Notre Dame football exists only in history books

History will record Dec. 3, 2004, as the day that Notre Dame football died. The Fighting Irish will still fight. The gold helmets will still reflect the Golden Dome. But the House That Rockne Built, the monolith that bestrode the sport for eight decades, expired Friday when Urban Meyer turned down Notre Dame to go to Florida.

That's Florida, whose winning tradition goes all the way back to 1990.

Notre Dame football, that national championship machine, exists only in the history books. My generation knows that tradition. Meyer knew it. He coached there. He drank the Irish Kool-Aid. And still he said no.

It's as if Meyer were an up-and-coming businessman offered the national sales franchise -- for typewriters. Thanks, he said, but I think I'll sell computers.

Florida won over Meyer for a lot of reasons -- a reported seven-year, $14 million contract, an abundant talent base and admission standards that a coach "can work with." The bottom line, however, is winning. If Meyer thought it would be easier to win at Notre Dame than at Florida, he would be wearing blue and gold today.

Instead, he has gone to the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. Meyer decided it would be easier to win coaching against Mark Richt, Philip Fulmer, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban every season than it would be waking up the echoes.

Somewhere, Beano Cook just fainted.

Notre Dame officials and Florida officials both went to Salt Lake City. Either the Notre Dame officials suffered from the worst case of overconfidence since Dewey defeated Truman, or Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and his checkbook made Notre Dame appear to be the small Catholic university that it really is.

When NBC fouled up the election results in 2000 -- in Florida, as it would happen -- Tom Brokaw said he had egg on his face and an omelet on his suit. There isn't a dry cleaner within 300 miles of South Bend who could tidy up the mess the Notre Dame administration made.

How in the name of Frank Leahy do you fire Tyrone Willingham without having Meyer in your back pocket? How does a school embarrassed by hiring George O'Leary three years ago come back and embarrass itself again?

I suppose the damage isn't irreparable. The great thing about college football is that the right man on the right campus at the right time can work miracles. California, left for dead for the last 40 years, has been resurrected by Jeff Tedford. Notre Dame could find a Tedford. It may even be able to find Tedford.

Forty-one years ago, a little-known coach named Ara Parseghian arrived and resurrected a program that had suffered a 10-year drought. There may be an Ara out there now. But it feels like something has changed in the DNA of college football. Notre Dame is no longer Notre Dame.

Schadenfreude is not an Irish word. It's German for enjoying the trouble of others. Even Willingham, class act that he is, must have had trouble suppressing a smile Friday.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.