Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Redemption and Glory

by Dave Schmitt, Special to KankaNation

Unbridled joy and ecstasy are part of what makes college sports so great. Every player and student should experience a night that makes them reach for the heavens and thank God for putting them in that time and place. No matter what came after, Rutgers will always have that Thursday night in Piscataway, and Valparaiso will always have the Bryce Drew shot. October 15, 2005 was supposed to be such a night.

It was all set up so perfectly. After Weis, Quinn, & Co. unleashed unexpected devastation against lesser foes, in came the great Trojan squad, loaded with future NFL stars in their collegiate primes. The game was at home, the echoes were awakened by the presence of Irish royalty, and the thunder shook down with the sight of the dark green jerseys. The Irish went punch-for-punch with USC all the way, capped by an explosive punt return TD and Quinn’s brilliant 87-yard TD drive. Then, Leinart made an impossible throw, the ball was knocked out of bounds, and in the confusion Bush pushed Leinart into the end zone for the incredible final note. Until my dying day, I will believe that Notre Dame came as close to winning that game as a team can possibly come without actually being credited with the win. It was supposed to be ours. Only a miraculously stunning turn of events kept it from being the last night of the Trojan dynasty.

13 Months later, USC has reloaded, but although some familiar faces like Stovall, Fasano, and Hoyte have graduated, the Irish are back almost entirely intact. Redemption and glory are still attainable. Revenge, nearly inevitable. Imagine what it must have been like for these players, to deal with the impact of that loss, a game they wanted more than any other after the humiliation of three previous 31-point defeats. They have sat on this for 13 months now. It is time for this special group of guys to win this game. Just look at the personalities and talents on this squad. Quinn, the rocket-armed golden boy. Samardzija, the two-sport clutch baller who is the envy of every young boy playing in a backyard. Harris, the four-year starter on the offensive line who expected much better than he got in the first half of his career. Abiamiri, the superhyped recruit who is finally learning to dominate. Zbikowski, the boxer and hard-hitting safety. McKnight, the wise old sage who didn’t get to play in this game last year. Landri, the man from Southern California who took a flyer on the Irish and would like to stick it to his hometown team. A Hollywood casting director couldn’t come up with a better group of stories. They are among the most beloved group of players in ND history. It’s time for their moment of glory.

The leader of this bunch, Charlie Weis, likes to downplay emotion and stick to the business of playing sound assignment football. This works well in the pros, where the guys are all getting paid and their main motivation is to improve for their next paycheck. But in college, they are playing for their school and their pride. Especially in this game – ND almost certainly is out of the running for the title, Quinn probably can’t overtake Troy Smith for the Heisman, and one last game likely won’t change the draft stock of too many of these guys. They are playing for one thing this week: to avenge last year’s game and the beatings that came before it. Hopefully Charlie will see it this way. This is one week where emotion is important.

This team has serious flaws, defensively and in the running game. USC will not be an easy task by any stretch. But Notre Dame squads have beaten the odds many times before. This one must be won for the glory of Notre Dame, Our Mother. Beat SC.