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Pregame Twelve Pack: Tulsa edition

Oct 29, 2010, 1:50 AM EST

MichaelFloyd_TD-v-Pitt

(Due to the lack of media access to the team this week, and the Declan Sullivan tragedy, we’re cutting down the 12 pack to 6 items. We’ll be back next week with a full slate of fun facts, tidbits, and miscellaneous items.)

1. While the game will go on, the Irish will pay tribute to Declan Sullivan.

With the week’s tragedy overshadowing the football game, Notre Dame canceled both the Friday pep rally and the football luncheon, weekly staples during home games. Also canceled were Brian Kelly’s radio show, as well as any media availability between Wednesday and Saturday for Irish coaches and players.

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced that the Irish will put a decal on their helmets to honor Declan and there will be a moment of silence. They’ll also dedicate this football game to Sullivan’s memory.

2. Notre Dame and Tulsa meet for the first time. The time they almost met is stuff of Tulsa legend.

While Saturday’s date in Notre Dame Stadium will mark the first time these two programs face off in football, “the game that could have been” is one almost for the ages.

According to Robert Ruttland’s 1952 book entitled “The Golden Hurricane: Fifty Years of Football at The University of Tulsa,” the Irish nearly came to Tulsa in 1916.

I’ll let the Tulsa Sports Information Department take it from here:

Tulsa, known as Kendall College at the time, had finished its’ season at 10-0 and were claimed the unoffical “state champions” with wins over both Oklahoma and Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) . . . excerpts from the book tell the story –– “most of the Kendall squad turned in its football equipment and drew basketball uniforms. But to a few Tulsa businessmen, there was one game left on the Kendall schedule –– with the fabulous Irish of Notre Dame. How close Kendall came to playing Notre Dame in the final of the 1916 season probably will never be known, but a definite move was under way with some of the town’s wealthiest oil men reportedly backing the promotion. Notre Dame was contacted regarding the possibilities of such a game, to have been played in Tulsa. Response from the Indiana school indicated an interest in the post-season match. Bringing Notre Dame to Tulsa would have paid immeasurable dividends to both the city and the college. With the exception of the A&M game, the team was virtually untested (Kendall outscored the opposition that year 566-40), and it is possible that the (Sam) McBirney-(Francis) Schmidt combination could have paid off with an upset over powerful Notre Dame. Negotiations for the game, which were hastily drawn and presented, reached a cooling point because of the large guarantee Notre Dame wanted. Tulsa rooters hinted the match ‘fell through’ because, upon checking the records, Notre Dame authorities might have had apprehensions over their own chances. The important fact was that the game was not played, and for reasons that remain obscure. It might have been a mere promoter’s dream, but the value of the match would have reached down to the present day insofar as it would have affected athletic relations at The University of Tulsa.”

Ninety-four years later, The Golden Hurricane finally gets their shot at Notre Dame.

3. G.J. Kinne is a guy that should scare the Irish.

It’s only taken 19 games for junior G.J. Kinne to climb into the record books at Tulsa, with his 4,587 career passing yards the eighth most in the school’s history. Kinne is averaging 241 yards per game, and Brian Kelly compared him to a gunslinger who likes to wear Wranglers.

“Kinne, the quarterback, is — he reminds me of Brett Favre out there,” Kelly said. “He’s got the number. He likes to obviously have the ball in his hands.”

Any questions on Kinne’s pedigree should’ve been answered by his original college choice, when the dual-threat quarterback  signed with his home-state Texas Longhorns and head coach Mack Brown. The two-time Class 3-A offensive player of the year in Texas, who finished his career with 130 touchdowns (second in Texas high school history), transferred after a freshman season stuck behind Colt McCoy, John Chiles and Sherrod Harris.

Kinne’s father is a high school coach and a former teammate of Tulsa head coach Todd Graham, and Graham’s brother Brent worked as a defensive coordinator for Kinne’s father, making the transfer natural.

“We’re extremely excited to have a player of G.J.’s caliber,” Tulsa coach Todd Graham said then. “He has been a winner his whole life. For a player of his caliber to transfer to Tulsa speaks volumes about our program and where we’re are at this point. He had a lot of big-time scholarship offers out of high school.”

4. While Gus Malzahn is out at Tulsa, offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the next closest thing.

When Gus Malzahn was pulled from the Arkansas high-school ranks to coordinator then-Arkansas coach Houston Nutt’s Razorback offense, many thought it was a ploy to sign prep-star Mitch Mustain, Malzahn’s prized Springdale quarterback that agreed to join him in Fayetteville. When Malzahn’s no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense was tossed aside for a power running attack, Mustain transferred to USC and Malzahn took his talents to Tulsa, where he ran turned Todd Graham’s offense into one of the most potent in all of college football. When Auburn head coach Gene Chizik lured Malzahn away from Tulsa and back into the SEC, Graham looked back into the high school ranks and hired another successful high school coach, Chad Morris… who just so happened to befriend Malzahn seven years ago, when Malzahn took Arkansas high school football by storm.

“Gus and I have had an unbelievable relationship. I’m very thankful to him,” Morris said earlier this season.

Irish fans don’t have to think hard when trying to imagine what it’d be like if Notre Dame reached out for a succesful high school coach to run their program. For Tulsa’s sake, it looks like the gamble is working again.

5. The road doesn’t get any easier for Bob Diaco.

A week after his worst as a defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco welcomes Tulsa’s high-powered offensive attack into Notre Dame Stadium, short the heart of his defensive line and with a secondary that’s still struggling to get three safeties healthy.

Diaco has gone from pleasant surprise to overwhelmed bum in some fans mind, but if you’re looking for a test of how ready Diaco is to lead the Notre Dame defense, you’ll have four consecutive opponents that’ll push the Irish to the max:

  • TULSA — No. 8 in Total Offense.
  • UTAH — No. 3 in Scoring Offense.
  • ARMY —  No. 8 in Rushing Offense (one place above Navy)
  • USC — No. 7 in Total Offense.

The health of the Irish secondary and Sean Cwynar’s ability to replace Ian Williams will likely decide if Notre Dame goes bowling or not this year, and if the Irish do, credit should go to Diaco for putting together a great final quarter of the season.

For those that want to, it’ll be easy to bury Diaco if the defense gives up a rash of points these next four weeks, but there isn’t a team in the country that faces a more diverse slate of offensive attacks.

6. It looks like a turn for the better for Notre Dame institution Jeff Jeffers.

Let’s end this column with some much-needed good news. This out of WNDU’s NewsCenter, where South Bend sports pillar Jeff Jeffers is reportedly making great progress after he suffered a stroke in late August, just days before he was set to cover his 36th Notre Dame football season.

“When I woke up one morning and they said, ‘You had a stroke’ and I’m like, am I going to die?” Jeff recounted to WNDU’s Maureen McFadden.  “They say, ‘You’re not going to die, you’re in the hospital, you’re in the rehab unit and here’s what we’re going to do.’ And that was a month and a half ago and I’m fine,” says Jeff.

With the help of Jeff’s wife (and live-in nurse) Leslie, Jeff hopes to be back covering the Irish in no time.

“I should be back to work soon, how soon is soon is anybody’s guess, but I’ve received tremendous care with everybody with St. Joe Med and Rehab,” said Jeffers. “I’m on the mend and I hope the worst is passed.”

I had the pleasure to spend some time with Jeff in South Bend this summer as he emceed a few of the dinners for the Fantasy Football camp. There was nobody more welcoming to me, or optimistic that this coaching staff would be the one that brought the Fight back to the Fighting Irish.

It sure seems like Jeff’s practicing what he preaches as well, fighting back strong after a health scare that’d knock weaker men out. Here’s hoping that he keeps taking the fight to his stroke, and is back covering the Irish soon.

  1. bigirishfan - Oct 29, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    The Tulsa Game has been rendered meaningless by the tragedy this week.

    I don’t even care whether we win or lose, which is good, because Tulsa will probably beat us anyway.

    Our players are marginal at best, and will be understably distracting.

    Our coaches lack the ability to get our players to focus during a normal week. They will roll out the same old stale, predictable offensive game plan.

    It’s not all the coaches’ fault though. You can only do so much with our roster.

    We will be lucky to get invited to a bowl game. Even a winning season seems unrealistic now.

    We suck!

  2. vegasmark - Oct 29, 2010 at 2:17 PM

    We should play with “Sullivan” on the back of every jersey….

  3. ndgoldandblue - Oct 29, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    My prayers go out to Declan Sullivan and his family. This has been a horrific tragedy, and it really puts things into perspective. What I am about to say, I say with the utmost respect to Declan Sullivan and everyone that was close to him. Jack Swarbrick said that it does not matter if the game against Tulsa is a victory or not…that showing respect to Declan Sullivan is all that matters. Losing a life is more important than the outcome of a football game. I agree with all of that, but I would like to put some perspective on football and sports in general. In all of our lives, we have outlets. We do things outside of our daily work and family responsibilities that make life…more enjoyable. Some people are into art. Some people are movie aficionados. Some people like hunting, and some people get into music. My outlet, for as long as I can remember, has been sports. Having been born and raised in the state of Minnesota, I follow all things Minnesota concerning sports, with the exception of Notre Dame football. When it comes to my favorite team, it’s not even close. The Irish are number one and everyone else is a distant second. I started watching the Irish with my dad when I was a small child. He liked Notre Dame because they combined excellent academics with superb athletics. Because he and my mother divorced when I was very young and I was his only child, it was just the two of us, and I remember that he looked forward to every Saturday when we could watch the Irish. I swear, it was those times that we shared together that kept him from losing it immediately after the divorce. Like me, sports was his outlet from his life. He was able to forget about all the negativity, at least for a few hours. Now, I’m a 31-year-old professor. At the beginning of the semester, a colleague of mine died. A week later, a student of mine died. And, a week after that, another colleague died. The bad news was everywhere I looked, and I just wanted something to take my mind off of it for a few hours, and that was the Irish-MSU game. Needless to say, after the game, I nearly exploded. My only outlet, sports, failed to provide that relief. In fact, it added to my grief. Shortly after the game, before going to bed, I thought about all the bad things that had happened in the past three weeks. I said to my wife, “Do you think I will live long enough to see another championship from any one of my teams?” I could wake up tomorrow and something tragic could happen. I haven’t seen a championship victory from one of my teams since ’91 when I was 12 (Twins WS), and before that I was 9 (ND over WVA in the Fiesta Bowl). My point is, the reason why we get so heated and excited over sports is because many of us need sports to help us get some release from the stresses of life, and if our teams disappoint us, the stress builds. Now, I know that you might be thinking that I need a new outlet…one with a higher success rate. Unfortunately, I can’t; just like all of us can’t switch allegiances from the Irish to another team. It’s loyalty. It’s part of us. I really do hope that the Irish win on Saturday, and, like every time the Irish lose, I will be crushed if they don’t win. I know that life, health, and family are more important than sports, but sports, for many of us, is what makes life great, not just good.

    • vegasmark - Oct 29, 2010 at 4:24 PM

      Well said.

    • 1notredamefan - Oct 29, 2010 at 6:13 PM

      gave me chills, I couldn’t agree more! Very well said!!!

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