Because the Irish Nation can't help themselves, enduring two decades of disappointment tend to make a following cynical.
Notre Dame (8-0) will host Pittsburgh (4-4) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday (NBC).
“History will have no effect on how this team plays,” the third-year Notre Dame coach said. “What will affect how this team plays is how they prepare during the week and that is what I can control and that's what our players can control. So our focus is on what we can control. If we don't prepare well and have a good week, that's going to spill into how we play Saturday.”
Kelly has to forgive the fans that are simply fearful (and it has nothing to do with Halloween) of being burned again. This is a group that had their hopes so high that Tyrone Willingham was the next in line to be anointed legendary status under the Golden Dome during that magical fall of 2002, only to be kicked in the teeth in the dreaded week nine.
Willingham came to South Bend and inherited a middling 5-6 program and for two months he didn't lose – at all. Willingham had the Irish ranked sixth in the country and unbeaten after eight games. His team traveled on the road to a national powerhouse (Florida State) and won 34-24.
See any similarities here?
“I really focus strictly on the guys that are in the room and how we prepare them,” Kelly said. “I do not use history lessons as much as I want them to realize what it takes to win week in and week out.”
Willingham could've have used that lesson, because after knocking off the 11th-ranked Seminoles, his team fell on its face (14-7) against an unranked Boston College squad – in South Bend, no less.
Now the third-ranked Fighting Irish are facing – in South Bend – an unranked Pittsburgh squad (Notre Dame is 3-3 in its last six meetings with the Panthers), so coach, can you see why your faithful are worried?
“I think we've talked about that each and every week,” Kelly said. “You win two games, you win three, you win four games in a row, you start to worry about how are you going to handle success. So this is not a first time conversation with our football team. They have handled success early in the season, and they have shown that they understand that if they don't prepare the right way, that they'll lose. We're not good enough to not prepare properly, and I think they know that.”
Kelly and his kids are not deviating off of that message of preparedness, regardless of the magnitude of the game or the opponent, so Notre Dame fans have to have faith that the concentration levels of the 18 to 21 year olds are adequate as this magical (and unfathomable) season continues.
“For us, more than anything else is that you can prepare well, but if you're not going to play a tough brand of football mentally and physically, then you can lose every week that you play,” Kelly said. “So I go back to the two things: One, let's take care of what we can control; and two, let's exhibit the habits that we've used all week and all year to be the guide for what happens on Saturday.”
And thus ends the lesson.