I made the long trek this weekend to watch my beloved Fighting Irish lose again. It was a good weekend, despite the loss, and I was surprised that the mood on campus was as upbeat as it was. While spirits were muted, crowds were down, and the old men around me were voicing their displeasure freely throughout the entire game, there was still that feeling on campus that’s always present before a football game.

We are ND. It sounds cheezy, I know, but anyone who has experienced the pre-game traditions on Notre Dame campus knows what I’m talking about. Sure, we’re having a wretched season. Sure, we were expecting to lose to the United States Air Force Academy. But there’s still that pride, that recognition that Notre Dame, Indiana is a special place. It’s a special school. It’s a special football team.

We made all the usual pre-game stops, even more so this week since I brought two friends with me, neither of whom had been on campus. While we were listening to the band (the oldest college band) play their Concert on the Steps (90 minutes before kickoff, every game), I reflected on the song they chose to open the concert. Maybe they’ve done this before, but I certainly don’t remember it.

They began with a beautiful arrangement of the Minstrel Boy. Perhaps it was just a nice, recognizable Irish song to play. Perhaps I’m reading into it too much … but I like to read into things.

I think the band playing the Minstrel Boy really sent a message. For those of you unaware of the lyrics, in the song the minstrel boy goes into war, into the “ranks of death” … and dies. Before dying, however, he rips the strings out of his harp, saying the harp was made for freedom and will never play in slavery. Okay, so the comparisons can only go so far. But a main message of the songs is the inability of defeat to kill faith and loyalty. The minstrel boy appears to have failed, but he knows his loyalty is more important. The Minstrel fell! but the foeman’s chain could not bring that proud soul under!

When the band first started playing the song, I started laughing. Did they realize they were playing a song about losing?? Then I realized it was fitting. Notre Dame’s football season is over. Instead of going to the game expecting to win, I was expecting to lose. I’ve never been so pessimistic before, despite Notre Dame’s other recent bleak seasons. But the band wasn’t saying “we’re giving up, we’ve lost heart.” Instead, they were looking to the imminent battle and acknowledging that we may lose, but we’re still Notre Dame. We are staying. We are standing behind our players, because they’re still showing up to play. So we’ll show up to cheer. Loyalty is more important than victory.

I was impressed with the number of Notre Dame fans that stuck around until the bitter end. There were some that left early, the grumpy fat men who have never picked up a football in their lives but feel they know more about the game than any coach or player. But most of us stuck around until the band played the Alma Mater. Most importantly, the students stayed. I was disappointed to see gaps in the sophomore area, but I didn’t see any gaps in the senior section. They know what’s important. You stand there and support your classmates who are still fighting on the field (and boy, was that defense still fighting). You stand there and sing the Alma Mater with them when they come to stand in front of you and salute you with their helmets.

A silly man behind us complained when Weis led the players over to salute Air Force at the end of the game. “Worry about winning before you worry about what you do on the field afterwards,” was his complaint. That’s not the attitude that will win you games, and thank heavens that’s not the attitude of Weis. Worry about winning before sportsmanship? Before class? Before showing your gratitude to the young men and women sacrificing their lives for us? I don’t think so.

Loyalty is more important than victory. I hope that’s a lesson Notre Dame is learning.