Leftovers & Links: A Notre Dame-less Super Bowl in a long winter

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers
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If a Notre Dame fan was not cheering for the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, that fan was cheering for the Irish to go ringless in 2020. Of the four teams to make the NFL’s championship weekend, only the Packers had former Notre Dame players among their active ranks, in receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and cornerback KeiVarae Russell.

St. Brown caught one pass for 10 yards while making two tackles on special teams, and Russell made a tackle in punt coverage during the 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Neither the Bucs nor the Kansas City Chiefs will have any Irish with them in Tampa in two weeks, though the Bucs did sign running back C.J. Prosise to their practice squad three weeks ago. Prosise had appeared in 10 games with the Houston Texans this season, taking 10 carries for 19 yards and catching five passes for 18 yards and one touchdown.

While injuries curtailed Prosise’s promising start to his career with the Seattle Seahawks, the pandemic’s limiting effects on offseason mini-camps dampened his chances of finding a more meaningful role in 2020.

Anyway, that all sets up a Super Bowl without any Notre Dame flavoring aside from Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck, a 1988 first-team All-American offensive tackle and captain. Heck has been with Kansas City for eight years, obviously including last season, so he does already have one Super Bowl ring.

On St. Brown …
To a not insignificant extent, the former Irish receiver has the mistakes of Green Bay’s front office to thank for him still having a role on the roster, but he has put in the time and effort to hold onto that role, as evidenced by his special teams work Sunday, a duty St. Brown shirked at Notre Dame.

While he did not catch a pass in 2019 due to an ankle injury, after 21 receptions for 328 yards as a rookie, St. Brown rebounded in 2020 with seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, adding two tackles even before this weekend’s pair.

One can be forgiven for wondering if St. Brown would have fared better than a sixth-round selection in 2018 if his avoidance of collegiate special teams had not colored some front offices’ perceptions of him. All the same, St. Brown has earned $1.6 million to date, with another $850,000 expected next season, the final year of his rookie contract, per Spotrac.com.

ON THE COMING MONTHS
A basic and logical understanding of the realities presently all around us suggests it is unlikely Notre Dame will return to the practice field in early March as it normally would. Delaying the start of spring practice by a month would obviously better the chances any at-risk players on the Irish roster can get vaccinated and lessen team-wide activities until the current pandemic peak has hopefully subsided.

It would also give the team some added and needed time off. The 2020 season included no mental breaks of any kind, seven months of the stresses of near-constant coronavirus testing and a 20-week stretch of “in-season” mode that carried right through December with hardly an acknowledgment of Christmas.

There are nagging physical injuries to recover from, a mental reprieve to be relished and focus to be renewed. Delaying spring practice until April will allow for them all, along with those ideal pandemic advantages.

It will also deepen the annual February content vacuum. Is that the right phrasing? Does a vacuum have depth? No matter. Whatever the proper phrasing, the adjective must be rather extreme for an article to arrive analyzing the lack of Irish in the Super Bowl.

The advantage of the slowed times is they will afford a chance to finish what the pandemic interrupted. The “30 Years of ND on NBC” series has not finished as intended, the in-season entries not entirely compensating for losing five months of the 2020 offseason. Look for those remaining half dozen over the next few weeks. Whereas they once were intended to spark excitement for the 2020 season, they can now serve as filler during a quiet stretch and good memories during this long winter. (Disclaimer: Of the seven outstanding games, two are losses. Those memories will not be as good.)

INSIDE THE IRISH:
Handing out Notre Dame’s annual awards
Marcus Freeman flexes his recruiting muscle with commitment from four-star DE Tyson Ford
Notre Dame’s opponents lose more talent than Irish to early NFL draft entries
After four years and nearly a byline per Notre Dame point, here’s to four more
NCAA’s latest Notre Dame probation neither noteworthy nor the one to be upset about
Houston Griffith’s return provides another possible answer to Notre Dame’s safety questions

OUTSIDE READING:
How Tyler Buchner prepared to be the next-level quarterback Notre Dame covets
Could Drew Brees be calling Notre Dame football games in 2021?
NBCSN’s looming exit changes little for NBC Sports
Matt LaFleur aced the chemistry test with Aaron Rodgers
How major college football teams could (and should) break from the NCAA
College football’s top 50 games of the 2020 season, 50-26
College football’s top 50 games of the 2020 season, 25-1
Notre Dame COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates superspreader potential, study finds
Hank Aaron’s cherished connection to Bud Selig and Wisconsin will be missed