What's Past is Prologue

Most Irish fans know the program has recovered from these depths before.

The quotes that poured from Notre Dame's locker room in the wake of another 1-3 start were telling:

"You didn't see us let down and die. I thought our defense gave a great effort,"
– said the team's leading tackler.

"It was the offense's fault. With the mistakes we made, we kept the defense on the field and you can't do that…"
– offered the senior leader of the offensive front.

"With proper technique and consistency we can play with anybody. The game plan and the play calling are excellent. There's no question about it. But until we do the little things, we're not going to win the game,"
– noted the same senior lineman.

"I think Notre Dame has a fine chance of being a very fine team. It's going to depend on what they're made of,"
– offered the opposing head coach.

"We've got to settle down. We've got to play as a football team that can win,"
– stated Notre Dame's new head man.

Saturday, Notre Dame lost to a ranked, rugged Stanford squad to begin the season an unexpected 1-3 under its new head coach.

But none of the quotes above pertain to yesterday's contest, rather a 1986, 18-point loss at No. 2 Alabama and an Irish team that fell to 1-3; victims of two close losses and a blowout under new head coach Lou Holtz.

Building Blocks

Despite career struggles and a W-L record 20-20 after their first 40 games, the 1986 Irish benefitted from key senior leaders to right the ship. Center Chuck Lanza (quotes #2 and #3 above) and inside linebacker Mike Kovaleski (quote #1) were the rocks on which the team's internal structure was built.

The '86 squad had a junior class with immense talent at the top in all-world performer Tim Brown and a collection of key players with multiple years of eligibility remaining. The bulk of its talent would return for 1987 and '88 with ridiculously loaded recruiting classes about to hit campus.

The bulk of Notre Dame's 2010 talent will return next season as well:

  • Five of the top six defensive linemen; four offensive line starters and the entire collection of current backups; all but one wide receiver; every tight end; every quarterback; both the second and third-string running back; both kickers and the punter; three of five regular linebackers as well as the supposed next four in line; all but one of the eight contributing defensive backs.

All set to return or allowed to apply for a 5th-season of eligibility for 2011.

But September 26 is too early to look toward the future. Too early for Brian Kelly, too early for this roster with 6 regulars and 3 contributors about to exhaust their eligibility, and far too early for Irish fans, a lot not ready to accept another off-season of rebuilding.

The 2010 season will be defined by the continued buy-in of the senior class. Chris Stewart (in his 5th-year), Armando Allen, Brian Smith, Kerry Neal, Darrin Walls and Ian Williams will remain focal points over the final two months. Robert Hughes, Bobby Burger and Duval Kamara, each of whom played far more last season, must continue to play their roles – and that of the good soldier – despite a thus-far frustrating beginning to what they felt would be a special season.

Others, such as 5th-year seniors Barry Gallup and the sidelined Dan Wenger, can continue with practice, locker room and sideline contributions for the younger players who've claimed their on-field roles.

"There's going to be a lot of 1-3 football teams across the country," said Brian Kelly post-game. "Some are going to finish 1-11, some of going to be 8-or 9-3. It's what you decide to do from here on out."

A 1-3 team is only as strong as its core of leaders. The now 17-win, 24-loss senior class has one last chance to leave a lasting impression.

Words of Wisdom

For the 2010 Irish now faced with the unsettling reality of a 1-3 start, a blueprint exists in the 1986 squad's now 25-year-old lesson in handling adversity. The '86 group finished 5-6, losing four games to teams ranked among the nation's Top 8, before concluding with an emotional come-from-behind victory over a ranked USC squad in the Coliseum, the traditional house of horrors to which these Irish will travel over Thanksgiving.

Of course, Irish fans hope history won't continue to follow the exact blueprint of the '86 squad in Game Five of 2010, as Holtz's first Irish crew fell to 1-4, missing a late field goal in a 10-9 loss to unranked Pittsburgh.

The third narrow defeat elicited this observation from then-senior linebacker Dave Butler:

"We're not snake-bitten and we don't have bad luck. We don't think there's any such thing. Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet."

As Butler and the posthumously-embraced 1986 Irish proved, it pays to have upperclassmen that listen to and embrace their head coach.

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