'Class' is in session

November 15, 2005

During the Subspecialty Day part of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) meeting in Chicago, I played hooky. It was wrong, and I knew it, but I did it anyway. The session planners had labored almost a full year to plan the meeting, the speakers and topics scheduled for Saturday looked excellent, and this was clearly an outstanding educational opportunity. Nonetheless, I sneaked out.

During the Subspecialty Day part of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) meeting in Chicago, I played hooky. It was wrong, and I knew it, but I did it anyway. The session planners had labored almost a full year to plan the meeting, the speakers and topics scheduled for Saturday looked excellent, and this was clearly an outstanding educational opportunity. Nonetheless, I sneaked out.

I blame Bill, Doug, and Leif. They secured the tickets and transportation to the University of South California (USC)-Notre Dame football game. Undefeated USC was going for a third national championship, and a resurgent Notre Dame team was determined to show its mettle by knocking off the top-ranked team in the country. If it had not been for these three guys, yours truly would have spent the day learning.I assuage my guilt by reviewing the CD-ROM sold (thankfully) by the AAO.

Growing up, I learned to root for Notre Dame and the phrase "God made Notre Dame #1." Many of my friends and some family members are graduates of that institution. On the other hand, my academic career began at the great Doheny Eye Institute at USC, and my only son matriculated there as a freshman this August. So I was going as a USC Trojan fan.

On a beautiful autumn morning, three friends, who happen to be ophthalmologists, and I set out for South Bend, IN. When we arrived, the crowds were gigantic and the air was electric. The folks had been tailgating and partying for a while, and I wondered what sort of welcome awaited fans of the visiting Trojans. Sometimes beer brings out the worst in people. Luckily, these three ophthalmologists with me were all larger than me; my friends might not be smart but they are big (just kidding, guys).

The reception, in fact, was impressive. Notre Dame fans and students (called "Domers"), seeing my USC cap and sweatshirt, made eye contact and greeted me, welcomed me to Notre Dame, inquired if this was my first visit, and actually welcomed us to a tailgate party with a group of diehard Fighting Irish fans. The weather was perfect during the game, the crowd screamed and cheered, and both teams played their hearts out.

The final plays took place right in front of our seats in the end zone. It first appeared that Notre Dame won when the USC quarterback was tackled and time expired, and the delirious crowd ran onto the field. But the referees put 7 seconds back on the clock. The ball was hiked and the quarterback kept it, but he was stopped short, only to be pushed into the end zone by his own teammate. USC was victorious, and the home crowd was, to say the least, stunned and bitterly disappointed.

What would happen now? Would the mix of beer, disappointment, and anger result in bad behavior? As I stood there, after the game, a "Domer" came up to me and, I kid you not, congratulated me, told me he thought USC had been lucky to win but that the Trojan players were obviously excellent, and wished me a safe trip home.

When I was working in Los Angeles, we had a patient lose his eye due to a ruptured globe that resulted from an attack by beer-soaked fans during a Raiders' game. His offense?-rooting for the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. On TV, we see Detroit basketball fans fighting players and European soccer hooligans rejoicing in wanton physical violence at athletic events. There is actually a body of medical literature on the subject of fans being attacked in sports venues.

Recently, during the flood in New Orleans, civil order broke down, with patients and doctors being fired upon while trying to evacuate the sick. Those kinds of events make me wonder whether our society is becoming dysfunctional.

Maybe they were typical Midwesterners, but people like the folks in South Bend are truly a "class act," and experiences like this restore your faith in human nature. From now on, I will always root for Notre Dame (unless they're playing The Trojans).

By the way, the phrase "God made Notre Dame #1" is ridiculous. God has more important things to worry about than silly football games. Such as the rankings of ophthalmology departments.

Suggested reading

"Winning, Not Losing, Triggers Violence at Sports Events" http:// http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=22025