Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2012 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Murphy’s Law The M-Word By Dan Murphy There were a few words the week of Sept. 17 that one could not utter on the streets of South Bend. Anyone who dared speak them drew disapproving, cold stares and the ire of locals. They made old ladies shiver and shake their heads, and mothers cover the ears of their children. Most can’t be stamped into print. But, and turn away now if you are squeamish, for the sake of clarity we’ll let one slide here just this once — Michigan. Safer, more politically correct alternatives include the M-word, “our neighbor to the north” or even “Michiana” if you must. The preferred and government-approved nomenclature last week was just to avoid that dirty word altogether, eradicate wherever possible. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg did his part to help clean up the streets by renaming one of them. Monday morning, following a 20‑3 Notre Dame football win over one of those state schools from further north, Mayor Buttigieg and a smattering of campus and city dignitaries officially changed the main drag cutting straight through the heart of downtown from that temporarily forbidden word to Fighting Irish Drive. They unveiled the new street sign, complete with a good luck shamrock, to a round of polite and relieved applause. Finally, after three years of suffering on the nearby Notre Dame campus at the hands of that maize-and-blue clad football team, passers by wouldn’t have to look up and be tortured by that word that seems to constantly hang over their heads on maps, street signs and lists of college football lore. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has done his part to rid his new town of reminders of what lies beyond that border just a few miles to the north. Of the 101 players listed on Notre Dame’s roster — a quarter of which come from the four states that share a border with Indiana — only two hail from the Wolverine State. Sophomore placekicker Kyle Brindza and freshman walk-on Dan Furlong might have told you they were from the towns of Canton and Livonia, but they wouldn’t dare go any further in that description. The Irish aren’t the only rival who has added that eight-letter state to its list of four-letter words. At this summer’s Big Ten media day, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said he didn’t even know the name, and he certainly wouldn’t allow his players to teach it to him. “I’m just not going to say it. If [the players] say it, you have to do pushups,” he said. The original avoider of the word was legendary OSU head coach Woody Hayes. He invented the “up north” euphemisms for a state and a team that never failed to fuel his fire. According to Buckeyes lore, Hayes once refused to fill his empty gas tank before crossing over state lines, saying he’d rather push his car home than contribute a dime to his sworn enemies. For Ohio State and now the city of South Bend, the M-word joins the ranks of mighty company in literature — from the best-selling book of all time to the best-selling series of our time. The Israelites of the Old Testament refrained from saying the name of their god out of reverence and fear. The residents of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts were just as afraid to speak of the books’ villain by name. You would be hard-pressed, though, to find a South Bender who admits to being afraid of the Wolverines. Perhaps the mayor’s gesture is more an honor for the Fighting Irish than shunning for that state up north. There is plenty of precedent in sport for that theory as well. From sandwiches to cities, we name anything we can after the teams and stars we love. London renamed all 361 of its underground tube stops after famous athletes to help visitors at the 2012 Olympics, but the best example is the town of Ismay, Montana. Its population boomed from 22 to 28 when it temporarily changed its name to Joe in 1993 in honor of former Irish quarterback Joe Montana. Fighting Irish Drive might not survive in South Bend much longer than Joe did in Montana (they returned to Ismay shortly after getting free tickets to watch Montana play for the Kansas City Chiefs). It will last, however, as a reminder that Mr. Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon not the 1930s Notre Dame quarterback, may have been wrong about the sweetness of a rose. What’s in a name? It depends on who you ask. Dan Murphy has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since August 2011. He can be reached at

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