Knute Rockne. The Four Horsemen. The Gipper. Frank Leahy. Ara Parseghian. Lou Holtz. Paul Hornung. Touchdown Jesus. Play Like a Champion Today. The Golden Dome. And on and on and on.
Notre Dame football has a rich history in college football. They have been America’s team in college football for years. Since the legendary days of Rockne, the gold helmets have mesmerized the nation. The history still captivates the Irish faithful, but it seems the program is stuck in its past. Taking Irish eyes out of the archives and into 2009, and a sad development is beginning to hit hard.
Notre Dame is mediocre, perhaps below average. Over the past few seasons, the Irish have been given a pass. “They are in the rebuilding process…Charlie needs his players,” are popular answers for a 10-15 record from 2007-2008. 2009 was supposed to be different.
A freshly minted program was supposed to be unveiled, and the golden helmets were to regain their glow. For a while, the Irish looked like they were ready to take off. A theme of 4th quarter comebacks led by Jimmy Clausen was exciting and promising as Notre Dame jumped out to a 6-2 record.
The Irish even gave USC a run for their money in a thrilling comeback that fell a touchdown short. Now, though, the glow from that positive performance has worn off as USC is in a transitional period. Notre Dame only wishes they could be rebuilding in a season likely to end with two losses. Instead, the annual cries for Charlie Weis’ job have again resurfaced. Why?
Notre Dame lost in South Bend to Navy for the second consecutive time. Remember, the Irish had a 43 game winning streak against the Midshipmen snapped two years ago. It was a sign that Notre Dame football hit rock bottom. The Irish finished the season 3-9. This time was going to be different. Jimmy Clausen morphed into a Heisman candidate and a prolific passer. Navy had no shot. Instead, the triple-option attack exposed the defense and propelled the Midshipmen to victory.
Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs only attempted three passes the whole game! They pounded the Irish on the ground, carrying the ball 57 times for 348 yards. How is this possible in Division 1 football, let alone on the sacred grounds of Notre Dame Stadium? (Navy, by the way, lost to perennial bottom feeder Temple a week earlier. While Temple is on the way up, the mighty Fighting Irish are on the way down). The Irish should have stacked the box to stuff the run. Navy wasn’t going to throw anyway. They imposed their will on the Irish. Still, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown was offended after the game. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said it helped the Irish didn’t make any adjustments.
Maybe Brown should be offended by his own coaching. Taking responsibility, though, is not the Notre Dame way. Charlie Weis struts around despite his atrocious coaching record and still thinks he is an offensive genius. This attitude has rubbed off on Brown, who is responsible for one of the weakest defenses in football. Brown sticks behind his decisions. I guess the Irish were trying to prevent the Hail Mary all game, because the running game never once slowed down. Navy didn’t need a Hail Mary from the passing game as fullback Vince Murray powered his way to a 40-yard run with Navy pinned at the one-yard line. Rather than focusing on that, Brown cried to the media that he was hurt by the comments.
Sometimes, the truth hurts.
The sooner Notre Dame figures this out, the sooner they can clean up this mess. It is not 1930 or 1973 or 1988. Paul Hornung, Joe Montana, and Tim Brown aren’t going to come out of the tunnel again. In this era of college football, the present is all that matters. Unfortunately, Notre Dame hasn’t received the memo, and will continue to fall until it does.
The memo is not a positive one:
-The record of opponents beaten by the Irish the past three years: 53-100.
-Record from 2007-2009: 16-18
-Signature wins during the Weis Era: Does losing to USC in a classic in 2005 count? (That means zero unless the Hawaii bowl is as big as it seemed. It was to be a launching point and a coming out party for Clausen and Co. It turns out the Hawaii bowl isn’t the best measure for a program regaining elite status.)
-Academic peers like Stanford and Northwestern are now equal, if not better than Notre Dame.
If Notre Dame is going to recapture the magic, some changes need to be made. The glory days are distant memories now. In order to retake the glory, the program and its fans must shift their focus to the future. A new line of coaches and players will start a new winning tradition in Irish football. That would be the best tribute to the legends of the past.