That's all I saw at the end of Saturday's game. Big, wide grins full of life. Happiness, joy, excitement, enthusiasm! These are not emotions we've seen often in 2007, but they are what we witnessed as the Irish closed a very frustrating season.
It was important to end the season on a high note. The Irish are trying to build something, and like anything challenging, you want your last time out to be a success.
Who can remember the first time you attempted to take off the training wheels? Chances are you suffered a terrible fall, just as I did. It was tough to get back up on that bike. It was tough to have the courage to get back up knowing that you could suffer the same fate all over again. And I had a crowd watching me, and yes, they were laughing.
But after you finally did it, and you felt the exhilaration of cruising through the neighborhood is total command, it was an electrifying feeling. No longer did you fear that you might not be able to do it. You knew you could. And more importantly, you were excited to get your next chance to ride, and you were confident your next ride would be a success.
At the end of my game prediction on Friday I said I wasn't sure this Irish team knew how to win a close game—how to "ride." They did know, and they got to feel that same electrifying emotion we felt the first time we could ride. They proved me wrong, and I'm very happy to say I was wrong.
What most excites me is both sides of the ball had to win the game—both sides had to "ride." The Irish had to first score the go-ahead touchdown, and then the defense had to close out the game. Both sides did their job, and that was encouraging.
That success is also something to build upon—like the first time you had the courage to "get some air" and jump your bike—what a great feeling that was!
The Irish team now has confidence to do greater things and they have it heading into winter lifting and spring practice. They did win their last two games. They didn't quit, like many other teams would have, and many thought they would.
The can walk on campus with a sense of pride now….a sense they're going to be part of something greater, bigger, more important than 2007. They just need someone to now step and show them the way, and I'm not talking about head coach Charlie Weis, I'm talking about someone on the team.
My mentor? Yeah, my mom. She saw me crying and told me that I could either quit and let these kids laugh at me, or I could show them that I could ride this bike.
Someone needs to take on that leadership role on the team, and how effectively this someone or multiple people leads/lead this team will have a large impact on how much success this team has in 2008.
The sacrifices of every winning season happen in winter lifting, spring practice and summer conditioning. All the Xs and Os won't matter a hill of beans if this team doesn't make the sacrifices that many other teams will make during the off-season. Someone needs to show them the way. Hopefully that person/ people will step forward soon.
Head coach Charlie Weis has indicated he'll go back to his teacher, the Patriots organization, to fix his problems with the offense, but I think the problems are much simpler than that. I'm no football coach, and Weis clearly knows more about the game than me, but I do believe his team has much different problems than Xs and Os.
I believe Weis might find more helpful advice from the many high school coaches he'll visit these next few weeks recruiting as my conviction is that the Irish need help in the simple fundamentals of football…..blocking, tackling, running, kicking, motivation.
Obviously, that's not likely to happen as a former Superbowl-winning football coach most likely won't be asking any high school coach any advice about anything, but I still believe the problems are in the most basic parts of the game—the fundamentals. All the tinkering of Xs and Os won't matter until this team blocks, tackles, runs better routes, kicks, covers and mentally prepares better.
Having said all of that, I'm excited about the future of this football team. I'm excited to see this team smiling again. Winning is contagious, just as losing can be. Knowing Notre Dame will return players like Brian Smith, Kerry Neal, Darrin Walls, Terrail Lambert, David Bruton, Pat Kuntz, Ian Williams and a host of others on defense is exciting.
Notre Dame returns almost everyone on offense minus John Carlson. While this unit didn't play well in 2007, I think you'll see a much more effective offense in 2008. Why? They've had success these last two games. I believe that success will motivate them this off-season, and I think you'll see a much different offense in 2008.
My last and final thoughts on the season are to say a big thank you to the seniors on this team. We don't realize the sacrifices these kids make, and as fans, we can be pretty brutal when they're just trying to play the best of their ability. We can be harsh and cruel sometimes, myself included, so I want to say thanks for their efforts and wish them all success, whether it be the NFL or in the real world.
Finally, I want to say how much I've truly enjoyed watching Trevor Laws play this year. This guy is the epitome of everything great in sports—great guy, great teammate, great player who never quits. He will be sorely missed, but thanks again for being a very bright light in a cloudy season.
But the sun is starting to shine……..
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