But until current Minnesota Vikings and former Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph took home last night's Pro Bowl MVP award, just one ex-Irish star had ever garnered such recognition in the NFL's version of an all-star game.
Rudolph, who replaced Atlanta Falcons tight end and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzales on the NFC's roster last week, joined Irish legend Joe Theismann as Notre Dame graduates to take home the annual event's MVP honors thanks to a five reception, 122-yard, one touchdown first half in his team's 62-35 victory.
Said Rudolph post-game on NBC's game broadcast:
"There were a lot of great players that deserved this more than I did. To receive this honor, to have my name on the trophy with those past players, it's a dream come true."
But that wasn't the most important news regarding Notre Dame tight ends, past, present, or future, for Irish fans this weekend…
Smythe Set to SignLow or high. Crossing over the middle, down the seam or on the unenviable "stick route" after which a zone defender waits ready to unleash a blow. You name it, Notre Dame's 23rd pledge to its 2013 recruiting class Durham Smythe appears comfortable catching it. That's why head coach Brian Kelly added him to a talented tight end quartet already on campus, that's why the school in South Bend is officially Tight End U as both a pro football factory and college football haven for the nation's best.
Predictably, Smythe (6'6" 230 pounds, Belton TX) was the first of four official 2013 senior visitors to pledge Irish over the weekend. Any combination of the three remaining, DE/DL Eddie Vanderdoes, DE Kylie Fitts, and OLB Deon Hollins could before National Signing Day (February 6). Vanderdoes and Fitts qualify as greater needs based on their position(s); Hollins would be a tremendous addition due to his athleticism and ability to get to the passer.
For initial stories on Smythe, check the Irisheyes.com home page. Visit updates regarding Fitts and Hollins will be published later today while Vanderdoes has reportedly shut down contact with the recruiting process until his signing is complete next Wednesday.
(I'll have a film review and more on Smythe's fit with the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Irish later today as well.)
Smythe joins fellow 2013 pledge and January enrollee Mike Heuerman as the tight end pairing for Kelly's fourth recruiting cycle (and third totally under his control).
Must Win (and did)Trailing 37-28 near the outset of Saturday's 73-65 Irish victory at South Florida, Notre Dame turned to the old standby of the sport's most recent quarter century: layups and three-point shots. The Irish hit three of the former and four of the latter, earning two free throws along the way as part of a 20-3 run that effectively subdued their hosts.
"I would have been shocked if he didn't play well," said head coach Mike Brey. "He's been around us for a while, so it's nice. You lose a six-year senior and we put in another senior who's been in our program."
Knight scored a career-best 17 points, hitting 8 of 10 shots while grabbing seven rebounds; the latter crucial to future playing time after he failed to collect a carom in 22 combined minutes vs. Rutgers and Georgetown last week.
Ranked #24 and with ESPN's College GameDay coming to South Bend for a Saturday night, February 9 battle with Louisville, Notre Dame has a golden opportunity in the next seven days: three wins (including Saturdays) can take them from the self-inflicted 3-3 doldrums and a two-game losing skid, to 6-3 and a conference contender -- or at least a spot among the Big East's top four, automatically placing them in the conference tournament's quarter finals without breaking a sweat.
On tap for Wednesday in South Bend is Villanova and a Wildcats team that on paper seems pedestrian at best (13-7, 4-3 in the Big East). But head coach Jay Wright's resurgent crew enjoyed arguably the best five-day period of basketball any team has put forth nationwide, last week winning back-to-back games vs. top five foes Louisville (#5) and Syracuse (#3) -- on the heels of three straight losses, to boot.
Following Villanova's visit, Notre Dame will travel 90 miles west to All-State Arena to take on always beatable DePaul (1-5 in conference play). Including Saturday's win in Tampa, and if the Irish can win these two forthcoming games in which they'll be favored, Notre Dame can effectively control its conference destiny with future matchups at Syracuse, vs. Louisville, at Pittsburgh, and a rematch vs. #21 Cincinnati highlighting a six-game month of basketball that will help determine the team's tournament fate.
At 6-3 (18-4 overall), Notre Dame would be firmly planted inside the nation's top 20 with two showcase games on next week's docket. A loss this week muddies that rosy outlook.