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.

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