"I wanted one thing when I walked in that door as head football coach," Weis said. "That was we would have a hard working football team that was intelligent, tough and nasty. Fellas, you achieved all those goals and I appreciate it."
Quinn and Samardzija shared the team MVP award and were two big reasons for Notre Dame's 9-2 record and upcoming trip to a BCS bowl. The 6-5 wideout set single-season records for receiving yards with 1,190 and touchdown grabs with 15, which currently leads the nation. The Valparaiso, Indiana native is just six catches away from also breaking Tom Gatewood's season record of 77 receptions. Quinn set 17 single-game, single-season and career records this year. The junior's 32 touchdown throws for over 3,600 yards smashed the old records but he was thankful for the help he received along the way.
"For me, the guys up front are a part of this too," Quinn said. "They are all such talented athletes. I want to thank the coaching staff as well. Their guidance and everything they've done for us, I don't think we'd be where we are today."
As usual, Holtz stole the show with his 15-minute speech. The old Notre Dame coach, who won the 1988 national championship for the Irish, now works at ESPN as a college football analyst. One of his colleagues is former Pittsburgh Panther star Mark May, who has been wary of Notre Dame's success this season. Holtz could not resist the temptation to throw a jab while in the presence of the Irish faithful.
"I just want to say Mark May is a beautiful individual and I love him dearly," Holtz said. "But the fact that he didn't get a good education at Pittsburgh is not his fault."
Holtz was awarded a plaque from the team during the banquet. He saved more serious words for the Notre Dame players.
"Congratulations on an incredible year," Holtz told the team. "You captivated the country not only on your accomplishments but on the way you played. You had tremendous talent. I cannot start to begin to rattle off the names that I think are as good as any in the country.
"It's really important that Notre Dame be on top of college football. This was one of the greatest years in college football. Why? Because of the interest that you all generated. You are probably the best story of the entire season."
Besides Holtz, the obvious man of the hour was Weis. The Notre Dame head coach has turned around a 6-6 squad reeling from a double-digit loss in the Insight Bowl in 2004 to a BCS-bound team in less than a year. Weis's creative offensive philosophy has shattered the record books and created a buzz evident in attracting top-flight athletes back to the Irish program. He said there still are some lofty goals to achieve in the future.
"We're going to make some major strides," Weis said. "This program is going to be on top to stay. We aren't going to be one-year wonders around here and roll in here and be satisfied and content. To be perfectly honest, I don't think anyone in here is happy with our two losses. As we get ready to go through the holiday season with family and friends and then go to whatever bowl we're going to, just dial us up because we're coming.
"I am proud of this football team. I like this football team. I like my coaching staff. This is just about being successful. I consider this team a success because of the strides they have made this year. Our better days are ahead for Notre Dame football. That's a real good thing to say after being 9-2. We're going to raise the bar and expectations are going to be high. So are yours. We hope to live up to those expectations."
Other awards were handed out after a lengthy video presentation reflecting back on the season. The half-hour highlight reel was narrated by Hall of Fame broadcaster and NFL Films voice Harry Kalas and included the highs (wins over Michigan and Tennessee) and the lows (Michigan State and USC). Victor Abiamiri took home the Lineman of the Year Award after leading all Irish linemen with 46 overall tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks. On the other side of the ball, Dan Stevenson was given the Guardian Life Insurance Award as the top offensive lineman.
Senior captain Brandon Hoyte was named the Knute Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year for his 3.139 GPA and double major in psychology and management. Defensive tackles Trevor Laws and offensive guard Dan Santucci shared the Westwood One/State Farm Student-Athlete of the Year Award while Corey Mays, Maurice Stovall, Anthony Fasano and Tom Zbikowski were all honored with the Nick Pietrosante Award as the individuals who best exemplified the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride shown by the late Notre Dame All-American fullback. Pietrosante was the team's leading rusher in 1957 and 1958 and was a two-time All-Pro back in the NFL before succumbing to cancer in 1988.