Sunday, October 16, 2005

One of the greatest; Sox on the brink

Talk about taking the bitter with the sweet.

This could have been one of the all-time greatest weekends as a White Sox/Irish fan. It certainly will be one of the most memorable.

Good news first: the Sox starters continue to make the Angels look silly in the ALCS. Saturday was Freddy Garcia's turn to go the distance in an 8-2 victory. Say whatever you want about the quality of the umpire's calls, but the White Sox deserve to be where they are right now, up 3-1 and one win away from the...dare I say it...WORLD SERIES. Jose Contreras goes tonight and I like our chances.

What else? Oh, uh...there was some kind of football game played in South Bend this weekend. Not quite sure what happened. Alright, that was a cheap joke. But at a time like this, words fail me.

It was something that the entire ND student body was ready for. We'd been waiting for 12 years for something of this magnitude to happen, something to put our stamp on the legacy of Notre Dame football. It was, finally, about to be "OUR" time once again.

And then it wasn't.

For those of you who missed it, Matt Leinart executed an absolutely brilliant play on 4th and 9, audibiling a perfect fade route to Dwayne Jarret, who is unfortunately a half-foot taller than Ambrose Wooden. Ambrose was playing his coverage perfectly, the pass was just, literally, perfectly placed a half-inch above his grasp and Jarret sprinted to the 13.

Three plays later, Leinart attempted a John Elway-style helicopter spin into the endzone only to be stopped short - and to have Tom Zbikowski jar the ball free. Unfortunately it rolled out of bounds. There was some question as to whether Leinart had stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard line, and then a lot of controversy when the clock ticked all the way down to :00, prompting a pre-mature rush of the field by the ND student section. They quickly collected themselves in time for the last play.

Which was a QB sneak by Leinart - just like Miami 17 years ago to the day, the #1 team was gonna play for all the marbles rather than safely go for the tie. Snap...Leinart dives...STOPPED! He spins around and falls...INTO THE ENDZONE. Trojan TD. Now it was USC's turn to rush the field before the game was over, earning as 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and missing the extra point. 34-31. Notre Dame had one last chance to attempt their own version of the Stanford band play, managing a couple laterals on the kickoff return before being tackled to end the game.

An amazing football game. Lou Holtz didn't hesitate to call it the "greatest in this rivalry" and maybe the greatest ever. For sheer entertainment value and "down-to-the-wire" finish, it has no equal amidst this storied rivalry, which is really saying something. The 1999 game which featured a 21-point second half comeback by the Irish might be up there, but both teams were under .500 and WAY less was at stake then. This was a slugfest, two heavyweights going back and forth, neither able to knock the other out. Greatest ever, period? We may need to wait a few years before saying that. Certainly I would be more ready to say it if the Irish had won.

Other quick thoughts:

- Of the 4 Heisman contenders on the field, only Reggie Bush truly distinguished himself - and boy, did he EVER. The Irish bottled him up in the return game, but he still reeled off 160 yards and 3 TDs on just 15 carries. Brady Quinn and Leinart had very average games considering the standards they have already set for themselves (take out the 61-yarder to Jarret and Leinart was 16 of 32 for 240 yards with 2 interceptions; Quinn was 19 of 35 for 264 yards on the day) , but they both were absolute money on their team's respective final drives, showcasing that mental moxie and "heart of a champion" stuff the Heisman voters love. Bush would be the winner if the vote were held today.

- Everybody talked after the debacle of the '02 Boston College game that the fabled ND Green Jerseys should be burned to a crisp and never worn again. Not only did Charlie Weis break out the green, he proved that the color of the jersey has jack-squat to do with how the team plays. The bonehead decisions about how to use the green - Gerry Faust putting them on at halftime when the Irish were UP by 24 points? Bob Davie using them in the Gator Bowl against GEORGIA TECH? Ty Willingham pulling 'em out for BOSTON COLLEGE? - have left many with a jaded view of a special piece of Notre Dame tradition. The green jerseys belong as part of Notre Dame lore, and bringing them out for a truly monumental occasion is a cool thing to do. Had the Irish held on for the win, everybody would be calling for a permanent shift to green.

- Following up on that, the sports director for KSCR, USC's student radio station that was in the booth next to us, came by before the game to ask if there was any chance of the green today. We all said, rather emphatically, no, that the green jersey stunt had come and gone. He surmised that if Notre Dame were to try such a thing, SC's players would be rather offended...offended by what, I'm not sure. But Charlie's decision to wear the green and the subsequent game were simply further proof that no matter what the media says and what the fans think, the color of the uniform is meaningless next to how the game is played, and both teams played it exceptionally well.

- Notre Dame's defense performed about where they had all season, surrendering a lot of yards - 472. But against an offense that averaged 640 yards through its first five games, there is something admirable to be said for how they performed. Leinart and Bush looked to be having their way early, but the defense tightened up and forced 6 punts from Tom Malone, two interceptions by Leinart and pretty much ended the Heisman chances of LenDale White (21 yards on 10 carries). USC had already been behind at the half twice this season and used their overwhelming power of White and Bush to wear teams into the ground. Notre Dame refused to let that happen and for that alone they deserve credit. Now, about that 4th down play...

- Both teams committed a couple of dumb mistakes and were subsequently penalized for it - each had a personal foul call which kept an eventual touchdown drive alive for their opponent. On the whole, it was a well-refereed game and the players decided it, which is always a nice bonus. The Irish were in the game fair and square, getting no help from the miraculous bounces and phantom fouls everybody said they would need to stay with the Trojans.

- And on that last point: Notre Dame proved today, once and for all, that the "talent gap" is a myth purported by people who still want to believe that the Irish gave their former coach a raw deal. In Charlie Weis Notre Dame has one of the best overall game-planners at any level of football. USC is certainly more talented and deeper overall, but the idea that Notre Dame does not have the horses to play with the best is total bullshit. They proved it by going toe-to-toe with the two-time national champs. They are two or three plays away from being a perfect 6-0 at this point. They belong. Even Sean Salisbury, noted SC alum, said it before Saturday's game, "Charlie's gonna win a national championship while he's here, I guarantee it".

I need a drink. GO WHITE SOX!!!!!!!!!!

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