Friday, December 26, 2008

Wait a Minute...They Won? Really?

Video evidence for those who still believe that a Notre Dame bowl victory is something akin to a unicorn prancing across the Elysian Fields while a leprechaun and centaur dance the paso doble behind it - something you've heard about but never actually expect to see. Extended ESPN highlights available here.


One of the side effects to playing a game on Christmas Eve is that you get saddled with probably the D-minus list of announcing teams, and usually those guys aren't up on their Urban Dictionary. Explains how Dave Pasch managed to drop this line on the unsuspecting audience. Surely, it was an accident.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to All


And to all a good night. Final: Notre Dame 49, Hawai'i 21.

Monday, December 22, 2008

History of the Bowls, Part I

Editor's note: In keeping with the Mel Brooks-ian tradition, there will be no Part II.

The Irish continue to soak up the sun in Honolulu as they prepare for Wednesday night's game, and there are two big stories dominating the headlines out on the Pacific Island. One is the rumor taking hold in the Hawai'i camp that some Irish player joked that everybody on the island "lives in huts", which they've taken as the rallying cry for their team. Second, there's the nasty side issue of Notre Dame's NCAA record 9 consecutive bowl losses.

How did this happen? Thru their first 18 postseason games (17 of them played after 1970, when the University finally lifted its bowl ban) the Irish were a respectable 12-6, and practically all of those games were on the big stage against big-time opponents. Even the middling bowl bids of the Faust years were still against Heisman winner Doug Flutie in the Liberty Bowl and against #8 SMU in the Aloha Bowl. In the 9 games since their last bowl victory (24-21 over pesky Texas A&M on January 1, 1994) the Irish have stayed on the big stage for the most part but seemed more like the court jester matched up with the leading actors. A quick blow-by-blow of where it's all gone wrong over the past 15 years:

January 2, 1995 - Fiesta Bowl vs. Colorado

The entire 1994 season was awash in controversy and heartache, almost as if the effects of the soul-crushing loss to end the '93 regular season were still blanketing the campus. At 6-4-1, Notre Dame was hardly deserving of a plum bowl bid on New Year's Day, but Lou Holtz's team accepted the challenge against their old bowl nemesis, fourth-ranked Colorado. Featuring Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam (saying it now makes it sound like a practical joke, doesn't it?) and future Pittsburgh Steelers malcontent Kordell Stewart, current Notre Dame QB coach Ron Powlus and his team promptly got overwhelmed, falling behind 31-3 in the first half before losing 41-24. Holtz began to open himself up to charges of "going to the well once too often" with a decision to wear green jerseys, perhaps hoping for a repeat of the '92 Sugar Bowl when road versions of the alternate uni were worn for an upset of #3 Florida.

January 1, 1996 - Orange Bowl vs. Florida State

The last truly admirable Notre Dame bowl performance, even in defeat. Holtz and the Irish came in on a six-game winning streak and, with Tom Krug subbing for an injured Powlus, looked to have the game in hand early in the fourth quarter after forcing Danny Kanell out of the endzone for a safety and taking the ensuing free kick in for a touchdown and a 26-14 lead. But Kanell threw a pair of scores in the final minutes and Krug was forced into a safety of his own for a 31-26 Florida State victory. It turned out to be Holtz's final bowl game, as a loss to USC the following year left the 8-3 Irish electing to skip a lesser bowl as the regime changed hands to Bob Davie.

December 28, 1997 - Independence Bowl vs. LSU

The first (and so far only) time that Notre Dame has been involved in a bowl rematch, having defeated the Tigers just six weeks earlier in Death Valley by a score of 24-6. On this cold and uninspiring evening in Shreveport, LA, the Irish capped the first year of the Bob Davie era with a sloppy performance that still, somehow, saw them leading 6-3 at halftime. But wasted red zone chances came back to haunt them and Tigers running back Rondell Mealey ran wild in the second half, finishing with 220 yards in a 27-9 LSU win.

January 1, 1999 - Gator Bowl vs. Georgia Tech

Apparently not a student of history, Davie broke out the green jerseys at the request of his seniors, but the uniform color didn't matter when it came to defending speedy receiver Dez White. Jarious Jackson (whose absence with a knee injury was the prime factor in a 10-0 loss to USC that cost ND a shot at a major bowl bid) made a game effort alongside Autry Denson (130 yards and three touchdowns in his final game), but the Irish couldn't keep up in a shootout as the streak reached four with a 35-28 loss.

January 1, 2001 - Fiesta vs. Oregon State

In many ways the most humiliating of all. It's one thing to get outclassed by Ohio State and LSU as the Irish would in recent years, but to see ND so thoroughly depantsed by a school that had only recently broken a string of 28 losing seasons made you wonder just what Bob Davie had been working on during the month between games. Of course, Oregon State had a couple of future NFL studs in TJ Houshmanzadeh and Chad Johnson, but that doesn't make it any less embarrassing. The 41-9 blowout was also, amazingly, not the most lopsided loss ND ever suffered in a bowl game; that "honor" remains with the 1972 squad which lost the '73 Orange Bowl to Nebraska by a score of 40-6.

January 1, 2003 - Gator vs. North Carolina State

Matched up against Philip Rivers and long-time Bobby Bowden lieutenant Chuck Amato, first-year coach Tyrone Willingham was looking to atone for the 44-13 shellacking given out by USC in the season finale. It didn't happen as a punchless Notre Dame offense sank in the 13th game of the year, falling 28-6 and losing all hope after Carlyle Holiday was knocked from the game with a re-injured shoulder. A barrage of Wolfpack trick plays in the second quarter put the game safely out of reach from Pat Dillingham and an offensive unit that went 4-for-19 on third down conversions. Most telling stat: early in the 3rd quarter, NC State wideout Bryan Peterson had more passing yards (27, on two flea-flicker plays) than either Irish quarterback.

December 28, 2004 - Insight Bowl vs. Oregon State

Nothing good happens when the Irish and the Beavers have a postseason date in Arizona. This game was basically over before it started, with the Irish accepting a bid and then about 36 hours later firing Willingham, sparking off a long and dubious chain of reactions over "institutional racism" and other hogwash. The game itself was the definition of anti-climactic, as the Irish under interim coach Kent Baer did everything but win one for Ty. It was 21-o early in the second quarter and Oregon State cruised to the finish with a 38-21 final score.

January 2, 2006 - Fiesta vs. Ohio State

Things were looking up in early in Charlie Weis' bowl debut as the Irish took the opening kickoff and promptly marched straight down OSU's vaunted defense for a 7-0 lead. Then the Buckeye offense took the field and shredded Notre Dame for 617 yards, gaining huge chunks on long pass plays to Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes as well as a long reverse to Ginn. For all the Buckeye firepower, Notre Dame was somehow still in the game heading to 4th quarter, down 24-13. They would cut it to 27-20 with 5:27 to play but couldn't hold up, allowing Troy Smith to pick up two huge third downs before a 60-yard touchdown run by Antonio Pittman iced the game. People still haven't forgotten about Laura Quinn's hideous half-and-half jersey, which I guess was meant to "honor" brother Brady and then-boyfriend, now-husband AJ Hawk.

January 3, 2007 - Sugar Bowl vs. LSU

The Irish never shook the funk of the Fiesta Bowl completely, grab-bagging their way to a 10-2 record in 2006 that lost a lot of luster when you factor in their two losses were by a combined 46 points to Michigan and USC. The bowl game didn't provide redemption either, even as the Irish hung tough in the first half once more. The turning point came after a Quinn-to-Jeff Samardzija touchdown knotted the score at 14 with just over two minutes to play in the second quarter. LSU's JaMarcus Russell found that to be plenty of time to march straight back upfield for the go-ahead score, and the Irish never threatened again as the Tigers tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the second half to win going away, 41-14.

So now comes the Hawai'i Bowl. To wrap up, a final bit of bowl history: This will be the 11th different bowl game the Irish have played in (1 Rose, 1 Insight, 1 Independence, 1 Liberty, 1 Aloha, 3 Gator, 3 Fiesta, 4 Sugar, 5 Orange, & 7 Cotton), and they are 5-5 in their first appearances, having lost their last two bowl debuts (Independence and Insight).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How Did We Get Here?

Notre Dame arrived in Hawai'i late Friday night after assorted weather delays turned a 9-hour flight into a 13-hour, two-stop journey. As always there was controversy surrounding the Irish's postseason destination, but not of the normal variety. Used to be fans would sit around and furiously debate how the Irish had beaten "the system" to gain a plum bowl bid over other deserving teams. Now things have gotten so bad that folks have taken to complaining about, literally, how the Irish got to their bowl site:
The Irish departed Friday night for Honolulu where they will play Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

And Notre Dame was traveling in style.

A Boeing 747-400, the largest and heaviest commercial aircraft to ever utilize the South Bend Regional Airport, did the honors, carrying more than 275 people.

The plane is bigger and heavier than Air Force One, which is a 747-200. Air Force One has landed at SBN Regional many times when bringing the President to town, but has never come close to the weight of the aircraft transporting the Irish, according to the St. Joseph County Airport Authority.

The NDNation intelligentsia weighs in here. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In Search of a Fresh Start

Will Yeatman has formally requested to be released from his athletic scholarship to pursue his football/lacrosse career at another university, beginning this spring:
It had been a tumultuous year for Yeatman, who was suspended after alcohol-related arrests led to suspensions that took away his 2008 lacrosse season and half of his 2008 football season.

The source said Yeatman, 20, has not decided where he will transfer, but it is expected he will go where he can play lacrosse and football.
At first it appeared that Yeatman would opt for his second choice coming out of high school, which was North Carolina, a long-time lacrosse power with 4 NCAA championships that now happens to be led on the football field by Butch Davis. UNC beat Notre Dame 29-24 on October 11th (Yeatman did not play in the game as Charlie Weis held him out of action pending a ResLife ruling, which came down the following Tuesday suspending Will for the season stemming from a Sept. 21st SB Excise Police "raid" that had all the legitimacy of a Keystone Kops reunion special).

The lunacy of the circumstances considering Yeatman's second arrest were beyond laughable. A report full of the "lurid, SHOCKING" details surfaced over at NDNation, and while we should always exercise restraint when trusting anonymous internet postings, the operators of the board do a very good job of vetting such information before allowing it to be posted on their site. "Highlights" of the SB police's behavior that night included:
Apparently an Indiana SUDS task force, in conjunction with the South Bend police department, were enroute from one of their pre-determined “target” drinking establishments to another “target”, when one of the members “observed what appeared to be several underage people drinking” inside the house. Based solely on that observation, the task force apparently made a decision to conduct what was a full fledged “raid” on the house in which the gathering was taking place. After surrounding the house with at least 12 police cars and, without a warrant, permission of any other form or justification, members of the police and task force proceeded to violently burst into the residence. Statements taken from the students who leased the premises have made it clear that none of them granted permission for the police to enter their residence.

The assault by the police on the premises was significant and excessive. Several students witnessed the raid from outside the residence. One gave the following account of the police assault on the premises: “At least 12 police cars with dogs swarmed the house. It was like a SWAT raid you might see in a drug movie. I could not believe what I was witnessing!”
Yeatman was charged with underage drinking, false informing, and resisting arrest - none of which stuck as the stupidity of those who claimed to be responsibly upholding the law became obvious. In the end the closest thing to condemnation was a press release announcing 37 arrests that, much to the chagrin of Irish head coach Charlie Weis, took the time to single out just one person: Yeatman.

Yeatman was hardly the only athlete involved, nor was he the only football player (reserve center Mike Golic, Jr. was also charged). But he was the only one on a short leash due to a January incident for "operating while intoxicated" after being caught by campus police going for a late-night drive on campus sidewalks - in what was later revealed to be a golf cart.

By the letter of the law, yes this second violation merited a punishment. But viewing it in the real world, where one would hope there'd be a consideration for the fact that his BAC was .02, he was disturbing no one and committing no egregious or felonious acts, you'd think Notre Dame's office of Student Affairs would embrace the concept of allowing the punishment to fit the crime. A suspension for a second offense was likely warranted - but for the entire rest of the season? Give me a break. The problem here is that, once again, ResLife chose to look at this as a problem of image and not of people. The concern was not actually helping Yeatman learn from this experience and allow him to once again be a part of the Notre Dame community. Their only concern was upholding that carefully crafted, totally bogus image Bill Kirk and Mark Poorman insist on maintaining that every single person who sets foot on campus is beyond reproach, and those who aren't are dealt with swiftly and painfully. Will Yeatman didn't give up on Notre Dame - Notre Dame gave up on Will Yeatman. It's neither surprising nor wrong that he would want a second chance somewhere where the Inquisition Panel at the Main Building won't be creeping over his shoulder for the next year and a half.

As for where the junior from San Diego, CA heads now, that decision appears to be very much in the hands of Notre Dame lacrosse coach Kevin Corrigan:
[On] Dec. 5 Yeatman had a heart-to-heart talk with Irish head football coach Charlie Weis, asking for his release from his football scholarship to try to start over somewhere else. Weis, according to Yeatman, was extremely compassionate and supportive. And when Yeatman mentioned his No. 1 hopeful target was North Carolina — the school Weis and Yeatman's father, Dennis, talked him out of going to three years ago — Weis wished him well.

With football (as well as men's basketball, hockey and baseball), there is an automatic one-year residency requirement for transfers before they can play at their new school. In all other men's sports, including lacrosse, the new school can request a one-time transfer exemption.

When asked Tuesday if he planned to block the one-time transfer exemption for Yeatman, ND lacrosse coach Kevin Corrigan responded, "This isn't over, and until it is, I have no comment."
Corrigan's probable take on the matter is also completely logical: he'd prefer not to release his best player to a team that will take the field against the Irish this upcoming season. Yeatman was a complementary player for the Irish as a football tight end, without the speed of others on the depth chart and not blessed with exceptional hands - but he was a rock-solid blocker who earned playing time as a freshman and was the top returning player at the position this season due to Mike Ragone's knee injury. While Kyle Rudolph is unquestionably on track to be a much better receiving tight end, Yeatman's loss was an issue in the second half of the season and will probably still be one next year. It's a problem for the football team, but one that can be overcome. For the lacrosse team, however, it could be a devestating blow; to not only not have the player who was National Freshman of the Year in 2007 and an Honorable Mention All-American, but to have to see him line up in an opposing uniform as soon as March 8th (when the Irish host North Carolina).

Wherever Yeatman lands, I can't blame him for deciding that's he simply exhausted with his efforts to cater to certain people's agenda and would just rather have a clean slate. Good luck Will.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Justin Tuck and Tecmo Bowl

It's stories like this one that remind me what values Notre Dame instills in its students, whether they be athletes or not.

For those who have had the great privilege of playing Tecmo Bowl with me recently you undoubtedly understand my affinity for a certain Ronnie Lott of San Francisco (who aren't the 49ers mind you but have some sort of mechanical hawk as a mascot). Well Lott had high praise for young Justin for his work in the community and his level head:
“Even though you’re a Domer, there is something mystical” when people like Tuck “understand where he is at in his life and how he can help other people.”
Here's hoping Tuck continues his good work both on and off the field.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Awards Show

The main event has come and gone. The hardware was passed around at Disney World, and then Sam Bradford strode to the podium last night to collect another Oklahoma Heisman. Meanwhile, all is quiet in South Bend as the Irish go dark for the next four days to concentrate on exams (they'll resume practice on Thursday, for those players with no Friday tests, then practice 20-23 in Hawaii before the bowl game).

So we figured it was time to dish out the second annual edition of our own personal awards here at Section 29. Unfortunately there were a few members of the board who decided they were too cool for voting this year, but we saw overall good turnout. The voters:

Thomas McCall/"Broadway" Joe Long (submitting a joint ballot)
Paul Jacobs
Michael Devitt (Mike D)
George Heidkamp

And now, the envelopes please...

TEAM MVP

TM/B: Michael Floyd/Golden Tate. 7 TDs each on the season. These two have potential.
PJ: My vote is Bruton... let's face it, the offense stunk the second half of the year. Outside of the USC game it was our defense that fought their hearts out and kept us in games. Bruton anchored the most solid secondary I've seen in years.
MD: Floyd. When he left, the offense disappeared with him. I was tempted to give Bruton the nod, but I think the drop-off with Floyd's injury showed his value to this team.
GH: Several members of the defense have a case, specifically Brian Smith and the aforementioned Bruton. But I have to join in singing the praises of Mike Floyd, because we saw the debilitating effect of his absence during the final two games.

Winner: Michael Floyd, WR. Who, as you might possibly be aware, went to Cretin-Derham Hall in Minnesota. To say that a star was born is a bit of an understatement - Floyd set freshman records with 46 catches, 702 yards, 7 TDs, and did so while missing three full games (he was injured on about the 3rd play from scrimmage vs. Navy).

The Julius Jones Award - Breakout Offensive Player

TM/B: Sir Floyd. After the Stanford game, the AP reported that Mary was allegedly seen shifting slightly to the left atop the dome to prepare room for Floyd after the 2010 NFL draft (sorry, Chuck Lennon, he's leaving early).
PJ: Agree with Tmac and Joe, Floyd was an instant success.
MD: Floyd again for the reasons above. Even Golden "Is Thy" Tate was a different player without Floyd on the other side of the field.
GH: I was tempted to say Kyle Rudolph just for the sake of being an iconoclast, but Floyd was without question the real deal.

Winner: Floyd, marking the second consecutive year this award has gone to a wide receiver. Here's hoping Floyd avoids the sophomore slump which plagued Duval Kamara.

The Wes O'Neill Award - Breakout Defensive Player

TM/B: Pat Kuntz. His head was more diverse than an Obama affirmative action program. Who else deserves this award? Crum a close 2nd. Actually...we are going to save this for next year and give out two.
PJ: Brian Smith. He's a player I look forward to watching that will hopefully step into the leadership role that Mo Crum is vacating.
MD: Pat Kuntz. I don't know if he really "broke out" this year, but the man deserves an award. He is a crazy, but I love him.
GH: Brian Smith. A year ago he was an entirely raw engine, motoring around with occasional success. This season he became a true playmaker.

Winner: Kuntz/Smith. Kuntz came back with a vengeance after missing spring ball due to being absent from the University, leading the team in sacks. Smith and his sharer of the surname, Harrison, paced the Irish linebackers and actually gave rise to hope for the 3-4 defense under the Dome.

The Sean Calloway Award

Given to that individual who produces maximum results despite limited vertical and physical attributes, proving most definitely that great things can come in small packages.

TM/B: Mike Anello. He's basically Ken Girouard, domer to the end of all, not wearing all black, without a cool phone/PDA, and slightly more athletic. Noboby loves ND more than Anello.
PJ: I feel as though I would be slandering my own good name as a little guy if I didn't vote for Anello. I hope he gets to hang out at the Maui Sheraton and have mai tais delivered to him as his leg heals. This guy really does give 200%
MD: Mike Anello. Let's start the chant now, "One more year, one more year!"
GH: Golden Tate made a serious challenge, but teams keyed on him and limited his production down the stretch. Yet no matter how hard the opposition tried, they could not keep Anello from making plays.

Winner: Mike Anello, who should truly feel insulted at this point with all the Rudy comparisons.

The Russell Carter Award

Last year we introduced the Chris Thomas Award, commemorating that individual who, while a standout player, never quite seemed to live up to the hype surrounding his career. This year, we honor the memory of Russell Carter, who never quite had any hype but finally did start to produce in a starring role during his senior season as Notre Dame's basketball captain. So we focus on the fact that these players showed up at all, rather than complain about them showing up late.

TM/B: Brandon Walker, K. If the season were a college party, he showed up late, but still got the job done late in the game on the beer pong table. And as an added bonus - he was 32/32 on extra points for the season.
PJ: Terrail Lambert. Considering he's the Gerry McNamara of college football and I've screamed his name in disgust for so long in the past... he finally turned the tables and contributed to the team. He just happened to be ranked the 36th-best cornerback in the nation by Phil Steele for `08.
MD: Kyle McCarthy. He led the team in tackles (sadly). The defense played well more often than not this year, but when are we going to have a linebacker lead the team in tackles!?!
GH: Kyle McCarthy. Whine if you must about a defensive back as the team's surest tackler, but considering where Kyle's come from (a last-minute addition to the so-called "worst class in Notre Dame history") the contributions he made were quite significant. If Tom Zbikowski were as solid an open-field tackler as the football team's KMac, who knows what might have been.

Winner: Kyle McCarthy, S. He'll join with Harrison Smith next year to produce a solid and, more incredibly, all-white safety tandem.

The George Carlin "Of Course it Was Pre-Recorded, When Else Are You Gonna Record It, Afterwards?!?" Award

If you've not been privy to George Carlin's riff on airline announcements (likely one of the top 5 comedy routines of all time), do not pass go, do not collect $200 - go straight here. Then you'll know who's eligible for this award.

TM/B: Chris Marinelli, OL, Stanford.
PJ: This award has to be split... First is the Indiana State Excise Police for being raging ego-centric power hungry buffoons and sadly the second person is Will Yeatman. I realize he got a raw deal but I literally shouted 'WTF!' at the top of my longs when I heard he got in trouble for drinking a second time. I feel like a total hypocrite saying he shouldn't drink as a minor considering we all did, but if I had been busted it would have only affected me...not my whole (hypothetical) football team.
MD: I'm going to go with Tom Hammond and Pat Haden. I know they aren't players/coaches, but I am dumbfounded by most of what they say.
GH: Had I been stupid enough to watch the game with the sound on, I probably would've given the award to Bob Davie for what I'm sure was dynamite commentary on the ND-Washington game. But I've got to give the award to Steve Brown, who carried on the legacy of Kordell Stewart's "The Best Team Doesn't Always Win" BS after the ND-Michigan game.

Winner: You know, each and every one of these guys (save Will Yeatman, who did in fact get a real raw deal and may not return to the University at all) is worthless in their own special way. They can all share the award.

The Get Smart Award

Commemorating that moment of the 2008 football season where the difference between brilliance and catastrophe was "THAT much".

TM/B: The entire Syracuse football team...and any students who threw snowballs at the ND sideline that ominous day.
PJ: Floyd's fumble on the 7-yard line against the Tar Heels. To think what would have happened if we had scored on the next play to win the game. How would it have changed the season?
MD: The start of the second half of the UNC game. Something changed with that interception. A little better throw and things might have been a lot different, but probably not.
GH: The closing 2 minutes and overtime of the Pittsburgh game. ND finds a way to win that one and they possibly go 3-1 in November to close 8-4, play in a January 1st bowl and at least have a chance at a big springboard to next season. Or not. Could've gone either way.

Winner: Seems to be a split among fans as to whether it was UNC or the Pitt game where things headed south, but by popular vote the UNC game takes the honor.

The MoStovall Senior Year of Vengeance Award

Given to the returning junior/senior with the most to prove in 2008 following a lackluster career thus far.

TM/B: Jimmy Clausen. At this point in his career, the "Lebron James of High School Football" has a better chance to enter Moreau Seminary than enter the National Football League. It's time for him to step up...and make plays. And we believe he will do this next year.
PJ: I agree with Tmac and Joe, it has to be Jimmy. I'm really curious how he'll play knowing [Dayne] Crist is right behind him nipping at his heels.
MD: Any and all returning offensive lineman. They need to get it together, but I'm not sure I can put it all on them. Someone is supposed to be coaching them, right?
GH: Sam Young. Three years, 36 starts, and yet I still can't make heads nor tails of him. There are 12 games left in his college career. Can he finally play like a five-star?

Winner: Jimmy Clausen, QB. A junior by designation next year, he'll still be 22 and looked at as the unquestioned leader. Next year's the true make-or-break for him, so I can't dispute the choice even if I voted for Young.

Play of the Year

TM/B: Nothing from this year stood out, so how about this?
PJ: I vote for the entire Michigan game. In the wake of this mediocre year, it's nice to see Michigan where we were last year. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.
MD: The first five minutes of the Michigan game.
GH: Sequence after the first TD vs. Michigan - Anello out-hearts everybody for a fumble recovery, followed by a fade TD to Kamara, and then later in the quarter a bomb to Tate. 21-0 before Rich Rod had his first sip of Gatorade.

Winner:



The Obama
Who's bringin' next year's "Change We Can Believe In!!!"?

TM/B: Charles Weis. Because if he doesn't, the nation's unemployment numbers will increase.
PJ: Whoever is our next offensive line coach. I suggest Hugh Nall of Auburn. Considering the coaching changes going on there, Weis might be able to scoop him up if the offer is right.
MD: I was hoping to give this one to Swarbrick. Let's hope he's not learning on the job too. I'll go with Charlie Weis' offseason staff changes. Hopefully they happen and hopefully they'll make me believe.
GH: I'm gonna stay between the hash marks and vote for Notre Dame's running backs. I know we all wanna pile on John Latina (and the performance of his charges certainly merits that) but at some point the running backs need to take charge and impose a little will. That's what made Darius Walker a different player - he routinely made plays when it looked like there was no play to be made. So to Aldridge, Allen, Hughes, Gray, & now Cierre Wood, I put the fate of the regime in your hands.

Winner:

It's all on you, Charlie.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Basket-blog

With one game to go in the Irish football season (mercifully), we begin to find other things to think and ruminate on here at Section 29. There must be another high-profile athletic team to fill the void once the 6-6 Irish fade from view for a bit (until the next coaching change, which will beget the next recruiting news, which begets Signing Day, and so on and so forth). That's where the #12/#13 Men's Basketball team comes in.

The Irish suffered their first true letdown of the season on Saturday, falling victim to Ohio State's suffocating 2-2-1 press defense that silenced Kyle McAlarney even as Luke Harangody was making it perfectly clear he was over his recent bout with pnuemonia. The Irish sit 6-2 with highly winnable games against Boston (University, not College), Savannah State, and Delaware State before beginning the Big East slate at DePaul (@ 8 PM on New Year's Eve, no less! You wanna talk about an athletic contest that's f&*kin' with everybody's plans!) But along the way this season the Irish hoops squad will have at least one other loyal blogger aside from us; at least, he better be seeing as how he's on the team. Zach Hillesland, the senior forward from Toledo, OH, will be a contributing member of The Quad, the New York Times' college sports blog. Check here for all of Zach's posts so far and in the future (look for a new one about once a week). His opening riff where he explains how every member of the team got his nickname is quite humorous. My favorite:
No. 1 Ty Nash

Nicknames: Moe, Smash, T-Nash

Origins: Tyrone claims that one should use Moe when you don’t really know someone’s name. Apparently Tyrone has a problem with remembering names because he calls everyone Moe. He used it so much, we now call him Moe. Smash was given to Tyrone by our strength coach, Tony “T. Ro” Rolinski, a.k.a. the Dog-Faced Gremlin, a.k.a. Ari Gold (the strength coach version), a.k.a. the Sexiest Man Alive Under 6 Feet. That last one was self appointed.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mele Kalikimaka

Apparently jealous of the basketball team's recent success on the Islands, Notre Dame officially accepted the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl's invitation to play the hometown University of Hawai'i Warriors on December 24th. It will be:
  • The first time Notre Dame has played in the Hawai'i Bowl but the second bowl appearance in Honolulu (the Irish played in the 1984 Aloha Bowl, Gerry Faust's second and final postseason berth, a 27-20 loss to SMU).
  • The third time Notre Dame has played Hawai'i. The previous games were both end-of-season Thanksgiving week trips in 1991 & '97, both nailbiters won by the Irish (48-42 in '91, 23-22 in '97).
  • The first time Notre Dame has ever played a game on Christmas Eve (though they did play a very memorable, albeit fictional, contest during the 1988 holiday season while John McClane was battling Hans Gruber).
Having just returned from there, I think we members of Section 29 can vouch for the fact that there are worse ways to spend the holiday season than being "stuck" in Hawaii. The relative merits of taking on this game - indeed, any bowl game at all - are sure to become a hot-button topic for Notre Dame watchers during the next 17 days. The quick read from my end, all bulls&*t aside: it would be nice to finally be rid of the albatross known as "the streak" when it comes to bowl games. Hopefully the players seize the opportunity.

Updated - Notre Dame's official press release:
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- For just the second time in school history, Notre Dame will be playing a bowl game in Hawai’i.

The Fighting Irish (6-6) will face Hawai’i (7-6) in the seventh annual Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl on Dec. 24, the NCAA announced Sunday evening.

“We’re very excited about heading out west to play in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “This is a great opportunity for our team to face a quality opponent in their backyard and we’ll need to be ready.

“I know the extra practices this month will really benefit our team and we look forward to ending this season on a good note.”

This will be the fourth trip to Hawai’i in the football program’s history. The Irish lost to SMU in the 1984 Aloha Bowl, 27-20, and played at Hawai’i in the regular season finales in 1991 and 1997. Notre Dame won both previous meetings with the Warriors, 48-42 in 1991 and 23-22 in 1997.

Site of the game is 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawai’i. ESPN will nationally televise the game at 8:00 p.m. EST (3:00 p.m. HST in Honolulu).

Notre Dame will be making its 29th bowl appearance overall and its fourth in the past five seasons. The Irish played in the 2007 Allstate Sugar Bowl, the 2006 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the 2004 Insight Bowl. Notre Dame is 13-15 in postseason play.
Brian, any chance you've got some Starwood points left over and feel like spending Christmas in Hawaii too? C'mon, this thing is sponsored by Sheraton!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Banquet Banter

Notre Dame held its 88th football banquet last night, and once again the specter of something lost was hanging over the crowd. At least, from a fan's perspective that is. Joe Theismann, who has been repeatedly tagged as a "Weis apologist" (and even Charlie's "attack dog") was in no mood to pat everybody on the back as the event's featured speaker. The quarterback formerly known as theez-man addressed the present and future when meeting with reporters before the banquet:
"I'm not naive enough to stick my head in the sand and say, 'Well, we're OK.' " he said. "We're not OK. But we can be, and that's what I see.

"I look at this football team, and I think we have some incredible athletes at the skill positions, on the offensive side in particular. It's just something that needs to grow and grow more. How do I evaluate Charlie? I know he has to do a better job. And he'll sit here and tell you he has to do a better job."
A short time later, Weis appeared in front of the press for the first time since the USC postgame and repeated the theme:
“I don’t think you can be just a mediocre team at Notre Dame. I’m not saying you’re playing for the national championship game every year. But you have to be in the discussion,” Weis said before the team’s football banquet. “If you’re not in the discussion, I don’t think that’s what anyone who went to Notre Dame or roots for Notre Dame would ever be looking for.”
There's no point in beating around the bush: a sizeable portion of the fanbase has given up on Charlie Weis. I can't blame them. But he is going to be the football coach next year, and I think Charlie is smart enough to realize that no amount of verbal mea culpas will pacify the restless natives - winning more games will, and nothing else. He knows what he has to do, but the fact that he doesn't go on some long winded tirade about why 6-6 is unacceptable just seems to piss off NDNation posters even more at this point. Never mind that it would accomplish absolutely nothing - a lot of Notre Dame fans just want some visual confirmation that Weis is as miserable as they are, because they choose to let what happens on a football field define their lives and define the University.

Now, before you all jump on top of me as being one of those "lace curtain pansie Monk-ite latte sippers", let me expand on my position for a moment. By no means should anybody, fan, player, coach, or administrator, kick back and be content that ND went from 3-9 to 6-6. For this Notre Dame team to finish 6-6 when they were quite clearly capable of far more (and blew three second half, double-digit leads against average, average, and god-awful teams respectively on their way to that mark) burns. It's not fun to be a fan, but it certainly can't be fun to be a coach or a player saddled with that burden. That's why if Notre Dame wants to get back to being Notre Dame, they'd do well to listen carefully to what Theismann said during his banquet speech:
"For those that take the mantle and move it forward, I ask you this question. What do you want? What do you want?" Theismann said. "I want you to remember this season, I want you to remember the pain. I want you to remember the hard work.

"Every one of you has to make your mind up that this will never happen again."
Even as 2009 begins to take shape with enough plotlines, dueling alliances, and shifting emotional threads to match a Telemundo soap, the Irish players saluted their own during Friday's banquet festivities. Taking home the hardware this year:

Maurice Crum, Jr. earned the Notre Dame Monogram Club Most Valuable Player Award, as voted by his teammates. Crum wasn't shouldering the load himself this season among the linebackers, as sophomores Brian and Harrison Smith stepped up in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense. The fifth-year player finished with 63 tackles (31 solo) to go with two sacks, ending his career as a two-time captain and the 9th player to record 300 tackles in a career. Assuming he starts the bowl game, Crum will finish second to Tom Zbikowski in career starts at Notre Dame with 47, and he already will finish 8th in career tackles, also having passed Tommy Z late this season. You probably could make a case that other players had a bigger impact at moments during the year - Golden Tate on offense, David Bruton on defense - but Crum's steady leadership on the field and off deserved to be recognized. Crum joined with '07 MVP Trevor Laws as a double winner at the banquet as he shared the Nick Pietrosante Award.

And who'd he share that with? Former walk-on and all-heart special teams ace Mike Anello, who hobbled on stage to accept the award (he's out 2-4 months after suffering a break in his leg against USC, but will apply for a fifth year). The Pietrosante Award goes to "the student-athlete who best exemplified the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Irish All-America fullback" (Pietrosante starred for the Irish in the late '50s and was a number one pick and All-Pro player for the Detroit Lions. He succumbed to cancer in 1988.) Anello also won the Rockne Student-Athlete Award, fitting for a finance major who sports a 3.93 GPA and was already named a second-team Academic All-American.

Elsewhere, Pat Kuntz took home the Moose Krause Lineman of the Year award for a second straight season after collecting a career-high 8 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Mike Turkovich won Guardian of the Year (top offensive lineman). There are probably a lot of cynics out there who will equate being the best offensive lineman at Notre Dame with winning a tallest midget contest, but the unit went from allowing 58 sacks a year ago to 20. Turkovich's good (even if unspectacular) play at left tackle played a big role in that. Also along the o-line, Chris Stewart was honored with the State Farm Student-Athlete of the Year award. The history major boasts a GPA of 3.53.

We'll check back with a few "special" awards of our own after weekend (see who made our honor roll last year), but with time to kill before the "excitement" builds toward the Texas Bowl, a look back at who was on and off the mark a year ago can't hurt.

On the mark: Paul predicting in December '07: "Golden Tate is not only going to finally become comfortable with the offense and running routes, I think Charlie is going to feel comfortable letting Jimmy lob the ball down field to him." Myself for calling out: "Harrison Smith, who will be hailed as The Second Coming of Zibby, given his status as a semi-fast white safety".

Off the mark: Mike D predicting DJ Hord would have a big, Mo Stovall-type senior year. Ditto Pat Girouard for tabbing Anthony Vernaglia.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Jack Swarbrick Weighs In

Well, you knew what he was gonna say already. People are gonna take what they want out of this, either positively or negatively.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Advice from Johnny Drama

The scene: Vincent "Jack" Chase is sitting in the Oak Room at South Dining Hall, awaiting breakfast from personal chef Johnny "Drama" Affleck-Graves. Also waiting for some eats are Vince's close friends and confidants: an overbearing NDNation poster who goes by the handle of "Turtle", and women's soccer coach Randy "E" Waldrum. Jack takes a sip of coffee.

Turtle: I've never been so f&*kin' embarrassed in my life. I've never seen worse coaching, worse uniform-wearing, worse equipment managing, worse band directing, worse team chaperoning.

E: Well, I only caught a few minutes of the highlights, but I thought the band was pretty good.

Turtle: OK, fine, is that what this f&*kin' program is reduced to? We might as well petition to join Grambling & Southern at the Battle of the Bands.

E: We'd lose.

Vince: So what do you guys think I should do?

E: Well, he really screwed up this time, there's no denying it.

Turtle: This program, this program that you love, I love, we all love...and he's f&*ked it up. Losing to the motherf&*kin' Naval Academy one year, and lame-duck Greg Robinson the next. I want to vomit all over myself.

E: Put a bullet in 'im. Be done with it.

Vince: You know there's no guarantees for you either, hot shot. Haven't seen you hoisting any trophies recently.

Awkward silence.

Turtle: F*&k that. Nobody cares about women's soccer - no offense, E.

E: None taken.

Turtle: Plus you got that nice new stadium coming in so just got sit over in the corner and figure out another way to lose to UC Santa Barbara.

Vince: Hey, uncalled for.

Turtle: Fine, but seriously - put this fat suit out of his misery. Leave the gun, take the cannolis.

More awkward silence. Vince looks over to the chef's table.

Vince: You're awfully quiet, Johnny.

Johnny: I think everybody should just relax, try my eggs florentine, and take a deep breath.

Vince: You think I should keep Charlie, even after all this?

Johnny: Eh, I'm not sure what you should do, bro. But I know you don't make a decision this big based on emotion. And you don't make it 'til you know what's next.

Vince: What do you mean?

Johnny: Well, nobody appreciates their girlfriend until they get herpes from the next broad. Understand what I'm saying?

Vince: No, you guys?

E/Turtle: No.

Johnny: I'm saying, you don't dump your football coach until you've flirted with some other young hotties first. See what other options are out there.

E: That's not a bad idea.

Vince: Eh, I'll meet other coaches after I fire Charlie.

Turtle: I like it, icy cold.

Johnny: I dunno Vin. You might be getting a little ahead of yourself. I mean, let's look carefully at the situation.

Turtle: 2-8, at home on Senior Day. No other situation needs considering.

Vince: He does have a point. E, what'd you do on Senior Day?

E: Beat Seton Hall 6-0. Although does it count if we played seven more home games after that?

Vince: Close enough. Get Charlie on the phone.

Johnny: Hold on 'bro. You sure you wanna go down this road so quickly? This is what happened to the last hot shot like yourself. Thought he had it made coming over from the West Side, saddled up nice and cozy with a cool cat from Palo Alto, then had the rugged pulled out from under 'im and went searching blind for a new main squeeze. Here, try the eggs florentine. Spinach is a great source of iron.

Vince: You really think we shouldn't fire Charlie?

Johnny: Not if all you got is another training wheel candidate who don't know how to please you, bro. Sure, that up-and-comer from the Nasty 'Natti might work out, might not. So could that blonde bombshell from Northwestern. But unless you got a grade-A one-of-a-kinder up your sleeve...it's a risk.

Turtle: So we just suffer through another miserable f&*kin' year of having the band be the most competent unit on the field?

Johnny: Maybe, maybe not. But don't be jumping off the ledge unless your absolutely certain there's a bed of roses waiting for you to land in.

E: Well yeah, but there are no guarantees. So why not just fire somebody who clearly deserves it at this point?

Johnny: Hey, you wanna go searching for another 50-50 proposition, fine by me. For the time being I think that patience may prove to be a virtue.

Turtle: F&*k that.

Everybody eats and stews in silence. End scene.

The (as of this posting) still unofficial news from Fortress Hesburgh concerning the postion of head football coach in 2009 no doubt stirs opinions. What precisely was "Vince" up to, and when was he up to it? Did he got out and flirt a bit before sticking with the hand he'd been dealt? Unlikely to get the firm answers to those questions. Plenty more opinions to follow on this in the days and weeks to come.

He'll be back.

According to Irish Eyes and WNDU, Charlie Weis will be back next year to coach the Irish. A press conference is expected tomorrow to make it official.

How do I feel about it? I'll discuss in a couple days.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Observer Weighs In