Year of the Leprachaun

The year 2006 brought both high and low moments for the Irish football team. Here's a recap of the top 10 Irish moments in the Year of the Leprechaun.

10. The Emergence of John Carlson:

When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Anthony Fasano last year in the NFL Draft, they took one of the most prolific and reliable tight ends in Irish history. Coming into this season, there was a battle for playing time between Carlson and Marcus Freeman. Shortly into the season, Carlson established himself as the starter, but not to the extent many of us could have imagined. Carlson missed the final two games of the season with a knee injury, but made his presence known all season long. Carlson made his mark as the sure fire outlet for Brady Quinn, making spectacular catches in the Penn State game and having his season best outing against Michigan State, catching four passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. Carlson has not made up his mind for next year, but his emergence this season has been a large bright spot and could help the new quarterback next season.

9. Notre Dame Enters Preseason #2 in the Nation:

Some may see this as a disappointment but for the seniors of this class they were final given some respect. Many thought the Irish were over ranked and the ratings were inflated. Given the returning starters on both sides of the ball, it was easy to see why the Irish were favored to win nearly all of their games with the only road bumps versus Michigan and Southern Cal. The prominence of this moment is that for nearly a decade the Irish have endured up and down seasons and have not entered a season ranked this high since 1994 when they came in at number four. This is a credit to the players, staff, and the administration that the Irish have earned a spot back as a college power.

8. Notre Dame Wallops Penn State at Home:

Considered to be a sure fire barometer for how well the Irish would do this season, the Irish were poised to take on the Nittany Lions and prove themselves worthy of all the hype. After a hard fought battle against Georgia Tech, the Irish would need a good showing here to prepare for the next game against Michigan. Boy, did the Irish answer. Notre Dame scored first with a field goal by Carl Gioia in the first quarter. The remaining quarter would be uneventful, but near the beginning of the second quarter the Irish would recover a Tony Hunt fumble. The Irish would put 17 more points on the board in the second quarter. Carl Gioia added another field goal and Quinn threw two scoring strikes to Samardzija and McKnight to put the lead at 20. The Irish would continue to pound out and score and destroy Penn State 41-17.

7. Irish Seniors Leave Notre Dame Stadium as Winners:

The final score: 41-9. The opponent: Army. Some would say "Big deal, it was Army". I say "What a fitting way to say good bye to one of the most beloved senior classes in memory". The Irish were first brought to prominence by their games against Army early in the 1930's and 1940's and they played the game in their storied green home uniforms and sent the seniors out in style. The Victory Lap included Irish stalwarts such as Brady Quinn, Victor Abiamiri, Jeff Samardzija, Dan Santucci, and Rhema McKnight. These seniors will be sorely missed and will remind us of the time they began the Irish return to greatness. 6. Notre Dame Secure Its Second Consecutive BCS Bowl Bid:

It was a formality as many had already heard the unconfirmed rumors that Florida would be invited to play Ohio State in the National Championship game. On December 3, 2006, the Irish were selected to play Louisiana State in the Sugar Bowl, giving them their second consecutive BCS bowl selection (Fiesta Bowl, 2005).

5. Notre Dame Drives the Field in the Last Minute to Defeat UCLA:

Trailing 17-13, Brady Quinn and the Irish mounted a drive that would ensure that the Irish at least stay in the National Title hunt. With 1:02 left on the clock, Quinn stepped under center and threw a completion to Jeff Samardzija for 21 yards. The next completion Quinn fired was to David Grimes for another 14 yards. With about 33 seconds left, at the UCLA 45, Quinn stepped under center again. He took the snap and began to scramble to the right. At one point it looked as if he would tuck the ball and run, but at the last second he threw a completion to Samardzija. Shark stepped inside of Bruins' safety Dennis Keyes at the 20 yard line, maintained his balance, and ran into the end zone. The touchdown gave the Irish a 20-17 lead with 27 seconds left and the Irish would preserve the victory, and a shot at the BCS.

4. Notre Dame Receives Commitment from Jimmy Clausen:

The Scout and ESPN No. 1 recruit in the nation ended his speculation about his collegiate future in his announcement on April 22, 2006 in time for the Irish Spring Game. The announcement was held at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind, and included press from nearly every sports network as well as a stretch Hummer limousine. The announcement gave the Irish their first consensus top player commitment since football recruiting has taken off. The noise created by this commitment echoed to some other players and let the world know that Weis can recruit.

3. Notre Dame Scores 19 Points in the Fourth Quarter to Defeat Michigan State:

The tales of the Irish and Touchdown Jesus are well known, but many didn't know that Jesus traveled with the team. The Irish were down 16 going into the fourth quarter and all hopes of winning seemed for naught. After a Jehuu Caulcrick 30 yard touchdown run, the Spartans jumped out to a 37-21 lead. Enter the fourth quarter and the Irish magic. The Irish defense rose to the occasion and silenced MSU QB Drew Stanton. Quinn sparked the magic, hitting Samardzija for a 43 yard touchdown. That cut the lead to 27-37 after Darius Walker failed to convert the two point conversion. On the very next series, Chinedum Ndukwe forced a Stanton fumble and the Irish recovered on the Spartan 24 yard line. Less than four plays later, Quinn again tossed a touchdown to Rhema McKnight from 14 yards out. That insurmountable lead fell to 37-34 after Carl Gioia missed the extra point. The very next series Drew Stanton threw a pass and had it intercepted by Terrail Lambert, who ran it back for a touchdown. The Irish regained the lead 40-37. The game was capped off by another Lambert interception, which bounced off the leg of a State receiver and secured the Irish their victory.

2. Charlie Weis and Year Two:

Nearly every pundit and expert worried but never said it. How would the Irish play in year two after a great first year under Coach Weis? Could he maintain the momentum from the previous year? Fast forward to January 1, 2007 and we have our answer. Weis has compiled a 19-5 record as the head coach. He engineered the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation for 2006 and is on pace to either repeat or exceed that ranking this year. He has secured the commitment of the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation and has even opened the early enrollment door with the administration. Under his tutelage, the Irish have become a weapon again. Brady Quinn will likely be the first selection in the NFL Draft this April. The Irish are in their second consecutive BCS bowl and don't seem to be letting up. Charlie Weis does more for his team than just on the field. After each game with a service academy, Weis has his players sing the academy's alma mater with them in honor of their service to our country. He runs a non profit charity called "Hannah and Friends" for children with serious development disorders. And look no further than the most recent article in which he had his players perform volunteer work in Hurricane Katrina ridden New Orleans. Life at Notre Dame is indeed a 40 year decision.

1. Brady Quinn Becomes the Next Great Notre Dame Quarterback:

You read it all in the beginning of this year. Quinn for Heisman! Quinn will lead the Irish to the National Title Game. Well, sadly, neither happened. But what did happen was almost as special. Brady Quinn continued his dominance in the Irish record books and likely secured his status as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Quinn finished the regular season with 3,278 yards and 35 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. He completed 226 consecutive passes without an interception. The Irish signal caller nearly equaled all the marks he set last year in leading the Irish to their second straight BCS bowl. The kid is just a winner and signifies everything that Notre Dame stands for. He is classy, tough, athletic, resourceful, and, most of all, humble. Even though he finished third in the Heisman voting, after being spurned an invitation last year, he graciously congratulated Troy Smith. Quinn owns records in career passing yards, career total offense, single season total offense, completions, and touchdowns. With legends such as John Lujack, Jack Huarte, Joe Theismann, and Joe Montana, Brady has certainly etched himself into Irish lore for centuries. Top Stories