My 3-year-old son is obsessed with superheroes. He thinks he is going to grow up to be Aquaman or Superman. When he learned how to swim underwater, he told everyone that he was "growing gills like Aquaman." When his preschool teacher asked if he was allergic to anything, he answered, "just Kryptonite."
And at 3 years old, he already knows that every superhero needs a villain. Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker.
In the best of times, the world of women's basketball enjoyed the same dynamic. Geno had Pat and Pat had Geno. And for the last few years, UConn had Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish had the Huskies. Deciding which one filled the role of superhero and villain was up to the women's basketball fan. And the fans of those two programs are passionate.
I've had the privilege of working several Notre Dame-UConn women's basketball games over the years. This past season, I called Notre Dame's win at UConn in the regular-season finale. The next day, I drove my father to the doctor for a colonoscopy. While sitting in the waiting room, Notre Dame alum and ESPN radio personality Mike Golic entered the waiting room with his wife.
Not knowing the appropriate protocol when seeing a man readying for his colonoscopy, I didn't look up from my phone. But Golic -- clad head to toe in Notre Dame gear -- immediately started talking good-natured trash when he saw me. He enjoyed the Irish's second 2012 win over UConn, and he wanted to make sure I knew it. He made sure the entire waiting room knew it. After he went inside the office, the nurse -- a UConn fan -- came out and winked at me, saying, "I'm going to use the square needle on him."
I'm constantly needled by people whenever UConn and Notre Dame play. After calling that game between them last season, a Notre Dame fan tweeted that I was obviously biased toward UConn. A little later, a UConn fan tweeted that I was clearly rooting for Notre Dame throughout the telecast. (Of course I was doing neither; I was simply enjoying calling a great game and readying for an early morning at the proctologist's office.)
Because my kids have two uncles who went to Notre Dame, they have more items of ND clothing than any other school. That doesn't go over well in our home state of Connecticut. Imagine my neighbors' surprise and disappointment when my then-5-year-old daughter dressed as a Notre Dame cheerleader one Halloween. (For the record, the pom-poms were blue and white, not blue and gold, with Huskies on the handles.) I incurred the wrath of a few UConn fans in Indianapolis at the 2011 Final Four because my 2-year-old son was wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt at the fanfest. (He was COLD!)
The UConn-Notre Dame rivalry was worthy of trash talk not just because the games were always good, but because they played so many of them. In recent years, the players had an obvious distaste for one another. The coaches would roll their eyes when hearing something the other had said. The games were physical and close. And there was almost always something on the line.
Perhaps the programs will continue to play each other in the regular season -- but it won't ever be the same. A conference championship won't be at stake and they won't face off four times a year like we've seen the past two seasons. Notre Dame is going to the ACC. More than the terrific matchups between the women's basketball programs, I'll miss the trash talk.
A few months ago, from the back of our minivan, my son asked, "Where do superheroes go to college?"
After a brief pause, his 7-year-old sister answered: "Notre Dame."
Who will be the villain in the ACC?