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Friday at 4: Farewell, Notre Dame fans

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Drops ice cube into glass, pours drink, a strong drink.

“Dear ‘Inside the Irish’ fans, ‘Inside the Irish’ foes and, of course, my parents —”

That was the opening greeting in my first column here more than three years ago. It feels appropriate to reprise it now as I give a forced farewell. Those cheerier words did not include a pouring prelude, but such are the times.

As is the case with much of the sportswriting world these days, particularly the college football corners, this site will be going dark for the foreseeable future. It is not by my choice. When that darkness lifts will not be, either.

The second paragraph of my first “Friday at 4” column, at least my first such public column, compared this space to a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. That was an obscure reference, one never explained, to my high school car. When I was told of the decision to shutter this site a week ago, I thought of an uncertain night in that vintage beauty.

Takes a long, slow sip.

Included if anyone was inclined to dismiss how impressive a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle can be.

My usual group of friends had been hanging out at a particular girl’s house. Longtime readers might assume her name was Claire — it wasn’t, but she was indeed the girl I was interested in and would eventually date a few times, though that is beside the point. Two blocks into my drive home, I pulled up to a stop sign, and then the Beetle would not move.

It was still running, and I had the gas pedal pressed to the floor, but the engine did not so much as rev.

The last few weeks have felt a lot like that disconcerting moment. The want is clear, the execution lacks.

With every Jack Swarbrick insistence that fans need to be in the stands for college football, with the Group of Five calling for changes to minimum scholarship requirements, with talks of February football, with a Vice Presidential phone call, with Brian Kelly’s rational thoughts, with Dabo Swinney acting in discord with his reasonable reputation and Mike Gundy matching his predilection for absurdity, with Ireland outlawing mass gatherings through August, with Navy’s athletic director saying that did not impact the status of the scheduled Notre Dame game in Dublin on Aug. 29, with each vague college sports update, my mood oscillated from more pessimistic than an Irish fan in the rain to more optimistic than Charlie Brown approaching a place kick.

The Volkswagen wouldn’t move, but it was still on. The problem was distinct, yet how bad could it be?

Returning this half-pint to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin will have to wait.

A quicker drink, realizing the glass in hand is a half-pint removed from the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Gut, punched.

My best friend pulled up behind me at that stop sign. We pushed the Beetle around the corner into a parking lot, he drove me home, and I fretted about the mechanical mishap all night.

My father quickly diagnosed the problem in the morning. The accelerator cable had snapped. We bought a new one, crawled onto the pavement of that YMCA parking lot, and fed the cable from the gas pedal to the engine in the trunk.

There is no such quick fix during a pandemic, in the big picture or as it pertains to entertaining Notre Dame fans. When the behemoths like Sports Illustrated and SB Nation are laying off or furloughing large portions of their staffs, this should hardly come as a surprise, even if a month ago I vowed, “this space will not be empty. That is my promise to you.”

Refills the glass.

If being completely transparent, that promise was one part an attempt at the slightest good, distracting a thin slice of the public from all that is going awry right now, and one part an attempt at convincing my bosses to keep this vehicle accelerating. When Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus 44 days ago, it took me about 15 minutes to conclude this writing would end by June. The friend a few feet from me was busy insisting the NHL would still finish both its season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs; I looked at him and said there wouldn’t be another hockey game. Half his marriage believed me, the urgency conveyed by the tone of my voice and the look on my face.

Breaking that promise to you means “Notre Dame 99-to-2” entries cannot continue to trickle out — fifth-year defensive end Ade Ogundeji, No. 91, was next up, and it was due to hype him quite a bit heading into his final season; if I am including that note here and now, imagine how much it is believed. It means next week’s “Leftovers & Links” cannot include a line-by-line discussion of Ian Book’s thoughts on remote communications. It means the “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC” series cannot be reorganized to feature deep dives on the 1993 Florida State and the 2005 USC games before Wednesday’s NBCSN re-airings of each (7 ET and 10 ET, respectively).

I’ll lean into another, more essential means of a slight good, but it will be nowhere near as entertaining as tomorrow’s planned 1,500 words on the 31-0 victory against Michigan in 2014.

And for that, I apologize to each of you still reading. Offering that apology feels about as fulfilling as this drink.

Sometimes no matter how good the drink is, it tastes like it is from the well.

I would like to think some good can come from this end. Maybe the friend who said, “This virus is the best thing that’s happened to me in awhile,” or the friend who claimed, “I think it’s kind of great we’re all saving money,” can each realize the real-world ramifications of our current situation go far deeper and more personal than their comfortable realities have yet faced. Maybe the Notre Dame fans who celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago can recognize they are a small part of why college football may not return until 2021.

Checks calendar. Realizes I’m scheduled to virtually drink with both those friends and two such Chicagoans an hour after this column publishes. Induces both a figurative and a literal gulp.

Maybe not.

It is not fair my writing here stops after three years; by which I mean, it is not fair I got to write here for more than three years. That’s about 36 months longer than the quality warranted. Everyone remembers Cy Young won 511 games to be the winningest pitcher in baseball history, but few point out he also lost 316 games to be the losingest pitcher in baseball history.

Today is one of my 316, but the last 40 months have been part of my 511.

Or, to put it in the parlance I most utilize: The best sports gambler in the world wins 52.38 percent of his bets. This week is among the 47.62 percent I lose.

Who am I kidding? The glass is the reserve. I’m drinking from the bottle.

Let’s leave on that note. No. 2 Notre Dame will beat No. 1 Florida State on Wednesday. I won more than I lost here. When college football returns, who knows: If I can fulfill a promise, I will.

After all, the Volkswagen eventually drove again. If football doesn’t wait too long, perhaps this byline will accompany kickoff.

And let’s close with the exact closing line I used in that first column. It’s far more fitting now:

“It’s late Friday afternoon. Grab a drink, and don’t you dare leave it unfinished.”

– Douglas.

NFL Draft Mad Libs: Former Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman

Alohi Gilman
Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Some may take this as a means of doing less work, combining both a draft preview with a draft recap. The truth is, it should be seen as a peek behind the curtain. A draft recap is written long ahead of time, leaning heavily on repurposing the draft preview, so as to publish quickly upon the announcement of the pick. The thought is, this might be a more light-hearted approach. These days, light-hearted approaches are the way to go, though perhaps the NFL’s approach to draft logistics is taking that too seriously.

From two-star recruit, if that, to freshman starter at Navy racking up a dozen tackles against Notre Dame, to casualty of the NCAA’s stubbornness, to Irish captain, to NFL draft pick. Alohi Gilman’s ascension through the ranks of football took another step Saturday when the insert NFL team name here picked the safety with the No. ___ overall pick in the ___th-round.

Not much more needs to be said. Gilman transferred from Navy in order to pursue his NFL aspirations after the military flipped a rule granting athletes a chance to chase professional possibilities before fulfilling their service obligations, a decision since switched back to the allowance. To put it simply, he then made good on that dream.

RELATED READING: Pride’s 40 disappoints, but former Notre Dame safety duo shine at combine

While Gilman’s sub-6-foot stature will not do wonders for his NFL career, his nose for contact will. If nothing else, he should find a role on special teams for the next couple seasons, giving him a runway to once again level up.

Gilman becomes the first Irish safety drafted since Zeke Motta in 2013’s seventh round. Gilman and Jalen Elliott completely revamped a position that had been a Notre Dame liability for years, most notably in 2016’s debacle, when all the safeties combined did not intercept a pass and broke up only five.

In 2019 alone, Gilman had an interception and two breakups, along with 74 tackles including three for loss and three forced fumbles. (Note: That is not a Mad Libs item; that is an emphasis on an eye-popping stat, underscoring the aforementioned “nose for contact.”)

His Irish career highlight may have come in a humbling loss, making 19 tackles against Clemson in the 2018 College Football Playoff. He totaled 169 tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups in just two seasons, as well as six forced fumbles. (Again.) His first two interceptions came against Syracuse in Yankee Stadium in mid-November of 2018, a comedy only in that he had been around the ball much of the season, just never completing the play until then.

Gilman may have to wait that long again in the NFL, but his track record indicates a breakthrough is more a matter of “when” than of “if.”

Insert comments on Gilman’s initial salary, with the numbers drawn from Spotrac.com’s database. Plug in that he is Notre Dame’s ___th draft pick this season, following defensive end Julian Okwara, tight end Cole Kmet, receiver Chase Claypool, defensive end Khalid Kareem and cornerback Troy Pride. Adjust that to match the order of selection.

Elliott yet waits to hear his name, though many mock drafts suggested he would end up a top-tier undrafted free agent. Running back Tony Jones and defensive end Jamir Jones (no relation) also still have hopes of being drafted, albeit quite slim hopes.

NFL Draft Mad Libs: Former Notre Dame cornerback Troy Pride

Troy Pride
Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Some may take this as a means of doing less work, combining both a draft preview with a draft recap. The truth is, it should be seen as a peek behind the curtain. A draft recap is written long ahead of time, leaning heavily on repurposing the draft preview, so as to publish quickly upon the announcement of the pick. The thought is, this might be a more light-hearted approach. These days, light-hearted approaches are the way to go, though perhaps the NFL’s approach to draft logistics is taking that too seriously.

When Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke of giving GPS information and work-rate details to NFL front offices to help them in remote scouting former Irish players, he did not name cornerback Troy Pride specifically, but it would make sense that such data may have helped Pride overcome his how-could-it-be-disappointing, yet-disappointing 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

RELATED READING: Pride’s 40 disappoints, but former Notre Dame safety duo shine at combine

Apparently, the insert NFL team name here saw enough in those details to spend a ____-round pick on Pride, the No. ___ overall selection. Given Pride spent the preseason working against budding-star receiver Chase Claypool each day, those GPS measurements may have revealed a durability and physicality otherwise difficult to define.

If the former track star had run a 4.30 or faster, as both Pride and many others suggested he would, at either the NFL combine or a Notre Dame Pro Day that was eventually canceled, he may have worked his way up into the second round. Instead Friday’s/Saturday’s third-/fourth- or fifth- round will serve as his professional starting point.

Pride finished his Irish career with four interceptions and 121 tackles, a three-year starter largely overshadowed by Julian Love, taken in last year’s fourth round. Pride never displayed Love’s technical aptitude, but his raw speed made him a strong cover corner in most situations, nonetheless.

In a league driven more by physical traits than the intangible ones the college game often hinges upon, Pride may well become a multi-year starter.

Insert comments on Pride’s initial salary, with the numbers drawn from Spotrac.com’s database. Plug in that he is Notre Dame’s ___th draft pick this weekend, following defensive end Julian Okwara, tight end Cole Kmet, and possibly Claypool and defensive end Khalid Kareem. Adjust those names to match the order of selection.

NFL Draft Mad Libs: Former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool

Chase Claypool
Getty Images
6 Comments

Editor’s Note: Some may take this as a means of doing less work, combining both a draft preview with a draft recap. The truth is, it should be seen as a peek behind the curtain. A draft recap is written long ahead of time, leaning heavily on repurposing the draft preview, so as to publish quickly upon the announcement of the pick. The thought is, this might be a more light-hearted approach. These days, light-hearted approaches are the way to go, though perhaps the NFL’s approach to draft logistics is taking that too seriously.

Former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool’s path from the fringes of Canada to the highest level of football will now bring him to the insert NFL team name here after they drafted him with the No. __ overall pick in the second/third/fourth-round on Friday/Friday/Saturday.

Claypool’s draft stock was undoubtedly helped by his 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but his 2019 numbers of 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns, many of them highlight-worthy, certainly did even more for this weekend’s result.

Then again, Claypool’s five tackles and one fumble recovery as a star senior receiver also spoke volumes about his willingness to do anything to get on the field, a characteristic that appeals to any NFL front office when scouting a physical receiver with a skill set that makes projecting his future a bit murky.

Some still consider Claypool as a tight end-to-be, but he has continually argued against that possibility, despite his size and happiness when playing physically. He finished his Irish career with 150 catches for 2,159 yards and 21 touchdowns along with 20 tackles.

RELATED READING: Former Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool makes most of four seconds at NFL combine
From Canada to Notre Dame, from special teams to select company

Insert comments on Claypool’s initial salary, with the numbers drawn from Spotrac.com’s database. Perhaps, if applicable, rhapsodize about his new quarterback, particularly if the Green Bay Packers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft him. Lament his new quarterback if heading to Chicago.

NFL Draft Mad Libs: Former Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet

Cole Kmet Michigan
Associated Press

Editor’s Note: Some may take this as a means of doing less work, combining both a draft preview with a draft recap. The truth is, it should be seen as a peek behind the curtain. A draft recap is written long ahead of time, leaning heavily on repurposing the draft preview, so as to publish quickly upon the announcement of the pick. The thought is, this might be a more light-hearted approach. These days, light-hearted approaches are the way to go, though perhaps the NFL’s approach to draft logistics is taking that too seriously.

Former Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet has continued the — ugh, check this math again, actually, pull up the old Alizé Mack draft recapstreak of now nine consecutive season-opening Irish starting tight ends to be drafted.

If a first-round pick: “Kmet becomes the second first-rounder in the run, along with Tyler Eifert in 2013 at No. 21 overall.”
If a second-round pick: “Kmet becomes the fifth second-rounder in the run.”
If a third-round pick: “Kmet becomes the first third-rounder in the run, a grouping that includes one first-round selection (Tyler Eifert in 2013 at No. 21 overall) and four second-round picks.”

Kmet’s one year of starting led to a wide array of draft projections, ones that gained first-round speculations as the Chicago Bears released their tight end and the New England Patriots stocked up on draft picks in the last few weeks. His blend of speed and size make him an ideal NFL tight end, much like Eifert, but possibly with the same injury concerns that have plagued Eifert in recent years.

A broken collarbone cost Kmet the first two games of the 2019 season, but he still finished with 43 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns. His first game back in action saw Notre Dame target him on three of the first four plays at Georgia as he finished with nine catches for 108 yards and a touchdown against one of the country’s better collegiate defenses.

Kmet originally indicated he would return for his senior season, partly to pursue one more baseball season as a relief pitcher, but receiving a second-round evaluation from the NFL understandably altered that thought process, especially when it came just before he sprained his ankle in the Camping World Bowl against Iowa State, an injury that appeared worse on first viewing. Instead, he’ll enjoy the perks of insert Kmet’s initial salary, drawn from Spotrac.com’s database.