Heart of a Champion

2008 was a rough season for Irish head coach Charlie Weis. Coming off a difficult 2007, the planets looked to be aligning early for the Irish to have a break-out season. That obviously didn't happen, but one thing did occur to impress me about Weis. He survived a truly nightmarish year that would've sent most people packing and somehow ended on a good note.

About midway through 2008 Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis had to be wondering "what's next?"

Surprising player suspensions, critical injuries, bad decisions coming back to haunt him, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Weis in 2008. Yet, one has to wonder what would have happened had Jimmy Clausen not thrown that critical interception to North Carolina defensive back Quan Sturdivant to start the 3rd quarter. A throw that Sturdivant would then return for a touchdown and ignite an inferno under a smoldering North Carolina team on October 11, 2008. It seemed the entire outlook for Weis changed with that one throw.

Weis and Irish fans can't blame Clausen. Clausen had a truly outstanding game up until that point, and Notre Dame wouldn't have been in the game without him, but that one pass seemed to turn the entire picture for Weis, and he and the Irish program were left hanging on for dear life.

Beaten down, demoralized, Weis had to try to pick up his team and get them ready for the second half of the season. A good showing at Washington followed, but the "here we go again" attitude surfaced once again in overtime against Pittsburgh, and that was all she wrote for the 2008 Irish, and many thought for Weis too.

I wonder what must have gone through Weis' head as he sat in the locker room after another embarrassing loss to archrival USC….his fourth loss in five games. I can only imagine the physical and emotional pain that must've been buzzing in his body and mind like a swarm of bees. Thousands of stings coming one right after another trying to finally end the misery.

But this is where the heart of a champion takes over. A person can go either one of two ways when they hit rock bottom. The vast majority of people would fold under similar circumstances. Weis didn't.

He took his battered body, bruised ego, and crushed confidence and somehow put on a good show and a happy face.

To borrow a term from former Irish head coach Bob Davie, Weis is a "grinder." He doesn't look pretty doing it. Not many believe he can do it, but sheer determination and will get him from point A to point B.

I cannot imagine the physical pain Weis must have gone through this season. A knee completely destroyed in early August. Another slowly degenerating into a worse situation than the first. Having to get up every day and keep pressing on……beaten down physically and emotionally. The grinding pressure. The disappointment. It had to have been completely overwhelming and enough to make any grown man cry.

Yet, here was Weis…..out selling his vision. Jumping from plane to plane, hobbling his way into living rooms all over the country trying to convince the elite of college football that he wasn't down for the count.

Propping up his completely decimated team and somehow getting them to believe once again. Picking up his collection of young talent, putting them on his back and taking them across the goal line in Hawaii, bad knees and all. Sure, Weis shouldn't get all the credit for the win in Hawaii, it was a team win, but we can be damn sure he'd get all the blame had they lost, so I'll give it to him.

We learned one thing about Charlie Weis in 2008: He has the heart of a champion.

He may or may not have the skills of a championship coach, but he certainly has the heart. He has the work ethic. He has the mental toughness. He has the passion. He won't back down. He won't quit, no matter what.

I see this vision of Weis out on the road recruiting this winter and I'm reminded of Rocky III. Rocky is in the ring taking his second beating from Clubber Lang when he realizes that he's not scared anymore. Clubber (opposing coaches, the media, the fans) can't hurt him anymore. He starts rubbing the mohawk on Clubber's head and taunting him. That was Weis these past few months. He'd taken the best shots that anyone could throw at him and there he was, still standing.

Weis got his championship belt on signing day. He stepped out the ring bloody, badly bruised, beaten down, but still standing and ready to fight another day.

There has been a lot written about Weis of late but I have yet to see this. He is as mentally and physically tough a person as you'll ever find. If he can somehow convince his team to have the same determination, the Irish will be in for some exciting times in the near future.

It's only fitting we get to see this modern day Rocky fight one more fight. And like Rocky and all underdogs, you have cheer for him. Why? Because you admire the sheer guts and determination one must have to take the incredible pounding Weis took last year and still be left standing.

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