The injuries will serve as an accompanying storyline every time Dayne Crist throws a touchdown or fails to escape a pass-rush this fall. The friendship has been well-documented, oft-referenced, and now becomes camp fodder, as few fans care if their favorite team's top quarterbacks are bosom buddies once the season begins.
The final element – the second chance to make a lasting impression – is all that matters for Irish fans and for Crist's legacy at the program.
Convenient for the Irish fan base is that Crist shares that singular goal.
"There's no group of guys that I care for more than the guys in that locker room," he noted of the apparent sentiment the team had rallied around his return from a second knee surgery. "Even more so, you have the relationship as players and teammates and stuff like that, but they're all some of my best friends.
"It's great having that support and knowing the guys are behind you. Obviously, it makes you feel great, but at the same time you just know you want to go out there and produce and help them be better, help make them better."
Timing is EverythingUnfortunate for Crist, his best efforts were in vain.
Few Irish fans remember the first-year starter's best game last fall was his baptism-by-fire in a hostile environment. In the first road start of his career, Crist fired for 369 yards and four touchdown passes vs. one interception, but the Irish defense – and famously, its special teams – yielded 34 points in an overtime loss at Michigan State.
In the preceding contest, Notre Dame outscored rival Michigan 24-7 with Dayne Crist in the lineup. Unfortunate for Crist, the Wolverines piled up 21 points while shutting out the Irish while Crist was sidelined with blurred vision (that's a concussion for the lay person) following the team's opening touchdown drive.
It's notable that Crist remained in the game and finished said drive with not one but two rushing scores, the first of highlight reel variety disallowed by penalty.
He also delivered the longest pass of his career and the second longest touchdown strike in program history approximately 50 game minutes later, but that 95-yard go-ahead thriller ranks as a statistical footnote in defeat, rather than one of the 10 most memorable single throws – what would have been a game-winner near the four-minute mark vs. a hated rival – in program lore.
Doubly unfortunate for Crist, his worst performance was also his last: a two-interception, uninspired stink-fest in the New Meadowlands vs. a somehow clearly superior Navy team.
The defense bore the brunt of the blame in defeat, but Crist was culpable as well. It's hard to inspire the masses when you can't solve a standard Cover 2 manned by non-scholarship athletes with height limitations.
One week – and just three snaps later – Crist sprinted right for the longest rush of his college career: 26 yards later, his season was over, and the Irish eventually lost lost to Tulsa in South Bend; Crist's official record as a starter fell to 4-5 with another knee surgery on tap.
Conversely, his Irish teammates received a respite from football with a Week 10 Bye and, well, you know the rest:
A 4-0 finish thanks to a tweaked offensive scheme, backup quarterback Tommy Rees, and oh yeah, a defense that allowed fewer than 10 points per game for the remainder of the season – this from the same group that couldn't have held Navy's offense under 20 in a game of two-hand touch two games prior.
Two numbers countIrish fans conditioned to scorn Crist for his 2010 performance overlooked solid, if not spectacular numbers from the first-time starter: 15 touchdowns vs. 7 interceptions; a team-high four rushing touchdowns (seriously), 225 passing yards per game and an impressive eight yards per carry on rare ventures outside the pocket.
Crist's numbers in four defeats: 79-145 for 928 yards, with 9 total touchdowns (rushing included), 5 interceptions, and a lost fumble.
But the disbelieving masses, those that remember the inconsistent, disjointed spread attack are determined to channel ex-Chicago Bears head man Mike Ditka who once mused: "Stats are for idiots."
Its true that only two numbers matter for Notre Dame's starting quarterback: one replaces the "W" and the other replaces the "L" on either side of a tell-tale hyphen denoting the triggerman's W-L efforts.
It's why Tony Rice (28-3) is an Irish legend. Why one-year wonder Kevin McDougal (10-1) is revered, and it's why Jimmy Clausen (16-18) is viewed as a statistical afterthought that bolted town as soon as legally feasible.
At 4-5, Crist hasn't earned much goodwill. At 4-0 last fall, Rees earned plenty.
At 4-5, Crist can't merely play well in defeat, providing the Irish a pair of last-drive leads late and in overtime as he did vs. the Wolverines and Spartans, respectively.
Never mind that Crist participated in three snaps in one of "his losses." Never mind that potential All-America linebacker Manti Te'o is 14-11 in his Irish career; or that Notre Dame was 2-5 with Michael Floyd in its lineup during Charlie Weis' final season of 2009, but 4-1 without him. (Duval Kamara was 4-1 as a starting wide receiver in '09, is he more of a "winner" than Floyd?)
In the eyes of the masses, it falls on the quarterback, especially at Notre Dame where no one remembers that Tony Rice threw two touchdown passes vs. nine interceptions as a senior. They do, however, remember the season's 12 wins and 12 more that precede were accompanied by a national title.
With two seasons of eligibility remaining, Crist could technically start 26 more games which would give him 35 contests under center at the University. The number would rank fourth in program history.
It's a full-fledged second chance to earn a lasting impression. To be one of the chosen few rather than one of many along the way.
For Notre Dame's quarterbacks and thus at present, for the affable, always engaging, yet .500-saddled Crist, it's simple:
Win and you're in.
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