Sunday, July 31, 2005

34 days to kickoff. | by Jay

Are you ready?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Golden ticket | by Jay

Chris Dufrense of the LA Times has a lengthy refresher on where we are/where we've been/where we're going with Charlie, and while it's nothing all that new, it's just about a perfect read for a Saturday morning. Here's the whole shebang.

Charlie and the Football Factory
Notre Dame hands the reins to Weis, one of its own and a proven NFL winner

By Chris Dufresne, Times Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It's the vampire's side of 6 a.m. on the Saturday of a three-day holiday weekend — the only interview slot available on first-year Coach Charlie Weis' monthly docket.

Morning, you could say, has broken again at Notre Dame.

"Touchdown Jesus" seems to be stifling a yawn as a three-quarter moon in the West offsets first light. Notre Dame Stadium is a quiet cavern, opening kickoff is still weeks away, the Irish's last national title is still 1988.

As a student here, Weis did not play football. He studied speech with the idea of becoming the next Marv Albert — yes, and it counts!

Thirty years later, after considerable toil and some serendipity, Weis has returned to call the real play-by-play for college football's most important franchise.

File this under: dream big.

"I'm livin' proof," Weis says between sips of bottled water.

And that pretty much wraps things up in the sentiment department.

Weis, the first Notre Dame graduate since Hugh Devore in 1963 to lead the football program, makes his home debut Sept. 17, against Michigan State. He suggests any emotional outpourings will "last seconds, not minutes."

Weis has yet to change a tangible perception of a Notre Dame program that was 6-6 last season and hasn't won a bowl game in a decade, but he has already changed the rules of engagement.

Holdovers from the Tyrone Willingham era got their first glimpse at spring practice.

Brady Quinn, last season's starting quarterback, noted of Weis, "He obviously knows how to get as close to perfection as you can get."

Since taking over full-time in February, Weis has reconfigured Notre Dame into the Midwest branch of New England Patriots Enterprises.

He will control everything, from the play-calling to the information flow, to how Notre Dame chooses its toothpicks.

Weis is the medium and the message, his mantra shucked and honed from mentors Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, two of the NFL's most practiced coaching dictators.

Popular sayings in their doctrine include "you are what you are" and "we'll do all the talking."

Weis was a longtime NFL influence peddler, most recently the offensive coordinator for the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots. Yet, his inner core remained largely impenetrable because Belichick, who fell approximately two feet from Parcells' coaching tree, did not allow his assistants to talk to the media.

"That's what the rules were," Weis says. "Sitting in this chair now, I can see some of the benefits from it being that way."

One is keeping your organization's private business private; the downside getting named coach at Notre Dame and people saying "Charlie Who?"

"When I came here, people said he won't be able to deal with recruiting, he has no charisma, he has no personality," Weis says. "What do they know about my personality? When people don't talk to you, how do they know anything about you?"

Weis' self-confidence teeters toward arrogance, but Notre Dame's recent tribulations, coupled with his finger jewelry, give him start-up political clout.

You could argue that hiring a Dome descendant was the logical next step after a recent rash of out-of-towners that included:

• Gerry Faust, the lovable loser, recruited straight out of high school.
• Lou Holtz, a Nervous-if-not-ingenious Nellie who delivered a title in 1988 but, like Larry Brown, was a leader you felt like you were renting.
• Bob Davie, who tried hard, talked with a drawl and never won a BCS bowl (he did lose one to Oregon State, 41-9).

He was shown the dome door and replaced by George O'Leary, fired in what seemed like minutes after it was learned he fudged on his resume. This public relations fiasco begat Willingham, whose expected five-year go lasted three.

Utah Coach Urban Meyer, named after several popes, was supposed to rescue the ship, but Florida's private jet beat Notre Dame to Salt Lake City and Meyer is doing Gator claps in "The Swamp."

And so the awesome Irish football responsibility fell to Weis, Notre Dame class of 1978, a resident of Flanner Hall, a Jersey kid who sat in Row 59 at home games never imagining the seat he'd one day sneak down to.

Dan Lombard, a Notre Dame student at the time Weis was there, recalled conversations he used to have with someone named Charlie at Flanner Hall but didn't make the synapse connection until attending a football fundraiser in Chicago that included a keynote address by the new Irish coach.

And then it hit Lombard.

"That Charlie?" he said.

Still, the quickest way to get the laser-eye from Weis is to compare his story to the heart-tug of "Rudy," the former Notre Dame benchwarmer who once talked his way into a huddle.

"Give me a break," Weis says. "Let's not use that analogy. I'm 49 years old. I mean, it's not like I've been doing this a couple years. This has been a long, arduous process."

Where to start, with the long part or the arduous?

Called originally to Notre Dame by the siren of legendary announcer Lindsey Nelson, Weis ditched his sportscaster dreams because he didn't see a quick payoff.

He worked his way into teaching and coaching, turning a six-year high school stint in New Jersey into a four-year ride as an assistant at South Carolina that ended solemnly in 1989 when Joe Morrison, the head coach, died of a heart attack.

Weis returned to New Jersey to coach high school and landed some personnel work with the New York Giants, which eventually led to the break of his life — a low-level job offer from Parcells.

A single guy willing to turn the lights on in the morning and off at night, Weis rode the Parcells train from New York to New England and then to the Jets, returning to New England in 2000 when Belichick became coach.

Four Super Bowl rings later (one with the Giants, three with the Patriots), had Weis not earned the right to be considered Notre Dame's fall-back choice?

It wasn't all ticker tape. Weis fought an obesity problem, nearly dying in 2002 after complications from gastric bypass surgery.

Weis is relatively trim now and rejects the idea he had the surgery to improve his professional look, making that perfectly clear at his introductory news conference:

"You want to know why you do it?" he said. "Because for 10 years you're over 300 pounds and your father died at 56 of a second heart attack."

Weis is married, with two kids. His daughter, Hannah, suffers from a learning disorder, which made uprooting her from the Northeast more complicated.

So maybe this isn't Rudy, or even Walter Mitty.

Weis was two laps behind at the South Bend Indy 500 the second he revved engines, left to participate remotely for National Signing Day in February because New England was in the Super Bowl.

It wasn't going to be easy playing catch-up against coaches telling recruits Notre Dame isn't what it used to be.

"They've just joined the rest of us, that's all that meant," one top 20 coach mused recently of Willingham's firing after only three seasons.

Weis thinks he can out-scheme any coach he lines up against, but also knows there may be no cognitive solution to stopping USC tailback Reggie Bush.

Notre Dame needs a Tim Brown-type talent infusion, the reason Weis spent every day on the road from April 28 through May 27 — almost unheard of in coaching circles.

One day, Weis recounts, "I went from Houston, to Lafayette, Louisiana, to Oklahoma City, to Springdale, Arkansas, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."

It will take at least a year to determine exactly where the Irish stack up on national recruiting flow charts.

Weis says his handshake meant something, although not even he's sure if kids were squeezing back the Notre Dame in him, or the Patriot.

Recruiting conversations started with academics but ultimately turn to pie-eyed NFL expectations, at which point Weis put to chin the right hand bearing his latest Super ring and mused, "So you want to play on Sunday?"

Weis adds with a laugh, "If they didn't get it, then I rub the ring."

He rejects the argument Notre Dame is too hard academically to compete anymore in upper echelon, reminding everyone that New England won three Super Bowls with as much brain as brawn.

"We had the highest graduation rate of any team in the NFL," Weis says. "We had more smart guys. What we did on offense and defense, it pays to be smart."

Of course, if all it took was SAT scores wouldn't Harvard be No. 1 in the BCS?

"That's the question," Weis says. "Where is that fine line, where you get enough smart players that can play? That's what we're trying to do right now."

Everything Weis says now is pre-fight hype.

The first inspection comes with the Sept. 3 opener at Pittsburgh, when Weis makes his Irish debut against Dave Wannstedt, another former NFL coach.

Tom Panzica, a South Bend architect and contractor who graduated in Weis' 1978 class, says it is high time Notre Dame had one of its own running the show, although anyone old enough to remember the Joe Kuharich (Class of '38) years can tell you it's no cinch for success.

"If Charlie doesn't start off well, I honestly think people will cut him more slack, because they're getting what they're asking for," Panzica says.

Mysteries abound, including how Weis, a relative Boo Radley when it comes to outside exposure, handles the extracurricular influences — media, fans, the Peacock Network, Regis Philbin and legends of Irish bashers.

It's one thing having Patriot owner Robert Kraft stop by practice in a golf cart. At Notre Dame, half of America thinks they have a stake in the franchise.

Weis is already starting to feel the opposite of ignored.

"You look a lot like Charlie Weis," a shopper said recently as Weis stocked up on groceries at a South Bend supermarket.

"I've heard that," was all Weis could think to say.

Unlike those old Lindsey Nelson-narrated highlights, Weis cannot simply fast-forward to more prosperous fourth-quarter action.

He can, by the power of proclamation, put an end to all discomforting internal noise.

"I don't really want to go there," Weis says when asked if he thought Willingham's firing was fair. "I'll tell you what, I'm going to turn this into a positive spin. When you hired a guy this time, they wanted a guy with ties here, no pun intended, OK? See, I actually have a sense of humor.

"I think they wanted someone who really understood Notre Dame."

From this day until the day he's not, Weis is coach, king, trial judge and museum curator.

Dawn breaks anew over America's castle, even if the drawbridge may be closing on openness.

"I told our team there are several things you can count on," Weis says. "One thing I told them is our laundry will never be in the public. In other words, when something goes wrong, I told them you can count on me shouldering the blame. I won't blame a player, I won't blame an assistant coach, I won't blame the president or the AD. …

"Expect the headlines to be 'Weis is a Dummy' the next day. But that allows me, behind closed doors, after I've publicly taken the blame, to start spreading the wealth. OK? But I wanted them to know how this is going to go.

"You better have some broad shoulders now."

Friday, July 29, 2005

the Art of the Call | by Michael

A little bit more about offensive strategy today.

Recently we've discussed some foundational ideas like personnel groupings and the complex simplicity of formations, but now let's talk about where principle turns into practice, and science bleeds into art: the skill of play-calling.

Like an actor who knows his script inside and out but isn't really tested until the curtain comes up, an offensive coordinator on gameday is a real-time performer who takes the blueprint and turns it into points on the scoreboard. Let's look at some of the aspects of play-calling, and see if we can't find a few examples that might give us a little insight into Charlie's experience with the Art of the Call.

1. Preparation makes for good improvisation.

As with many disciplines, what seems off-the-cuff and spontaneous is often the product of a lot of groundwork ahead of time. Even an effortless, seemingly improvised jazz riff follows a strict chord progression and a defined harmonic structure. So too, with play-calling. Brilliant "calls" in the heat of the moment really start with scouting, play design, and plenty of war room strategy for days and weeks beforehand.

Pompei of TSN had a piece on playcalling a few years ago, and preparation was cited by coaches over and over again. "The biggest thing is preparation,'' says Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, who has been calling plays in the NFL for about 20 years by his recollection. "When you go through your preparation, you prepare for situations. When they come up, there are no real surprises or mysteries."

And scouting the opposition, breaking down tape, and analyzing strengths and weaknesses is something Charlie really prides himself on. Once he's found some chinks in the armor, he can start putting together his playlist and establish some favorable matchups. An example of this can be seen in Super Bowl XXXVI.

After studying the tendencies of St. Louis corners, Pats offensive coordinator Charlie Weis during the week changed the route from an "out" in the red zone to an "out-and-up." Brady made a nice pump to freeze Dexter McCleon and that allowed [David] Patten just enough separation. Brady lobbed the ball to the back of the end zone, where only Patten could get to it.
Another example comes from last year's AFC Championship game. You might recall that during the first quarter of the game, the CBS broadcasters mentioned that the Patriots coaches told them that the offense would be targeting safety Troy Polamalu's pass coverage. Specifically, they believed he bit too easily against in patterns, which would open up the post behind him. Their plan worked flawlessly.
It was after the big fourth-and-1 stop of Bettis in the first quarter that Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis went for the jugular. Starting at his 40, Brady hit Branch in stride at about the 5-yard line and the speedy receiver stumbled in from there. Brady made the play work when he looked over the middle, which drew Polamalu over and left Branch alone with DeShea Townsend.
Again, it goes back to tape study and being prepared. All the talk of hours upon hours spent game planning is not for nothing; this time it helped the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"I think we had the perfect play called for that coverage," Brady said. "We were really anticipating what they were going to do and Deion ran a great route. I just laid it up there for him and he made a great catch. And it gave us just enough time to call a timeout, and then Adam to run on the field."
It's not a coincidence that preparation and tape study are repeatedly mentioned when the Patriots talk about plays that really worked well.

2. Be predictably unpredictable.

How many times have seen "unpredictable" in descriptions of the Patriots' offense under Weis? Surprise and fear (along with ruthless efficiency and now, a fanatical devotion to the Pope) are all weapons in Charlie's arsenal, and nothing keeps a defense off-kilter than throwing them for loops, play after play.

In last year’s AFC Championship game, two of the Patriots’ biggest pass plays occurred on first down bombs downfield to Deion Branch. The first was a 60-yard touchdown, and the second was a 45-yard completion that later set up a David Givens score. What's more, the 60-yarder was set up by some conservative play-calling (three runs and a short pass) on the previous series.

One example of smart, first down play-call in a big-game from Super Bowl XXXIX:
Game scoreless, the Patriots had first-and-10 on their own 3. New England came out with four wides; Tom Brady took three steps back to pass, then handed to Corey Dillon on a fast-draw action, 7-yard gain and now the Patriots are not in jeopardy of surrendering a safety. This play had no major impact on the game; it's an example of New England's ability to have well-designed plays ready for any down-and-distance.
The Patriots, backed up against the end zone, knew they would have trouble running successfully against the Philly front, so they showed pass and surprised the Eagles with the draw. While this wasn't an aggressive play-call like the others, showing four wides put the defense in an uncomfortable situation. Most offenses in that similar situation come out in a heavy or jumbo look, but Charlie is keen on bucking the norm.

Pompei writes, "If a play works, some play-callers will use it as many as 10 times in a game." Charlie will often run the same play two or three times in a row, although usually out of different formations. (One time against Pittsburgh, Weis called 25 pass plays in a row. Brady called it "a great game plan"). Most recently, he did this in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles.
Philadelphia has taken a 7-0 lead at 9:55 of the second quarter, and to this point the Eagles defense had dominated, holding New England to one first down. What do you do against an aggressive pass rush? Throw screens. On first down, New England screens right to Corey Dillon for 13 yards. Now, they'll never make the same call on back-to-back plays, will they? Screen left to Dillon for 16 yards. Note to Notre Dame opponents: Charlie Weis likes make the same call on back-to-back plays, which NFL defenses never caught on to.
Of course, it's hard for a defense to catch onto this practice when an offense runs a complementary play that sets up a lot like a previous play. In the same game...
New England lined up with four wides, then Corey Dillon went in motion from the slot left to wide left. Three receivers were on the right. Earlier in the game, the Patriots had shown this formation and then thrown a slant to the closest man of three on the right. This time Tom Brady pumped toward the closest man on the right and threw to the middle of three, Troy Brown, for a 12-yard gain that gave the Patriots first-and-goal. When New England came out in this set, I immediately looked toward the closest man on the right. It worked on me, and worked on the Philadelphia defense!
The only two-play combo that I can recall from the 2004 season was the fake slip screen pass to Rhema McKnight that allowed Matt Shelton to get behind the Washington secondary for an easy touchdown. Kudos to Bill Diedrick for that one, and he should definitely try to get it in the Ottawa Stampeders' playbook this season. These types of "sister" plays should be a much bigger staple of our offense this year.

3. Don't jump ship.

Per Pompei, "Sticking with a plan that was conceived over hours of midweek preparation isn't always easy, but Fassel believes it's the smart way to go. 'The worst thing you can do is just put a collection of plays together,' he says. 'And then the tendency is if you run a play that doesn't work, let's move on to something else.' "

A good offensive coordinator doesn't ignore the countless hours of tape study that helped to develop the game plan in the first place, and he doesn't bail out at the first sign of trouble. Having a contingency is essential, but it's important not to switch gears too soon. Check this out from the Houston Texans game in 2003.
On a day full of imaginative calls, the one that stands out is the fourth-and-1 bootleg Weis called with 48 seconds left from the Houston 4.

"To be honest with you, we had a lot of discussion right before that play," divulged Weis. "We were talking about running the ball but at the last second I said, 'Listen, we went into this game and that play was our lead goal-line play. Why will we go through all this planning and then change and go to a different play?' It didn't turn out the way we planned, but Tommy [Brady] made a play, made a good throw, Daniel [Graham] made a good [touchdown) catch and we won it in overtime."
Composure under fire is essential. Lesser coordinators will wilt under the pressure and cause their offenses to implode, when all they had to do was stick to the gameplan. Notice in this play-by-play account of the game-winning Super Bowl XXXVI drive how Charlie not only anticipated how the Rams would defend but also how he calmly managed his quarterback. Some selected excerpts:
"(Head coach Bill Belichick and I) talked for 5 seconds. Maybe 10 seconds. We just said, 'We gotta go down there and kick the field goal and win the game.' First play, we called a pass with a seven-man protection. A safe way to start. If they played man, we wanted to score on that first play to David Patten down the left sideline. If they zoned, we wanted to look to Troy Brown. If he wasn't available, then J.R. All we wanted to do was make positive yardage. What we weren't going to do was make a mistake."

"We waited 5 or 10 seconds to let Tom [Brady] gain composure and understand the situation, so we took 5 or 10 seconds off the 40-second (play) clock. The headset from coordinator to quarterback turns off with 15 seconds left, so we had time to let him settle and call the play.

"We called a play where they expected us to throw to the outside and we had a play called to the inside. We wanted to attack their Cover-2, figuring they wouldn't blitz twice and they went back to their bread and butter. Fortunately for us, Troy cleared the linebacker and Tom made a great throw."
By contrast, how often have we seen ND abandon the running game too soon? In some cases, a running game that was actually working?

4. On the other hand, if you're taking on water, don't be afraid to launch the lifeboats.

Even the best-laid plans can fail, and a good coordinator will know when to chuck the blueprint and go with something else. Napoleon once said that "over-preparation is the foe of inspiration", and in the heat of the battle, it's essential to realize when things aren't working and be able to smoothly switch gears.

Again, preparation is the key. Check out the following bit from Super Bowl XXXIX:
Weis said the Super Bowl's extended halftime show, which lasted 25 minutes, gave him the opportunity to devise a strategy to combat blitzing linebackers and safeties.

"They were blitzing up the middle in an attempt to take Brady out of the pocket, so we had something to combat it," said Weis, whose offense managed nine first downs in the first half. "We started using screens and the shorter passing game and it really opened things up for us."
5. You've got to have thick skin.

Outside of referees, there's nobody on the football field who takes more abuse from fans than the offensive play-caller. Second-guessing a play is a thriving cottage industry, and entire call-in shows are predicated on this populist pastime. Pompei writes, "Play-callers are like presidents in that they are blamed for everything that isn't working. It's easier to identify bad play-calling than good play-calling."

Despite three Super Bowl wins in four years, Charlie's playcalling hasn’t been immune to criticism. There's been the occasional ill-tempered rant, but there's also been some legitimate criticism of Charlie's decisions from time to time, and it's only fair to address it. In fact, an interesting pattern emerges. First, from a Providence Journal account of a 2003 game against Miami:
What an awful day of play-calling. You want it in chronological order or from end to beginning? Why, in the name of all that's sensible, would any offensive coordinator at any level think a toss was a good idea with less than a minute left in the game and no timeouts? Even if Faulk breaks out for a 10-yard run, the clock still runs. That is a wasted possession and -- given that it was a bonus possession, thanks to Richard Seymour's blocked field goal -- it should have been treated with even greater care...Weis has good days and excellent stretches. Forget '01, the work he did after the Pats dipped to 4-5 last season was outstanding, considering there was no Daniel Graham, no Branch, a limping Brown, a porous offensive line and seemingly no options. That was Weis at his best. Sunday was Weis at his worst. The Patriots are surviving his work.
Complaints about Charlie's choices in short yardage situations are commonly found in conversations with Patriots fans and on message boards.

Or take a look at this critique of Weis from a 2004 game against Arizona. Charlie likes to be aggressive and take chances downfield, but he might have gone a little overboard here. Had an Irish receiver been injured on such a risky pass, would Irish fans be that forgiving?

Another example of risky playcalling on Charlie's part from an '03 game against the Texans. The play ultimately worked, but I think it again illustrates Charlie’s preference to be the aggressor. He likes to avoid predictable tendencies and surprise defenses; in the NFL, this often meant throwing instead of pounding the ball in short yardage situations. Notice, too, how this writer came away with a completely different take on Charlie's playcalling despite the fact that both writers watched the same game.

Finally, the Larry Centers draw play. Down 20-17 with time running out and outside Adam Vinatieri's range, Charlie called for a draw play on 3rd & 3 which got stuffed. They then threw deep on fourth down but the pass was incomplete. This is the perfect example of Charlie out-thinking himself, a complaint you'll hear sometimes from Patriots fans. SI's Dr. Z ranted about some of Charlie's peculiarity and suggested that he was trying too hard to live up to his offensive genius reputation. "He is desperate to get a head-coaching job, and you don't convince people you're a genius by running the ball, by sticking with the conventional."

The common trend is fairly easy to spot; by constantly trying to out-think his opponent, Charlie will occasionally ignore the lower risk call. He likes to roll the dice and take his shots downfield, perhaps at inopportune times, and he likes to pass on third and short. You can't argue with Charlie's overall successes, but some of the detail work was a little sketchy.

If you think about it, Charlie's play-calling in short yardage situations might actually be the the most dramatic change he makes going from the NFL to college. In the pros, without a dependable running back, and playing with a patchwork line of mid-to-late round draft picks and free agents, it was much harder to pick up first downs running the ball. At Notre Dame, Charlie shouldn't have any difficulty recruiting some of the best linemen and running backs in the country, so a good short-yard running game should be easier to implement.

But hey, it's his call, right?

Touchdown Irish! | by Pat

Irish legend Tony Roberts was honored yesterday with the 2005 Chris Schenkel Award. Given annually to "a college football broadcaster who has excelled in his field and contributed to his community", it's awarded by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.

"Tony has been a great friend to all sports and especially college football," said NFF President Steven J. Hatchell. "He is a true professional, and his contributions over the years have greatly enhanced the enjoyment of fans nationwide. He stands atop his profession, and we are thrilled to recognize him."
Roberts can add this trophy to his collection of seven Associated Press Sports Reporting awards and seven Sportscaster of the Year awards.

Absolutely nothing gets us ready for football season like the sound of Tony Roberts' crisp, voltaic staccato.


(You never get tired of hearing that voice, do you? We didn't think so either.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

BlogPoll IV: Return from Blog Mountain | by Jay

The BlogPoll Roundtable is back, and this time, it's personal.

(What's the BlogPoll, you ask? In case you haven't been following along, fifty college football blogs have banded together to do a poll and rankings throughout the season. Brian over at mgoblog has the full rundown. And, to jumpstart things, we've been having a little back-and-forth on various topics. This week, it's BGS's turn to try and corral the pack of wild blogs.)

Okay, on to the topic, and it's one of our favorites: Rivals. You know, those longstanding feuds that go way, way back...or at least seem like they do. The Hatfields versus the McCoys, the Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals, Rick Blaine versus Victor Laszlo, Liberace versus subtlety. We've all got a rival, sometimes two or three. So...

1. Who are your rival(s)? The big games. The ones you always get up for, no matter how poor the teams might be during any given season. While we all might have a general sense of what the well-known national rivalries are (Army/Navy, Auburn/Alabama, etc) this is a chance to expound a little bit on your own personal bloodfeuds. Give us a little history, a little flavor, maybe a piece of lore or a notable prank that happened in the course of this feud. Also, feel free to use this question to talk about some rivalries in your team's history that may have faded away over the years.

2. Size up your chances in your rival games this year. Pretty straightforward. Try to be objective.

3. If you could start up a new rivalry with another team, who would it be? Is there a team out there that you think would make a perfect rival for your team? Maybe you've played them a few times in the past and the games got a little heated, or perhaps there's an oldtime rivalry of yours that you'd like to rekindle. Pick a team (or two) that you'd love to battle year in and year out.

4. Overall, what do you think the best rivalry in college football is? Try to pick one that doesn't involve your own team. What makes that rivalry so much better than all the others?

5. Lastly, game trophies. What are the best and worst rivalry trophies out there? There's a lot of crazy stuff changing hands every football season: Golden Axes and Beehive Boots, Old Wagon Wheels and War Canoes. Which trophies are cool? Which trophy would you be embarrassed to see your team hoist aloft after winning a rivalry game? Here's a cribsheet to help you pick out your favorite and/or most ridiculous. And if nothing seems to fit, and you'd like to design your own trophy, you can mention that too.

BlogPollers, be sure to post your answers here in a comment or set up a Trackback so we can round everything up. And readers, don't hesitate to weigh in with your own thoughts. We'll do the BGS response a little later on, after hearing what the ND faithful have to say.

In the meantime, strike up the band, break out the homecoming floats and fly in the big donors...our old rival's comin' to town.

kickstart | by Jay

Well, it's almost noon, but I just had my first cup. That's what happens when you're out until 3am on a Tuesday. Four items of note to shake out the cobwebs and kick off the day.

Pickin' cotton. BGI has some scoop on the Cotton Bowl wooing ND. Good to see the wheels are turning; ND goes with the Cotton Bowl like peas and carrots. We sort of figured that with the Big XII horning in, there had to be some quid pro quo going on behind the scenes. It's not a done deal yet, however.

"We have had some very serious discussions with Notre Dame," [Cotton Bowl prez Rick] Baker said. "There has been some progress but there are certainly a lot of details to work out before it becomes a reality.

"We are very committed to trying to do everything we can to try and get Notre Dame back in the SBC Cotton Bowl. But it's a two-way street and that's where it is really going to be successful, or fail."
The way it should be. Fabled Faust-era running back and current ND color man Allen Pinkett answered a few questions for the Rockford Register Star while playing in an alumni golf outing.
"Weis promises they are going to play nasty," Pinkett said. "Notre Dame needs to get back to being a little meaner."

Meaner on defense. Smarter on offense. And more efficient in close games.

"It's been a roller coaster ride," Pinkett said. "The thing that makes it so frustrating is the last two years they have been better than their record. They lost close games they should have won. With Coach Weis there, it will turn a little back to what folks are used to, at least winning games they are supposed to win... They'll have a better game plan on offense. Notre Dame has suffered from not having a bonafide plan of attack."

That's why even alumni, such as Pinkett, who liked Willingham think Notre Dame made the right, if messy, move. Because they think at last the Irish have the right man in Charlie Weis. "They need to win again soon," Pinkett said. "You win at Notre Dame, you are the king. If you don't, you are going to hear it from all corners. And that's the way it should be."
Second prize is a set of steak knives. Per the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:
Folks are still buzzing over a recruiting visit new Notre Dame football head coach Charlie Weis made recently with a top area high-school lineman, who clearly expected to be wooed, flattered and praised by Weis. Instead, Weis slapped a copy of the recruit's grade transcripts down on the table, chastised him for being an obviously lazy student and told him that unless things changed, Notre Dame wouldn't waste another minute recruiting him. Word is the shocked lineman is now vowing to take his classes much more seriously this school year. Weis has already received commitments from two St. Ignatius High standouts, receiver Robby Parris and defensive end John Ryan, for 2006.
Diamonds in the rough. NDN's got a new feature called "Rock's Roundup", sort of a distillation of the daily insanity. Check it out for some good nuggets that sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Card stock | by Pat

Today's South Bend Tribune made official what had been speculated: wide receiver Chris Vaughn is transferring to Louisville. According to Vaughn, his decision was based more on personal matters than football matters.

"I got suspended from Notre Dame for the fall semester, which of course took me out of the upcoming football season," Vaughn told the Tribune via telephone. "I would have had to sit out, which was bad enough, but then there was no guarantee I'd even be admitted back in after that."

"At that point, I felt I had to kind of explore my options, and I decided it was in my best interests to leave the university. I want to emphasize it had nothing to do with the football program. I think the football program is headed in the right direction.

"I have a lot of respect for coach Weis. He did everything in his power to help me, as far as my situation. He was concerned about me as a person. But in the end, there's only so much he could do."
This transfer shows just how quickly things can change on college football depth charts. At the end of last season, Notre Dame's wide receiving corps for '05 looked pretty deep -- and tall, too. I recall thinking that ND would be able to line up in a 5-wide set with 6'2" Rhema McKnight, 6'5" Maurice Stovall, 6'5" Jeff Samardzija, 6'4" Chris Vaughn, and 6'6" David Nelson and just throw fade after fade over helpless 5'8" cornerbacks.

Now the WR depth chart is decidedly different, and with McKnight, Stovall and Shelton all gone after this year, things will be rather shallow for 2006:

Senior - Jeff Samardzija, Chase Anastasio
Junior - (none)
Sophomore - D.J. Hord, David Grimes
Freshman - Barry Gallup, Rob Parris, whatever other WR recruit(s) commit to ND

Not the deepest group of receivers you'll ever see. Talent is there, but not much experience. Of course, there are other players currently on the team (Hoskins, Wooden, Vernaglia, Bragg, Bruton, for example) who might moonlight as receivers or make the switch entirely. The 2005 depth chart looks different than we thought it would in 2004, so it's safe to say that the 2006 depth chart could look much different than its current version.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Holtz redux | by Jay

We haven't discussed the NCAA violations at South Carolina yet, but that's not for a lack of talking points from the chattering class. There's a lot of lazy kneejerking going around, lumping together the latest stuff at USC with what happened at ND and Minnesota, and laughably, even a few citations of Looney & Yaeger's book as some sort of document of record on all things Holtz.

So let's take a look at what actually happened at the two previous stops.

Minnesota remains a big black mark for Holtz, mostly because it was part of a wider NCAA investigation that eventually touched not just football, but also the Gophers' hoops program, the wrestling team, and the entire athletic department, and led to the imprisonment of University official Luther Darville, who was convicted of embezzling $186,000 from the school. Holtz's transgressions were relatively minor in the grand scope of the investigation; he admitted to giving a former player between $25 and $40 to cover the loss of his wallet during a recruiting trip and giving another $250 for a summer course. The report was released while Holtz was at Notre Dame, and the ND administration (including an on-the-record Father Beauchamp) gave him its full support and (obviously) kept him on.

The Irish scandal involves femme fatale Kim Dunbar, whose story you probably know. Dunbar had embezzled over a million dollars from her employer, and was lavishing the booty on some ND players, including Jarvis Edison, with whom she had a daughter (and whom she ended up actually marrying). The catch was that Dunbar was part of the Quarterback Club, a fan organization open to anyone for a $25 annual membership fee. As a result the NCAA ultimately deemed her a "Unversity representative", and under the flimsiest of pretenses, her gifts were seen as a violation of NCAA rules. Inexplicably, ND decided not to appeal the NCAA decision, and swallowed a 2-year probation and a loss of 2 scholarships with nary a peep of protest. (Still maybe the dumbest decision of Monk's tenure). Yet there was no connection alleged between Holtz and Dunbar, and this wasn't a case of the head coach arranging for a rich booster to pay off his players; rather, Dunbar was an out-of-control groupie who sabotaged the program all on her own.

Now we've got South Carolina, where the major allegations involve improper tutoring and academic support, some over-zealousness on the part of the strength coach making some 'voluntary' summer workouts 'mandatory', and some impermissible recruiting contact, including by the former governor of SC, Jim Hodges. The proposed penalties are a two-year probation and loss of two scholarships for two years. Obviously, this isn't good. In fact, the NCAA tagged South Carolina with the "lack of institutional control" label, and hopefully it'll get their attention and spur them to clean up their act. But Lou's role in all this is unclear; for his part, he's barely mentioned in the 80+ page document from the NCAA.

So let's not make any excuses for Lou, but let's at least be specific. Most of the articles in the past week (some linked above in the first paragraph; scores more available via a simple Google search) have been way over-the-top and wildly inaccurate. Not all NCAA scandals are created equally, and without some context, you'd think Holtz was as bad an actor as Barry Switzer, the University of Colorado, or the Michigan basketball program in the early 90's. Holtz has done some regrettable things in the past, but the conventional "wisdom" I've seen over the past week is much too flippant and amounts to character assassination. According to the company line, Lou is "shady"; he's "a con man" and he's "slimy"; and in a fit of really ridiculous hyperbole, he's even "the sweet widow in the old Andy Griffith episode who sells Barney Fife his first car -- the same widow who turns out to be Myrt "Hubcaps" Lesch running a car-theft ring." It would all be so silly if it weren't so irresponsible.

Except for one article, which I think hits it right on the head. Phil Mobley of penned a piece that I think perfectly encapsulates why things slid slowly out of control in Columbia.

...There's already been too much ink spilt debating Lou Holtz's responsibility for this mess, not to mention the spate of other issues affecting the program since the Clemson game. I can only offer an opinion based on my perception, but it is this: Coach Holtz failed to keep tabs on his team to the extent necessary by a modern Division-I head football coach. I do not believe that Holtz knowingly engaged in any unethical behavior, nor do I believe he condoned it among anyone on his staff (that goes for Mike McGee, too). I further do not believe that he intentionally took the course of plausible deniability. Even so, we have all been forced to confront the reality that Holtz was too much grandfather and not enough Godfather to his players. Whether due to lack of energy or an inability to recognize the severity of problems, the well-intentioned Holtz was too distant from his team. The argument that most of the NCAA trouble was in the athletic department, as opposed to the coaching staff, rings hollow. Who is the ambassador of a university's football team if not its head coach? Though the head coach certainly doesn't have authority over those outside his staff, he sure ought to know what they're doing with his players, even more so than the athletic director, whose attention is divided among multiple sports. The deceit could not have lasted as long had Holtz pried as a head coach must...
That's just an excerpt; the whole piece is well worth a read.

Lord knows, Lou's not perfect. And he should take his lumps for the things he's done wrong. But if he's guilty of anything, it's neglect, not malice.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Harris poll filling up | by Jay

Might be old news, but I hadn't seen it until today. Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A couple of Irish tidbits included.

Harris says it has commitments from about 80 of the 114 people it wants for the poll, but won't release the list until late next month when the panel is final. The poll will be one of three components, along with the USA Today coaches poll and the average of six computer rankings systems, in the Bowl Championship Series formula that determines who'll play for college football's national championship...

...Who declined

Ara Parseghian. The former Notre Dame coach said he was too busy doing work related to his foundation to participate...

...Who wasn't asked

If Harris runs out of voters, former Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust would like to throw his name in the hat...

"I wasn't asked, but I'd love to do it," said Faust, who gets to at least seven Irish games a year and catches all the highlight shows at home in Akron, Ohio. "I voted in the UPI poll for five years and enjoyed it immensely."

Others who said they weren't contacted: Terry Bowden, former Auburn coach and current ABC analyst; Gene Corrigan, former ACC commissioner and AD at Virginia and Notre Dame; Pat Dye, former coach at Auburn, East Carolina and Wyoming; Danny Ford, former Clemson coach; Ray Goff, former Georgia coach; Bob Pruett, former Marshall coach; and Darrell Royal, former Texas coach.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy | by Mike

We love villains. Not long ago, the American Film Institute unveiled its list of the greatest heroes and villains in film, and as noble and saintly as all the goody-two-shoes are, it's the evildoers who really grab our attention. The best villains have their own style, wit, and morbid allure. From the coolly refined (Hans Gruber) to the deranged (Alex in A Clockwork Orange) to the downright terrifying (Hannibal Lecter), it's the bad guy who hatches the plot, kidnaps the girl, plunges the knife and kicks the dog. Villains are crucial, and without them, you don't have a real story.

Notre Dame football has had plenty of dastardly antagonists over the years, from the merely irritating to the crushingly heartbreaking to the thoroughly evil. Some of these knaves eventually got their comeuppance; others still run free, wreaking their havoc. All of them, however, are among the worst of the worst of the Irish blacklist.

And now, without further ado, we give you the Notre Dame Rogues Gallery.

Desmond Howard

Every single fall of their college careers, the Michigan class of 1991 lost to Notre Dame. But with one spectacular grab on September 16, 1991, Desmond Howard prevented the Michigan class of 1992 from experiencing the same fate, improving their record against Notre Dame to 1-3. In the fourth quarter, with the game still up for grabs, Michigan went for it on 4th and 1 from the Notre Dame 25-yard-line (needless to say, Lloyd was not their coach at the time). Elvis Grbac appeared to overthrow Howard, but with a completely horizontal lunge Howard grabbed the ball, and the game, just before it hit the ground. The play seems to hold special meaning among Michigan fans.

Despite this incredible play, in college, Desmond Howard could best be described as a poor man's Raghib Ismail -- although what he lacked in talent compared to the Rocket he more than made up with braggadocio. Thus it was particularly galling when Howard won the Heisman trophy, just one year after Ismail had been passed over for Ty Detmer.

And speaking of Rocket, the most painful television I have ever watched in my life was the College Gameday piece that paired Rocket and Howard. Just thinking about it makes me ill.

Villain Comparsion: Vanilla Ice

Like Howard, a one-hit-wonder who copied an original but didn't stack up, and in the process gained too much unfair recognition. Word to your mother.

John McKay

Quite possibly the best coach Notre Dame ever faced (excluding this guy at Northwestern a long time ago). While Duffy Daugherty edges McKay for most wins against Notre Dame, Daugherty did not deliver any blows as devastating as the 1964 or 1974 losses to Southern Cal. In 1964, Southern Cal pulled out a last-minute victory over the undefeated Irish when a Notre Dame victory would have secured Ara a national championship in his first season. As we’ll be forced to address the 1974 game later, we’ll spare ourselves the burden of mentioning it here.

He's the kind of guy who'd school you on the basketball court, then pat you on the back and give you a word of encouragement. I hated those guys. Always respectful of Notre Dame, but never awed, McKay always seemed to bring out the best in his team against the Irish. As he said in "McKay, a Coach's Story":
I've said it a hundred times and I'll say it again. There's no greater thrill in football than playing in South Bend. I get keyed up and ready to play myself, but thank God that won't happen. I always hope my kids are as keyed up as I am... Pick any year. The Irish will be as good or better than any team we play. I tell our kids if you don't get up for Notre Dame, you must be dead.
You almost didn't mind losing to McKay. Almost.

Villain Comparison: Robert E. Lee, Confederate Army

As with Lee, McKay is a villain because he made the unforgivable mistake of casting his lot with the bad guys. Both were some of the best at what they did and both conducted themselves with class, but you just can’t get past their allegiance. (Feldmarshall Erwin Rommel might also make a good doppelg√§nger for McKay.)

Jimmy Johnson

The anti-McKay. Jimmah, also known affectionately as the “Pig-Faced Satan”, first faced off against Notre Dame in Gerry Faust’s final game. With Faust on his way out, Pig-Faced Satan seized the opportunity to run up the score 58-7, and handed Notre Dame its fourth-worst loss in school history and the worst loss since a stacked Army team trounced a World War II-depleted Irish team in 1944.

During this and the ensuing years, Pig-Faced Satan did his damnedest to cultivate the renegade image of his program: clothing his team in camouflage instead of coats and ties for travelling, encouraging pre-game fights in the tunnel, and giving carte blanche to knuckleheads like Michael Irvin to run his mouth both on and off the field. These factors served to fuel the incredibly heated Catholics vs. Convicts rivalry of the late Eighties. Emotions ran so high that savvy Irish fans knew to "beat the rush -- hate Miami now", as a popular bumper sticker put it. The night before the game in 1988, Jimmah was burned in effigy at Stonehenge. Even Holtz dialed it way up; in the locker room before the game he told his players to "save Jimmy Johnson's ass for me!"

The smug grin. The freeze-dried hair. The beady little eyes. So much to dislike. And he never learned to clap properly either.

Villain Comparison: Hoggish Greedly, Captain Planet

The resemblance is uncanny.

Michigan Coaches, the Early Days: Fielding Yost & Fritz Crisler

Yost (left) and Crisler (right) were at the forefront of Big Ten efforts to smother Notre Dame football in the cradle. Not content merely to exclude Notre Dame from their conference, they worked to convince other schools from scheduling out-of-conference games against Notre Dame.

In seeking to explain the depths of Yost and Crisler's animus towards Notre Dame, many historians point to a general anti-Catholic sentiment. Given Crisler's nativist leanings, this possibility should not be ruled out. However, the explanation might be far simpler. Yost and Crisler were overshadowed in their eras by Rockne and Leahy respectively. The simple explanation? They were jealous, and afraid of Notre Dame.

In 1909, Yost was enjoying his popularity as coach of the "Point a Minute" Wolverines and destroying opponents left and right, until Notre Dame deflated his Wolverine juggernaut, 11-3. It was ND's first victory over the mighty Wolverines and, at the time, was a huge David vs. Goliath victory.

To further infuriate Yost, Walter Camp was in attendance and told anyone who would listen that ND's running game was the best he'd ever seen. Yost was so embarassed and enraged he would ultimately refuse to play Notre Dame again. ND was scheduled to play in Ann Arbor in 1910, but Yost waited until the night before the game to cancel it, claiming ND was using ineligible players. Once Rockne started winning, Yost's hatred towards ND was cemented.

Maize: a more cowardly shade of yellow.

Villain Comparison: Ian Paisley, Member, European Parliament

These brave souls have done their part to save the world from Papery.

Anthony Davis

You would think that when someone scores eleven touchdowns over his career against your team, the stats would speak for themselves. Yet when it comes to Anthony Davis and Notre Dame, they don’t. In 1972, Davis ran for an astonishing six touchdowns against the Irish...but it was the 1974 game that most people remember.

No one has had a game against Notre Dame like Anthony Davis did in 1974. With Notre Dame ahead 24-0 late in the second quarter, Davis scored a touchdown to put Southern Cal on the board. Nonetheless, Notre Dame had a 18-point lead at halftime and a win seemed certain. But Davis returned the opening kickoff of the second half 100 yards for a touchdown and the rout was on. Final score: Southern Cal 55, Notre Dame 24. If you have a high threshold for pain, you can read more in this article. At least you get to read about Davis being burned in effigy.

For many Irish fans, the most memorable and galling part of the 1974 game was Davis dancing on his knees in the endzone. Was this the inspiration for the elaborate voguing the Hurricanes would do a decade later?

Villain Comparison: Damien, The Omen

Anyone that’s heard Davis tell the following story – and he tells it every chance he gets – understands why.
After the game, Davis, who was the last to leave the Coliseum - bruised and battered - encountered firsthand just how much Notre Dame fans hated him.

"I come outside and I notice these people in dark clothes, and this woman comes out of the shadows and has a crucifix and she says, ‘No one does that against Notre Dame. You must be the devil,'" Davis said.

AP Voters, various years

Older Irish fans can point to the AP voters giving Maryland the national championship over a better Notre Dame team in 1953, but everyone knows the shifting logic employed by the AP voters between 1989 and 1993.

In 1989, Notre Dame finished 12-1 and second in the poll to 11-1 Miami. That year, Notre Dame played the toughest schedule in the nation, notching wins against Colorado (Big Eight champ, final rank – 4), Michigan (Big Ten champ, final rank – 7), Southern Cal (PAC-10 champ, final rank – 8), and UVa (ACC champ, final rank – 18). In other words, Notre Dame knocked off virtually all of what would constitute today’s BCS. The Irish also defeated Penn State (final rank – 15), Michigan State (final rank – 16), and Pittsburgh (final rank – 17). Three wins against Top 10 teams, and seven wins against Top 20 teams.

However, Notre Dame lost the head-to-head match-up with Miami, and Miami was crowned champion. Most Notre Dame fans could accept this result. After all, Miami had defeated Notre Dame. And if Notre Dame’s accomplishments in 1989 were insufficient to overcome such a head-to-head loss, surely the head-to-head precedent had been set.

We all know what happened in 1993: FSU & ND finished with the same record, but ND had beaten the Seminoles. Following the precedent, the Irish are national champs -- case closed, right? Yet AP voters disregarded the head-to-head result and awarded the national championship to Florida State. Unbelievable.

Even ESPN marvelled at the result.

Villain Comparison: denizens of Bolgia Six, The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

Enjoy your leaden robes, gentlemen.

Bo, you realize you're about to finish up your
career with three straight losses to me, right?
Michigan Coaches, modern era:

Bo Schembechler (4-6)
Gary Moeller (2-2-1)
Lloyd Carr (3-3)

It’s not hard to figure out why the Michigan coaches of the modern era can’t stand Notre Dame. The numbers in parentheses following the coaches’ names are their records against the Irish, and what do you notice? Not a winning record among them. According to a recent post on a Michigan blog, more of Michigan’s losses since 1988 have come against Notre Dame than any other team. (It’s worth noting that during this period, Ohio State and Michigan State have each played Michigan four more times than Notre Dame has.)

Nonetheless, do these losses really excuse the pettiness displayed by the trifling trio? Let's review.

Schembechler. Schembechler has never attempted to hide his smallness vis-à-vis Notre Dame. Recall these words:
Q: Would Notre Dame be a strong addition for the conference?

A: Why? What would they contribute than any other 12th team can't contribute?

Q: The name, the tradition, the Notre Dame history, perhaps?

A: They may find out what (Penn State Coach) Joe Paterno found out, which is, it was a lot easier when they were playing Syracuse and Rutgers and Temple. When they went into the Big Ten, they found out they couldn't go to the Rose Bowl every year.
Yes, our schedule would be quite a bit tougher if we replaced Southern Cal with Indiana, or teams like Tennessee and Florida State (to name a couple of recent opponents) with Northwestern and Illinois.

And yes, it’s all about the Rose Bowl, right Bo? In fairness to Schembechler, he did lead his last two Michigan squads to the Rose Bowl. Both years, Michigan faced Southern Cal. Of course, the combined record of Michigan and Southern Cal against Notre Dame in those two years was 0-4. What a sweet bowl. I don’t see how anyone could disagree with Schembechler’s assertion that winning that game is more important than winning a national championship.

. Reports have circulated that Moeller completely omitted Notre Dame from his final Coaches Poll ballot in 1993. As a wise man once said, “looks to me like a Big Ten suckhole.”

Carr. When Michigan traded in Three-Tie Moeller for Three-Loss Lloyd, Notre Dame frequently found itself the target of Lloyd’s incessant whining. The most notable such occurrence was Lloyd’s outrage at Notre Dame’s participation in the Eddie Robinson Classic in 1999, alleging a violation of a “gentlemen’s agreement.” Although it was obvious Lloyd was lying (due to the fact that it would be metaphysically impossible for Lloyd to enter into a gentlemen’s agreement), the record was finally set straight by former Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham, who denied any such agreement ever existed. It also bears mentioning that Canham, a true man of principle, was the AD who finally ended Michigan’s boycott of Notre Dame and, along with Moose Krause, got the series going again.

Villain Comparison: Zod, Non, and Ursa, the intergalactic exiles of Superman II. Jealous of Superman's power on Earth, these three tried like hell to bump him off but came up short. Obviously Bo is Zod, and Moeller's the big oafy guy. Lloyd is the one with the boobs.

The ThrillRandall “Thrill” Hill

It’s actually possible to pinpoint the exact play where Notre Dame’s 23-game winning streak was snapped.

During the third quarter of the 1989 game against Miami, the Hurricanes found themselves backed up to their seven yard line and facing 3rd and 43. The tide seemed to be turning in Notre Dame’s favor, and it looked like the top-ranked Irish would prevail after all.

Then Craig Erickson connected with the ever-preening Hill for a 44 yard gain, and, for the first time in two years, the Irish spirit seemed to have been broken. Miami would ultimately score a touchdown on the drive, but only after burning 10:47 off the clock.

Hill epitomized the cocky, dickish attitude of Jimmah's teams. At one point he actually legally changed his middle name to "Thrill".

Villain Comparison: the rat-like creature from Return of the Jedi. He's just like "Thrill" -- a smug, cackling little pest sitting at the feet of Jimmah the Hutt, whose only claim to fame is plucking out the eye of C-3PO. Or catching one 44-yard pass.

[The Ref Who Threw The Clipping Flag in the Orange Bowl]

With 65 seconds left in the Jan. 1, 1991 Orange Bowl, No.1 ranked Colorado was clinging to a one point lead over Notre Dame. Following two sacks that had prevented CU from running out the clock, Colorado punter Tom Rouen stepped on to the field.

Inexplicably, Rouen did not kick the ball out of bounds, and Rocket Ismail fielded the ball at the nine. Then what appeared to be the most exciting play in bowl history unfolded.

Ismail was nearly smothered by a pack of Buffalo jerseys, then somehow broke free. Ninety-one yards later, Rocket was kneeling in the Colorado endzone and Colorado’s national title hopes appeared to have been dashed. Irish fans went nuts.

But wait. [Unnamed Orange Bowl Dunderhead] threw a flag, a clipping penalty on the return, and Rocket’s fabulous run was called back. It was -- well, I don't know how to put this delicately. It was bullshit. Even Collegefootballnews noted that “[a]fter various replays, the clip was questionable at very best.”

Villain Comparison: Don Denkinger, Rich Garcia, and Neville Chamberlain, MLB umpires and British Prime Minister. Like [Unnamed Orange Bowl Jackass], Denkinger, Garcia and Chamberlain made ill-timed, boneheaded, and ultimately wrong calls when championships were on the line.

During the 1996 ALCS, Derek Jeter hit what should have been a deep fly ball to Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco. However, fan Jeffrey Maier reached out and grabbed the ball, a clear instance of fan interference. Garcia apparently got caught daydreaming in the outfield and missed Maier’s grab, because he did not call interference. Jeter was given the game-tying home run and the Yankees would proceed to win the game in extra innings.

Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler in 1938 which effectively allowed Germany to annex the Sudentenland, leaving Czechoslovakia vulnerable, one of the inciting acts of World War II.

And in maybe the most dire example of the three, in the ninth inning of Game Six of the 1985 World Series, Denkinger ruled the Royals’ Jorge Orta safe at first when Todd Worrell had clearly beaten Orta to the base. The Royals then proceeded to pull out a two-run rally and force a game seven, which the Royals would proceed to win (to Joaquin Andujar’s crushing dismay).

Don Yaeger and Douglas S. Looney

During Lou Holtz’s reign at Notre Dame, Yaeger and Looney approached Holtz with the idea of following him for a year and producing a traditional “year in the life” puff piece. Holtz rebuffed their advances, and Yaeger and Looney proceeded to go batshit. The result was Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed Its Ideals for Football Glory.

On the journalistic accuracy scale, Tarnished Dome falls somewhere between “Dewey Defeats Truman!” and a Jayson Blair story. Yaeger and Looney’s hatchet job was thoroughly exposed in an excellent Forbes Media Critic article by Paul Sheehan that is well worth reading in its entirety.

However, far more attention was given to Yaeger and Looney’s unsubstantiated allegations than the substantiated rebuttals. Released before the 1993 season, the book did prove to be a rallying point for that year’s team. Following the win at Michigan, many of the players dedicated the win to Holtz.

Villain Comparsion: Alex (Glenn Close), Fatal Attraction. Hell hath no fury like a sociopath scorned.

Keith Jackson

“Whoa Nellie, I’m a jackass!” Doddering Keith Jackson combines a complete lack of any sports announcing ability whatsoever with an intense dislike for Notre Dame. While both of these traits have been on display many times both individually and collectively, these two combined in truly epic fashion during his call of the 1988 final regular season game between #1 Notre Dame and #2 Southern Cal at the Coliseum.

To wit, on Tony Rice’s bomb to Rocket Ismail from the endzone, Jackson insisted that Rice had stepped out of the endzone, and thus a safety should have been called. In actuality, Rice had merely stepped off of the USC logo within the endzone. Jackson never corrected himself. He then proceeded to completely miss Stan Smagala’s interception, announcing that Rodney Peete’s pass had fallen incomplete while Smagala raced to the endzone.

Villain Comparison: Mustafa, Austin Powers

Like Mustafa, Jackson just won’t go away. Jackson announced he was retiring at the end of the 1998 season, but somehow we're still being subjected to this overweening windbag. Please, Keith, once and for all: just go away. Don't make us break out the ill-tempered sea bass.

The Ku Klux Klan

Fans of Generic State U often have difficulty understanding the passion subway alums have towards Notre Dame. ("Why do these people who never went to the school - many of whom have never even been to the school - love Notre Dame so much?") For many, love of Notre Dame has been passed down through the generations. Notre Dame's wild success during the 1920s, an era of rampant anti-Catholicism, assumed incredible importance to the Catholics who would become "subway alums." An excellent account of one family's story can be read here.

Perhaps no event better symbolizes the struggle of Notre Dame and American Catholics during the early 20th century than the rumble in the streets of South Bend that took place on May 17, 1924, as chronicled in Todd Tucker's Notre Dame vs. the Klan. When Klan members arrived in South Bend via the South Shore railroad for a massive rally, ND students confronted them. Two days of ferocious rioting ensued, rioting that only subsided when the heavens unleashed a torrential downpour.

Additional recommended reading: Robert Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934.

Villain Comparison: None needed. While other parts of this post are facetious, the Klan are truly, objectively villainous.

Assorted Also-Rans, Boston College

In 1993, Boston College notched the second greatest moment in BC football history when a questionable personal foul allowed Boston College to get close enough for David Gordon to kick a career-long field goal and defeat Notre Dame 41-39.

Unfortunately for BC, following this game they immediately disappeared from the collective consciousness of the college football world, just as they had in the time between Flutie's pass against Miami and Gordon's kick against the Irish. In a desperate attempt to sustain relevance, BC adopted the C-list celeb's belief that any attention is better than no attention at all.

Thus BC has engaged in a series of classless acts reminiscent of a neglected child's cries for acknowledgment. To wit, tearing up the field at Notre Dame Stadium, vandalizing the visitors' locker room at Notre Dame Stadium, making absurd comparisons between Boston College on the one hand and Notre Dame and Cornell on the other in a Newsweek special, publicly avowing themselves to be Miami's bitch, and on and on.

Villain Comparison: Fredo Corleone, The Godfather II
I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody dumb...I'm smart and I want respect!

Southern Cal's Band

“Thiiiiiis is the only song we knoooooow. It's boring and it's slooooooow.” What’s not to like about being subjected to the same handful of bars for four consecutive hours? Everything.

Touchdown? Cue the song. First down? Cue the song. The quarterback tied his shoe? Cue the song. Just finished playing the song? Cue the song. You get the idea.

In classic Notre Dame magnanimity, we are willing to offer Southern Cal a compromise that is more than fair. The next time Southern Cal comes to Notre Dame, we are willing to double the space available to the SC band in the stadium, provided that all band members are replaced with Song Girls.

Note that the Stanford Band has aspired to the throne of the most-annoying band, producing a halftime show mocking, among other things, Catholics, the Pope, and the Irish potato famine. However, the ensuing ban from Notre Dame's campus has prevented the Stanford band from developing the body of work necessary to be a true villain. Plus, they just try too hard to be taken seriously. "Hey, we're not dorks, we're edgy and provocative." Sure you are, Butters.

Villain Comparison: Los Del Rio. One crappy song. Over and over and over and over and over. Aye-yah.

Whom did we miss? Please add your additional villain(s) in the comments, as someday we might get around to a Rogues Gallery par deux.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Harangody is Irish | by Pat

Mike Brey picked up his first verbal committment of the 2006 recruiting class when Indiana power forward Luke Harangody decided to attend Notre Dame over Purdue and Indiana.

“In the end, I felt Notre Dame was the right decision,” Harangody said.

Harangody said he could see playing time right away. He doesn’t expect to redshirt.

“Coach Brey said I could step in and get some playing time,” Harangody said. “I think I can bring my toughness, and I think I can rebound.”
Harangody is a 6'7", 250lb widebody who will add a much needed physical presence on the low post. For those tired of watching the Irish get out-rebounded, Harangody is your man. As a junior, Harangody averaged 23.5 points per game, 12.3 rebounds, and shot 66 percent from the floor as he led his high school team to the regional finals in Indiana. Harangody then hit the AAU circuit and saw his stock steadily rise. He outplayed higher-ranked kids as he took his team, the SYF Players, to the finals of the prestigious Kingwood Classic AAU tournament in Houston, Texas and later captured the AAU state title in Indiana. He was also named to the Indiana Junior All-Star team that played against the Senior All-Star team (featuring Luke Zeller).

As far as star rankings and all that jazz, lists Harangody as a 4-star player, the 52nd overall player in the class of 2006, and the 8th best center/power forward.

Personally, when I read accolades like "throwback player" and "meat and potatoes guy", it sounds like we just landed a football tight end in baggy shorts. You know, someone who will do the dirty work, set the slobberknocker picks at midcourt, be a "team" guy, but not much of a scoring threat. I think I read where Harangody is Hungarian for "box out".

Well, I decided to check out the ample video of Luke in various AAU tournaments and the Indiana All-Star games, and I must say that I was surprised at his mid-range shot and how quick on his feet he looked. He even knocked down a few threes. I don't want to turn into Tom Lemming here, so I'll just sum it up by saying that while Harangody's calling card should be his rebounding, he looks to have some pretty good offensive skills as well.

If you want to check him out in action and have subscriptions to and/or, you can watch him here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. In the last three, he's #4 in the red jersey (Luke Zeller is #1, in the white jersey.)

One last testimonial from a coach who watched him play in the Kingwood AAU Classic:
“You could shoot him twice and he’s still going to the basket to score and you can’t stop him.”
And that's a good thing, now that Cincinnati has entered the Big East.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Shamrock the Vote | by Pat

We've closed the voting on the all-stars and now it's time to take a look at the results. Who won? Who got snubbed? (And just how many mistakes did I make?)

First off...the most popular poll was Lou Holtz with 1059 votes. Here's the breakdown of votes per poll.

  • Holtz - 1059.
  • Willingham - 1052.
  • Davie - 784.
  • Ara - 522.
  • Faust - 518.
  • Devine - 477
Now then, on to the results. Remember, if there are two choices for a position, then 50% should be the highest a player can get. For linebacker, make that 33%. For the complete results of the polls, click on the coach's name.

Also, all players who were named to All-American lists, according to this link, are highlighted in green.

QB - Brady Quinn (75.50%)
RB - Julius Jones (50.54%)
RB - Darius Walker(34.18%)
FB - Tom Lopienksi (49.37%)
WR - Arnaz Battle (38.97%)
WR - Rhema McKnight (24.93%)
TE - Anthony Fasano (90.94%)
OT - Ryan Harris (37.50%)
OG - Bob Morton (27.22%)
C - Jeff Faine (95.61%)
OG - Dan Stevenson (27.22%)
OT - Jordan Black (24.89%)
K - Nicholas Setta (83.16%)

DE - Justin Tuck (46.25%)
DT - Darrell Campbell (30.96%)
DT - Cedric Hilliard (37.53%)
DE - Kyle Budinscak (24.72%)
LB - Courtney Watson (31.78%)
LB - Mike Goolsby (29.31%)
LB - Brandon Hoyte (20.65%)
CB - Vontez Duff (45.94%)
CB - Shane Walton (48.56%)
S - Glenn Earl (36.83%)
S - Gerome Sapp (33.86%)
P - Joey Hildbold (72.17%)

Not too many surprises on this list. After all, you only have a three year window of choices. The recent pass defense struggles seem rather obvious when you consider that Vontez Duff and Shane Walton grabbed 94.46% of the cornerback vote. Julius broke 50% of the RB vote, which means that some people voted for him for both RB spots. On the offensive line, I thought Mahan and Milligan would win but I guess I was wrong as Morton and Stevenson edged them out in a tight race.

The Rodney Dangerfield "No Respect" Award: Ryan Grant. Julius was pretty much a no-brainer in the RB category, but the fact that Darius Walker picked up over twice as many votes as Grant was a bit surprising. Sure Darius looks like he could be a great one, but you would think that Grant's 1762 career yards (to Darius' one year 786 yard total) might have earned him better than only 15% of the vote. My guess is that he's being punished by fans who are still upset at how the previous coaching staff limited the number of carries for Julius (and Darius to some extent).

QB - Jarious Jackson (68.01%)
RB - Autry Denson (50.43%)
RB - Tony Fisher (48.05%)
FB - Joey Goodspeed (87.97%)
WR - Joey Getherall (31.17%)
WR - David Givens (39.50%)
TE - Jabari Holloway (85.56%)
OT - Luke Petitgout (44.23%)
OG - Mike Gandy (41.63%)
C - John Merandi (60.36%)
OG - Jerry Wisne (22.79%)
OT - Mike Rosenthal (42.90%)
K - Jim Sanson (64.17%)

DE - Anthony Weaver (38.84%)
DT - Lance Legree (43.39%)
DT - Corey Bennett (20.71%)
DE - Renaldo Wynn (30.38%)
LB - Rocky Boiman (27.19%)
LB - Kory Minor (24.83%)
LB - Anthony Denman (19.90%)
CB - Allen Rossum (47.79%)
CB - Ivory Covington (20.24%)
S - Deke Cooper (37.47%)
S - Tony Driver (44.31%)
P - Hunter Smith (100.00%)

Givens was the far and away winner of the WR category. The question is, are ND fans factoring in his NFL success, or giving him points for being mis-used by Davie? Because looking at the numbers, his career totals lag behind Bobby Brown in nearly every category. Bobby Brown finished his time under the Dome with 1563 receiving yards, a 15.9 yard per catch average, and 12 touchdowns. For his ND career, David Givens ended up with 814 receiving yards, an 11.3 yard per catch average, and 3 touchdowns. Even if you mix in Givens' rushing stats (146 yards, 4 touchdowns), it's still pretty obvious that Brown had a better career at ND.

In one of the closer races, Ivory Covington nabbed the second CB slot over Brock Williams by only four votes. Was it his game-saving hit on the Army TE in '95 that propelled him over Williams, who was a third round draft pick? Perhaps. Williams was a better cornerback, but didn't have that one, big play that cemented his name in people's minds.

Dangerfield Award: Brad Williams. The former High School All-American started as a true freshman on the offensive line against Navy in Dublin, but was moved back to the defensive line shorthly thereafter. Playing the "what if" game, I agree with those who contend he would have made an excellent offensive lineman if he hadn't been switched back. But he was, and while his career didn't live up to its lofty expectations, he certainly played well enough to garner more than 11 measly votes.

QB - Tony Rice (64.60%)
RB - Reggie Brooks (35.78%)
RB - Ricky Watters (34.30%)
FB - Jerome Bettis (85.31%)
WR - Tim Brown (48.58%)
WR - Raghib Ismail (43.43%)
TE - Derek Brown (59.10%)
OT - Andy Heck (41.37%)
OG - Tim Grunhard (36.54%)
C - Tim Ruddy (71.85%)
OG - Ryan Leahy (22.78%)
OT - Aaron Taylor (46.78%)
K - Craig Hentrich (62.69%)

DE - Frank Stams (45.34%)
DT - Bryant Young (36.54%)
DT - Chris Zorich (45.95%)
DE - Scott Kowalkowski (24.33%)
LB - Michael Stonebreaker (28.85%)
LB - Demetrius Dubose (21.80%)
LB - Ned Bolcar (17.04%)
CB - Todd Lyght (37.70%)
CB - Bobby Taylor (35.71%)
S - Jeff Burris (48.83%)
S - Rod Smith (14.56%)
P - Craig Hentrich (91.06%)

Is Ricky Watters another case of a player who benefiting from a productive NFL career? Look at these career rushing yards: Randy Kinder - 2295 yards. Tony Brooks - 2274 yards. Lee Becton - 2029 yards. Mark Green - 1977 yards. Ricky Watters - 1814 yards. Unless the voters were factoring in east/west rushing yards, it would seem that Watters falls a bit short of the others on the list. To be fair, he did score more rushing touchdowns so I suppose a case could be made, but he appears to lack either the one big year like Reggie Brooks and his 8.0 yards/carry or the career production of others on the list. He was a great running back, but he wasn't the only one under Holtz.

The tight end results are interesting in that Holtz is the only coach poll where the winning tight end didn't get over 85% of the vote. So the question I ask you, is that a result of better depth among Holtz tight ends or the lack of the true superstar tight end.

Dangerfield Award- Wally Kleine. Perhaps the lack of votes for Wally Kleine is a sign that people didn't agree with him being placed in the Holtz poll. Maybe he would have done better as a Devine player. But while I didn't expect him to beat out Junior Bryant and Chris Zorich, I was surprised that an All-American and 2nd round NFL draft pick couldn't pick up more than 3 votes.

Errata. Ok, I screwed up. Pat Terrell should have been in the safety category. Really no excuse for that mistake. Odds are that Terrell would have been selected alongside Covington. Sorry about that Pat.

Also, it seems that the poll didn't add up the votes for Ray Zellars. Looking at the code, it seems all of his votes went to Anthony Johnson and all of Anthony Johnson's votes were added to Marc Edwards total. So while Bettis did still win by a landslide, Zellars did not get a goose egg.

QB - Steve Beuerlein (88.27%)
RB - Allen Pinkett (53.76%)
RB - Greg Bell (25.64%)
FB - Larry Moriarty (87.64%)
WR - Joe Howard (41.56%)
WR - Milt Jackson (30.73%)
TE - Mark Bavaro (94.39%)
OT - Tom Doerger (28.32%)
OG - Larry Williams (33.95%)
C - Mike Kelley (60.97%)
OG - Tom Thayer (39.63%)
OT - Phil Pozderac (33.14%)
K - John Carney (96.84%)

DE - Eric Dorsey (37.37%)
DT - Bob Clasby (24.00%)
DT - Mike Gann (45.92%)
DE - Mike Golic (42.46%)
LB - Mike Kovaleski (23.57%)
LB - Mark Zavagnin (20.44%)
LB - Tony Furjanic (16.02%)
CB - Mike Haywood (35.39%)
CB - Stacy Toran (39.64%)
S - Dave Duerson (50.33%)
S - Joe Johnson (32.74%)
P - Blair Kiel (73.57%)

Like Julius, Allen Pinkett broke the 50% barrier so some people thought he was good enough to vote for twice. Ditto Dave Duerson. Blair Kiel made up for his 2nd place finish at quarterback by winning the punting category, which is sort of like losing Prom King but getting voted "neatest shoes". It was this theory that being a punter is slightly less glamorous than being a Notre Dame quarterback that led to us bending the rules and allowing him be a choice in two categories.

Dangerfield Award: Tony Hunter. Hunter came into Notre Dame as a wide receiver and played there for two years before switching to tight end for his final two years. The four years starter and All-American was more of a "big" wide receiver than pure tight end, but still led the Irish in receiving yards for 3 straight years and still holds on to 6th place on the all time receiving yards list. Mark Bravaro was a great tight end for the Irish, but so was Hunter. Certainly better than the 5.6% of the votes that he received.

QB - Joe Montana (98.52%)
RB - Vagas Ferguson (51.40%)
RB - Terry Eurick (28.67%)
FB - Jerome Heavens (90.44%)
WR - Pete Holohan (43.63%)
WR - Kris Haines (38.43%)
TE - Ken McAfee (94.88%)
OT - Tim Foley (43.15%)
OG - Tim Huffman (43.27%)
C - John Scully (58.53%)
OG - Ernie Hughes (27.64%)
OT - Rob Martinovich (21.94%)
K - Harry Oliver (69.50%)

DE - Ross Browner (49.61%)
DT - Jeff Weston (32.48%)
DT - Scott Zettek (31.86%)
DE - Willie Fry (45.02%)
LB - Bob Crable (31.49%)
LB - Bob Golic (34.63%)
LB - Bobby Leopold (13.61%)
CB - Luther Bradley (47.08%)
CB - Dave Waymer (36.77%)
S - Jim Browner (38.14%)
S - Joe Restic (39.42%)
P - Joe Restic (86.84%)

For only coaching for six seasons, Devine really has a impressive collection of some of the most famous names in ND history....Joe Montana, Vagas Ferguson, Ken McAfee, Ross Browner, Willie Fry, Bob Crable, Luther Bradley.

At this point I'd like to thank our friend John who helped out with many of the names for the Devine and Ara polls. He also gave his 2 cents on some of the results. Here's what he had to offer for the Devine poll:
My only surprise in the Devine era was at kicker. Dave Reeve was better than Harry Oliver, but Harry had that one great kick against Michigan.
Dangerfield Award: Quarterbacks not named Joe Montana. When you're on a Notre Dame popularity contest and running against Joe Montana, you really can't expect much. And yet, Montana still blew away the field by a huge margin. Out of 473 votes cast, the QNNJM totaled 6. Ouch.

QB - Joe Theismann (45.51%)
RB - Nick Eddy (30.97%)
RB - Rocky Bleier (25.23%)
FB - Larry Conjar (41.05%)
WR - Jim Seymour (34.51%)
WR - Tom Gatewood (31.39%)
TE - Dave Casper (92.49%)
OT - Bob Kuechenberg (37.76%)
OG - Gerry DiNardo (32.81%)
C - George Goeddeke (48.60%)
OG - Larry DiNardo (19.56%)
OT - George Kunz (37.00%)
K - Bob Thomas (70.49%)

DE - Alan Page (49.95%)
DT - Pete Duranko (24.08%)
DT - Mike McCoy (24.95%)
DE - Walt Patulski (34.78%)
LB - Jim Lynch (29.29%)
LB - Bob Olson (13.15%)
LB - Jim Carroll (10.68%)
CB - Clarence Ellis (29.10%)
CB - Mike Townsend (30.63%)
S - Nick Rassas (30.92%)
S - Tom Schoen (36.93%)
P - Brian Doherty (65.71%)

Quite the collection of All-Americans I'd say. Ironically, Bob Kuechenberg wasn't named All-American but was the leading vote getter in the offensive tackle list. Ahead of All-Americans Steve Sylvester, Paul Seiler, John Dampeer, and Jim Reilly. And according to the official roster list, after his one year at offensive tackle (1966) he moved to the defensive side of the ball. Here's John with some additional background on Kuechenberg:
Kuechenberg started at OT as a sophomore on the 1966 national championship team, but he moved to defensive end in 1967 due to need. He started ahead of classmate George Kunz in '66 but Kunz later got his chance and became an AA. Kuechenberg did not make AA as a defensive end, but he was a fine athlete and agreed to play out of position to help the team.

Kuechenberg returned to his natural OT position in the NFL. Both he and Kunz were high draft picks and played well for a long time. Both were All-Pro type players, but Kuechenberg may remembered by more folks because he was a stalwart on the great Miami Dolphin teams of the early 1970's.
John chimes in again with the rest of his take on the Era of Ara.
My reaction to the QB result is that Theismann's success as a player in the NFL carried some weight - even more so than his current ESPN exposure. His ND career is arguably no better than Clements or Hanratty and he did not win a NC. As a pure passer, however, he was the best of the three.

The rest of the results were consistent with my own opinions, although I was surprised by the number of votes for Eric Penick. His 1973 run against USC made him memorable, but the rest of his career was unremarkable.

I think Gerry DiNardo got more votes than his equally talented brother by virtue of his NCAA coaching career.
Dangerfield Award, and it's a big one: Steve Niehuas. By far my biggest mistake was omitting Niehaus from the all-star poll. A two-time All-American and #2 pick in the NFL Draft, Niehaus had more than enough credentials to stake a claim as one of the better defensive tackles to play under Ara and Devine.

So that's it. A big thanks to everyone that participated in the poll. Hope you had fun with it. Now of course the question becomes, which unit would you take?