Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reeling in the Years

One of the soft-pedaled complaints about Charlie Weis that turned into a dull roar last season was that he was, if not out-and-out alienating older alumni, taking no steps to soothe their ego and remind them all how important they were. Whether some of the changes and additions made in this offseason were specifically designed to placate those critics is not our business, but certainly Weis has positioned himself to be more accessible and treat ND football as more of a share-the-glory operation. For starters, Weis hired a "Assistant for Head Football Coach Relations" (read - PR spin doctor!) and coordinated with Chuck Lennon for a mini-barnstorm of ND Alumni Clubs (scheduled trips so far: Chicago, April 4; Virginia Beach, April 23; Ocala, FL & Memphis, both April 24; Louisville, May 1; Houston & Portland, both May 7; Ventura County & Los Angeles, both May 8; Madison, WI & Naperville, IL, both May 14).

For the fourth straight year, Weis will have a special place of honor reserved for past Irish football luminaries to serve as honorary coaches in the Blue-Gold game. Previous participants included Joe Theismann, Joe Montana, Chris Zorich, Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Mike & Bob Golic, Rocket Ismail, Lou Holtz, and Ara Parseghian. Making a point to expand his horizons inside the Irish alumni circle, Weis specifically sought to include a representative from each of the past six decades when filling out the honorary coach card. A quick read on each:

1950s: Jim Morse. Better known to contemporary Domers for his contributions which helped build The Coleman Morse Center (affectionately known to us as CoMo and home of the free blue Powerade...except during Lent), Morse was a three-time letter winner from '54-'56, serving as team captain his senior year. His generosity also furnished the Morse Recruiting Lounge which sits on the second floor of the Gug.

1960s: Terry Hanratty. One of the less-heralded but still very well known quarterbacks from western Pennsylvania, Hanratty was a three-year starter for Parseghian who led the Irish to their 8th national championship in 1966; his injury late in the epic contest versus Michigan State was the deciding factor in Ara's choice to play for the tie with backup Coley O'Brien. Hanratty finished in the Top 10 of the Heisman voting three times and went on to play seven seasons for the Steelers, mostly backing up Terry Bradshaw.

1970s: Terry Eurick. A little bit of cronyism to be sure, as Weis invited his fellow '78er and Flanner roommate to partake over a host of other great choices from the superfly decade. Eurick (pictured above on the cover of SI after Notre Dame's Cotton Bowl win against #1 Texas) might not have been a star of that era, but his selection as captain for the 1977 championship team underscored the importance of all those "glue" guys who fill in around the stars to build a contender. Current players, take heed.

1980s: Allen Pinkett. At first I wasn't sure if this is supposed to be a tip of the hand that Pinkett won't be having a conflict with his Irish radio gig, but it has since occurred to me that the broadcasting of the Blue-Gold game has always been a local affiliate affair, not to mention as job for the boys at WVFI. Stay tuned on if Don Criqui & Pinkett, the record-holder for rushing yards in a season, will be back as the voices of Irish football now that Notre Dame has dropped Westwood One and partnered with ISP.

1990s: Bryant Young. A consensus All-American as a senior in 1993, Young recently retired from the San Francisco 49ers after an illustrious career which included NFL Rookie of the Year honors ('94), Comeback Player of the Year ('99, after a vicious leg injury), four All-Pro selections, and the San Fran record for sacks (89.5).

2000s: Apparently the first choice was Justin Tuck, recent Super Bowl hero and Giants pass rusher, but JT was too busy preparing for his wedding and the Irish were glad to take a raincheck. Fear not, for Generation Y will be ably represented by Ryan Grant, who just completed a bona-fide meteoric rise during the second half of the NFL season with the Green Bay Packers, topping off the year with a franchise record 201 rushing yards in the Divisional win over Seattle.

Lastly, yet another alum is coming back into the program on a full-time basis: Kinnon Tatum, Class of '97, will join Weis' staff as the intern to the Offensive Graduate Assistant. Tatum, who was one of the Notre Dame players involved in the Kim Dunbar case, played linebacker from '93-'96 and is best remembered for this:

What a hit. Can't hurt to have a guy like that around to coach up the next Irish generation. Other notebook material from Wednesday's first practice session:
  • Aches and pains: Several players competing for an open spot(s) in the starting lineup were hobbled by injuries and non-sport medical problems, meaning they won't be at full strength this spring but will participate in practices: Ian Williams (left ankle infection), Michael Turkovich (appendectomy, currently recovering), Robby Parris (sports hernia) will all be somewhat limited, while junior linebacker/end John Ryan will miss the spring after suffering a sports hernia on top of a right shoulder surgery he had just days after the '07 season ended.
  • Depth chart tweaks: Luke Schmidt will primarily get a look at tight end this spring, but it's not a full-fledged position switch (yet, anyway). Ryan & fellow junior Mo Richardson are listed back at defensive end after being moved to outside linebacker last spring. Sam Young is back at right tackle, moved to left last year because of a lingering right wrist problem, while Paul Duncan returns to left tackle.
  • Numbers: The team managers didn't need to leave departing senior jerseys unattended for long. Early enrollee Trevor Robinson assumed John Sullivan's #78, while Sean Cwynar now holds the #98 of Trevor Laws. Among current players, the only known switch so far is Harrison Smith exchanging Rocky Boiman's #30 for Ambrose Wooden's #22. I don't want to prematurely judge Mr. Smith's intention, but I think he's trading down as far as lineage goes.
  • America's Pastime: Evan Sharpley leads the Irish baseball team in home runs and was just named Big East Player of the Week after launching four bombs in three games. Eric Maust tossed 8 shutout innings in a win over Georgetown this weekend. Golden Tate is, on any given day, the third starting outfielder, though not solidly in the top three yet. For now, "all three know that there are days where they are definitely going to be in football, and there's days they are definitely going to be in baseball with baseball taking the upper hand until we get to April 10", Weis said. April 10th marks the first of consecutive weekend roadtrips for the baseball team. At this point, it sure looks like Dave Schrage will want to have all three two-sporters at his disposal, which might mean missing the final six football practices, not to mention the April 19th Blue-Gold game.


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