybody needs to continue to carry this narrative that Notre Dame is not good enough,” Kelly said. “Look at the scores of the games Alabama has played all year. I think we need to change the narrative a little bit. This team was out there competing and having a chance to win.”
If Notre Dame was Vanderbilt, Kelly may have had a point.
But Notre Dame is Notre Dame, and when the CFP committee was trying to decide whether to hand the No. 4 seed to the Irish or Texas A&M, the Irish’s big-name brand surely factored in. Next year if they’re in the same predicament, perhaps the CFP committee will flash back to this game and give the other team the nod.
But Kelly was just getting started. Asked what would be the next step in getting the Irish to be more competitive in big games, Kelly let out a heavy sigh.
“I really don’t want to continue to go down this path,” he said. “We’re going to keep getting here, OK? And we’re going to keep banging at it. You guys watched the game, didn’t you?
“They made plays on the perimeter. They made some dynamic plays. They have the (Associated Press) College Football Player of the Year (in wideout DeVonta Smith), who made some dynamic plays. We battled. We were right there. So we’re going to keep getting back here. I’m sorry if you don’t like it or if the national media doesn’t like it.”
Kelly rambled on before saying he didn’t take it “personal” but wondered why “these questions keep coming up like we need to reinvent ourselves.”
The next question began with an alleged reporter from an Alabama radio station saying: “Coach, congratulations on a successful season …”
“Ha,” Kelly interrupted. “Well, that would be nice if our local people felt that way. But they don’t use any of those kinds of terms. This is always about where our program needs to go. But I really appreciate that. Thank you.”
Apparently Kelly believes the role of the news media is to publish his rants when stamps his feet for a change of venue in a bowl game and tell him what a great job he did after his team gets trounced in the bowl game he helped get moved.
Is it any wonder so many dislike Notre Dame?
Kelly continued defending the performance, but to paraphrase broadcaster Lindsey Nelson from the old Sunday morning TV show narrating Notre Dame highlights, “We now pick up the action later in the Zoom.”
Kelly calmed down a bit and even provided a humorous moment when an oblivious questioner asked if Smith would be his Heisman Trophy pick. Kelly had just been asked who he’d pick for the Heisman, and said quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Mac Jones, and Harris and Smith were all deserving.
“Were you not paying attention to the last answer?” he said.
“Yeah, but (Smith is) so good, dynamic,” the questioner said.
“OK, then I’ll give it to him,” Kelly said.
Everyone chuckled, but soon it was back to Kelly playing defense against his least favorite “narrative” — not being able to beat the top programs.
“You guys are killing me,” he said, calling Alabama and Clemson “elite, talented teams.”
“I don’t have a unique problem at Notre Dame,” he said. “I think you need to look at the scores of everybody that played against Alabama and Clemson. Everybody has got the same issues. We’re going to keep recruiting. We’re going to keep getting back here.
“Everybody can keep saying ‘Notre Dame is not good enough.’ Well, you know what? You’re going to have a problem because we’re going to keep winning games, we’re going to keep getting back here and we’re going to break through.
“And then I’m going to be terrible to be at a press conference with. Terrible!”
We probably don’t have to worry about that next year.
Until Notre Dame recruits some more players at the skill positions, competing for a national championship will be a Festivus miracle.