Tommy Rees 2010
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30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Tommy Rees’ first career start, an upset exaggerated


A decade later, the celebration has been greatly exaggerated. Retellings claim Notre Dame fans stormed the field after the Irish upset No. 15 Utah back in 2010. That 28-3 victory was, after all, Notre Dame’s first win against an AP top-25 team in its last 12 tries. It came via the arm of a certain freshman quarterback and halted a skid in Brian Kelly’s first Irish season.

That was certainly enough to warrant a raucous rushing, right? Claiming such is only logical, right?

It’s not what happened. The part about the first-time starting quarterback was true, and it led to a four-game winning streak to cap Kelly’s debut. But the joy was much more restrained than that.

Notre Dame fans began jumping onto the field with University permission. It was not a rebellion; it was condoned. Seniors in the student section would get to take to the field after the game, mill about for 20 or 30 minutes, many for the first time in their undergraduate careers. Their four years had been particularly rough, the worst four-year period in 132 years of Irish history. That 24-26 stretch included a dismal 13-14 record at Notre Dame Stadium.

So those seniors hopped down to the field, two at a time and three at a time. Their shouts were more a culmination of four years than they were rejoicing at beating the Utes.

In the front row of the section directly next to the seniors, one junior tried to pull the wool over an usher’s eyes. Exuberantly and excitedly, that friend kept pointing to the students on the field, insisting he was a senior and he could join them. The usher knew better.

The junior gesticulated with a Lou Holtz-era baseball cap, his gestures getting bigger as he could see a trace of doubt in the usher’s eyes. Eventually, the yellow jacket stepped out of the way, not as certain about where the senior section ended as he had been just five minutes earlier.

The entire junior class streamed down the stairs behind their gleeful leader. Ask him about it now and he’ll smirk, vaguely remembering the rapid passion of his bald-faced lies to that usher.

That storming of the field was so orderly, the students let the Notre Dame band have its usual space for its post-game performance.

More a calm gathering of friends than a frenzied celebration. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Yet, the decade-long exaggeration will last further into the future. If Tommy Rees excels as the Irish offensive coordinator, that win against Utah will become the origin story of his coaching success. Dayne Crist had torn his patella tendon in the previous game, and Kelly’s first season in South Bend was falling apart in several ways. As a 5.5-point underdog, even he did not want to lean on Rees.

“Everything in our game plan was you’ve got to run the football, we’ve got to be high-percentage in our throws and not put Tommy in too many positions where we could turn the ball over,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t going to put this game on Tommy Rees.”

That focus led to Notre Dame rushing 29 times for 127 yards, a 4.38 yards per carry average, functional but hardly exemplary. Instead, the Irish were sparked by Robert Blanton blocking a punt and returning it six yards for a touchdown to give them a 7-3 lead.

“We were struggling, and that jump-started the whole sideline and team,” Rees said. “From that point, we started rolling.”

Rees took over, at least as much as a freshman in his first start can while not trusting his arm strength. Rees completed 13-of-20 passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns. When Austin Collinsworth forced a fumble on the kickoff after halftime and Daniel Smith recovered it, Rees immediately connected with Duval Kamara for a 26-yard touchdown and a 21-3 lead.

Notre Dame had control. The victory was never in doubt in the final 30 minutes. The so-called charge did not develop from drama, but deception.

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
The Irish fell, but more importantly, football returned after 9/11
Godsey heroics provide Davie hope
Last-minute Golson-to-Koyack TD beats No. 14 Stanford in the rain
A dramatic, Pyrrhic victory over LSU in 1998
Beginning with ‘ultimate greed’ in 1990 and Indiana in 1991
Honorable Mentions

Back to the future for Notre Dame’s recruiting

Tyler Buchner Elite

Amid all the current chaos and uncertainty, Notre Dame may be able to rely on familiar patterns in one realm, recruiting. If this Irish coaching staff was a new one, on the job for only one or two years, then the lack of clarity about anything whatsoever would extend to chasing the next stars on the roster. To some degree, it still does for Notre Dame, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian are also both used to not getting up to speed on the next class until well into the spring.

That’s how it used to be for everyone.

The coronavirus pandemic led to Notre Dame canceling what was to be a vital on-campus recruiting event this weekend, one rife with consensus four-star prospects. Getting both that quantity and that quality of recruits on campus in March would have been seen as further progress toward cracking the top-five in recruiting rankings and led to more misguided praise of Kelly’s supposed renewed focus on recruiting.

Misguided in that Kelly has said his recruiting energies have not drastically improved in 2020, despite some spin that way; they have simply redirected as newly-applicable.

RELATED READING: The ‘next echelon’ of recruiting already at hand for Notre Dame

“Now, I’m the hardest-working head coach ever at Notre Dame, I’m grinding, but if you look at my schedule, it’s probably the same or less than it’s ever been in years past,” Kelly said in early February. “… It’s just that I’m touching base with those that are communicating more with me being in their presence than ever before, because they’re in the midst of being recruited.”

This all resulted from the early signing period first instituted more than halfway through the 2018 recruiting cycle. It took until the 2019 cycle for the Irish, and everyone else in the NCAA, to host earlier official visits. By the freshly-concluded 2020 cycle, that timing had been figured out and Notre Dame was able to spend more time, earlier time, on scouting the next wave. Thus, Kelly knew who to target out of the gate these last few months.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s fast recruiting start a result of the calendar, not increased effort

This extended delay — the NCAA implemented a dead period through April 15 at the earliest, a maneuver that essentially halts all recruiting travel in either direction but allows for phone contact — will turn this cycle into one very similar to 2018’s.

That was the first winter with an early signing period, but high school juniors were not yet allowed to take official visits in the spring.

The Irish signed 21 recruits that December, adding six more in February, including three de-commitments from elsewhere (offensive lineman Luke Jones — Arkansas; cornerback DJ Brown — Virginia; running back C’Bo Flemister — Georgia Tech). By that pattern, Notre Dame should still sign much of its 2021 class in this calendar year, especially with seven current commitments led by consensus four-star quarterback Tyler Buchner (Helix High School; San Diego). UPDATE: Rather, with a Friday afternoon de-commitment, make that six.

That early set of signings will undoubtedly be Kelly’s preference.

“This is two years in a row now that this quote-unquote early signing day — this is the signing day for us, so I don’t know why we continue to call it an early signing day,” he said in December. “It is the signing day and it will be moving forward.”

But if travel is restricted well past April 15, a rather safe assumption, then the general recruiting calendar will be pushed further back, as well. For Notre Dame, in particular, that will make the fall a busy time.

It is difficult to get to South Bend, but both the school and the players want to before any commitment is accepted. Right now, it is more difficult than ever, but even if the world finds a more operational means of combating the spread of the novel coronavirus, the idea of jet setting around will take some time to become a comfortable one again.

COVID-19 restrictions really hurting Notre Dame

By no means will the Irish strike out entirely. It will just be more difficult.

That was long the norm, bunching up official visits from the Saturday morning of the Stanford game (scheduled for Oct. 10) or the Clemson tilt (Nov. 7) to the following Sunday evening. Some high schoolers would play their games Friday night and catch a redeye to Notre Dame Stadium. The trips became so hassled, recruiting events like this weekend’s became the preferable moments of recruitments.

Without a chance to focus on them as juniors, Polian will have to recall his closing abilities from as far back as 2017 to pursue these players in-person once they have begun their senior years. If this follows the timeline of the class of 2018, he and Kelly will still sign most of the class in December. If things progress slower than that, well, Polian and Kelly recruited like that for many, many years in the past. Doing so once more in the future should be old hand.

RELATED READING: What it’s like to be a coveted prospect in a recruiting cycle frozen by COVID-19

Hey Notre Dame fans, help out South Bend’s restaurants

South Bend pizza

Notre Dame fans have made this suggestion before. In fact, they have made it many times before. It is not that it was explicitly ignored; it is that honoring it would have unnecessarily risked offending some fine people via unintentional exclusion.

Now, though, they have bigger things to worry about than if a middling sports writer happened to acknowledge them on a website so obscure it requires two dots in its address. In fact, they would probably be happy to see any local South Bend establishments recognized at all.

“With respect to article ideas, how about a few travelogue pieces about visiting the South Bend/Mishawaka area? From Rocco’s and The Linebacker to beer at Evil Czech and scotch eggs at Fiddler’s Hearth, you could provide tips to people visiting Notre Dame for the first time and new ideas for those that have been to ND many times.” — irishdog80

Rather, let’s provide tips to those already in South Bend.

Closing restaurants and bars to curtail irresponsible behavior by the masses in the face of a pandemic has been the right choice, but that does not change the fact that doing so costs the staffs at those restaurants their jobs and incomes for the foreseeable future.

Even if this version of a shutdown is somehow only two weeks long, many restaurants will struggle with that gap in receipts, just like any small business. After they do hold on, their employees will still be light in the pocket well into football season.

I lived in South Bend for two separate four-year stints, and I still spend about a dozen weekends there a year. I have, it is safe to say, eaten my way around town once or twice. If you, Irish fans, remember to tip heavily in the fall and maybe even call some area restaurants this week to order gift cards, and thus boost their tills in this vacuum, then I am happy to deliver a few recommendations.

When I’m done, pile in with yours. Your suggestions will have more credibility if you believed in them so strongly you already ordered a gift certificate online.

— The longest-lasting debate in South Bend is not about the “fumble” in the 1988 Miami game or the “Bush Push” in 2005 or even the phantom whistle against Stanford in 2012. No, it’s about the only food to contain all the major food groups: Grain, vegetables, meat and dairy. That is, crust, tomato sauce, sausage or pepperoni or bacon or all of the above, and cheese.

Yes, we’re talking pizza. Most will tell you the debate is between Rocco’s or Bruno’s. They’re right, but that’s the debate for second-place. The true best pizza in South Bend is at Barnaby’s, and the atmosphere of the old-school family inn is tough to beat in nearly any occasion. The real proof Barnaby’s knows what it’s doing? You don’t even have to ask to have the pizza square cut.

Evil Czech Brewery gets left out of that conversation because, well, it’s a brewery, but the individual wood-fired pizzas are quite worthwhile. If wanting one for takeout, it is usually ready in the exact amount of time it takes to drink a pint at the bar. The menu on the whole is eclectic and intriguing and I have never heard of a regretted order. Oh, also, beer.

— The LaSalle Grille has been prominently located in downtown South Bend, and is well-regarded enough, everyone knows about it. For those of us who cannot quite afford it, however, there is the LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern, located on the third floor above the Grille. At the moment, it’s more affordable than ever, offering $100 gift cards for only $70.

Not to give some of you an idea how to find me in the real world, but I end up having dinner along the Kitchen & Tavern bar most Friday nights before Notre Dame home games. The food has been good there for years, but it took a step up last year after hiring a new chef. Hopefully he will have something particularly good ready Sept. 11, since I am being deprived of an April dish this spring.

— If parking on gamedays is one of the biggest hassles of attending an Irish game, a veteran’s secret to fixing it is to get a reservation at the Mandarin House. This works particularly well once into the latter half of October and into November, when a warm meal is desperately needed after four hours in 40-degree weather.

The walk from the Mandarin House to Notre Dame Stadium is just more than a mile, all perfectly safe. If they know you have a reservation after the game, you can park there beforehand. The quality, traditional Chinese food will do the trick from there.

— Or does the idea of Chinese food catch your attention but you want to get further from campus? Then head out to Ho Ping House. Essentially on your way to the interstate, you can wait out the lines at the tolls while enjoying some of the best Chinese food you’ve had.

Cambodian Thai might not fit on a gameday, and I have eaten there only once, but I know some smart men who swear by that menu downtown, and only in part because it might pack the best bang for your buck in the area.

— Just around the corner from Cambodian Thai, there is often low-key live music on weekend evenings at Chicory Cafe, a coffee shop also serving a wide array of gelato. Whatever comes next for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttiegieg, I will forever remember Chicory as the spot I sat at one table playing chess and a future presidential candidate sat at the next table enjoying a cup of coffee with his then-boyfriend. I lost that game, if memory serves, after fumbling a rook’s gambit.

— One last specific note, perhaps the most under-appreciated restaurant in South Bend … Sunny Italy. It’s not big, and when it’s busy, you won’t be able to get in. But there’s a reason for that; it is a thickly-Italian-style restaurant, complete with homemade pasta and talkative servers. There were nights years ago where Fr. Ted Hesburgh would sit at one table with his party, and in the chair directly behind him would be Monk Malloy with his own party. And yet, Sunny Italy does not get its proper due.

— The best burger in South Bend is either at The View, the Backer or C.J.’s Pub. Yes, the Backer has outstanding grub.

— The best fish and chips I have had in the region were at Fiddler’s Hearth, but you assumed as much.

Clearly, this is just a sampling. The South Bend Tribune put together a much more thorough listing of restaurants and bars directly impacted by these attempts at coronavirus containment. They need your help right now. If you are going down to Notre Dame for a weekend this fall, you’re going to spend the money on dinner eventually, why not give it to a restaurant ahead of time?

If you end up at the Kitchen & Tavern on a Friday, you might even see 11th-hour notes being made for that Saturday’s game.

UNLV-Notre Dame 2022 meeting means much more than merely future schedule filler

UNLV Notre Dame
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It is too soon to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, if we all continue to behave, a few weeks from now will bring more certainty regarding the disastrous effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but for now, all we know is we are in a long tunnel of sports darkness. Notre Dame athletics are on hold with the rest of the sports world.

But by the very definition of a tunnel, there is a light at the end of it. In a coincidence, as the city that follows the most sports most closely turned off its lights, its local university proved there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Make no mistake, Irish football should return before the 2022 season, but even if the wait is that long — as long as the world as a whole holds together as best as possible — would your attention in two years be any less rapt?

UNLV will travel to Notre Dame in October of 2022, per a Tuesday announcement. Undoubtedly, the Rebels decided long ago to release this news on St. Patrick’s Day, but equally as undoubtedly, they reconsidered and then proceeded with that choice earlier this week.

“Nothing says college football history more than playing a game at Notre Dame,” UNLV director of athletics Desiree Reed-Francois said. “We are looking forward to taking our team and our fans to South Bend for what is sure to be a memorable experience.”

Have you ever been so excited to hear news of a matchup two years away against a Group of Five opponent? It’s news, and it’s news about football’s future.

Of course, the Irish should return to the football field before then. “When?” could hardly remain more unclear at the moment, and it is almost entirely out of Notre Dame’s hands.

Before going too far into this, a disclaimer: The following is intended as an exercise to set a reference point moving forward. It is not a projection. It is not a prediction. It is not a forecast. Those are for people with IQs two and three dozen points higher than mine. But as our current societal shutdown applies to the Irish, if things worsen, then move this date backward accordingly. If you properly flatten the curve, maybe it will inch forward.

Yes, there, that’s why you, Notre Dame fan, need to stay home. If you don’t, you might delay the return of Irish football. Are the stakes high enough for you now?

Anyway, the Chinese Basketball Association is preparing to return to the court following what will have been a 10-week break. The United States is now one week into its hiatus. A 10-week stretch would conclude May 20. An increasing number of projections do not expect that to be a reality, but such a timeline would allow for a month of a cushion for college football to make some decisions.

In a normal year, Notre Dame would begin preseason practice on July 31. If conditions are still dire through June, neither the University nor the NCAA would condone practice at the 11th hour; they will want lead time to be assured of safety.

With most of college football having missed spring practices, there is wide speculation the NCAA could make the logical and practical (pun intended) choice to tack up to 15 practices onto the front end of the preseason. That could have the Irish back in shorts and helmets on July 14.

For logistical, travel and health reasons, that decision would need to be made well before mid-July. Coming to that conclusion in mid-June would be a minimum.

Hence, that May 20 date coming in time, but not by much.

A month from now, there might be an idea. Hopefully, there will be. That will be a positive sign regarding the handling of the current chaos.

Even if there is not, know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Las Vegas’ lights might be off for a month, but the University of Las Vegas-Nevada proved there is light on the other side of this.

Notre Dame has yet to announce one game of the 2022 slate, but the Oct. 22 date for UNLV sheds more light on the schedule than identifying the Group of Five opponent does. Of the 11 announced games, seven have dates associated with them, including an Oct. 15 meeting with Stanford and a Nov. 5 visit from Clemson.

The Irish almost always have a mid-to-late October off week. The last time they did not have an idle week between Oct. 14 and Halloween was 2012. It is not a sure thing Notre Dame will not play Oct. 29, 2022, but it seems more likely than not. Given how worked up so many often get about opponents having extended breaks before facing the Irish, receiving one before playing Clemson would be welcome.

The 2022 schedule to date:
Sept. 3 — at Ohio State
Sept. 10 — vs. Marshall
Sept. 17 — vs. Cal
Oct. 15 — vs. Stanford
Oct. 22 — vs. UNLV
Nov. 5 — vs. Clemson
Nov. 26 — at USC

TBA — at North Carolina
TBA — vs. Boston College
TBA — at Syracuse
TBA — “at” Navy

Leftovers & Links: A promise to you, Notre Dame fans

Notre Dame flag
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At some point Thursday night or Friday morning, I started scribbling down Notre Dame-specific ideas for pandemic and isolation content. Mostly, they focused on how the calendar looks moving forward. By Sunday evening, those notes were all outdated.

This is going to be an uncertain stretch, particularly the next couple weeks. When I say “uncertain,” I mean as it pertains to planning editorial content, but I also clearly mean, ya know, everything. So I’ll make you a deal, dear readers who for once might actually have nothing better to do than read my middling writing: If you are smart and behave in accordance with what is best for the greater good, I will do my absolute best to put together a minimum of 5-10 minutes of distraction for you if not every day, then most days.

Some of it will be looser than others, including this, as evidenced by my rare usage of personal pronouns. That’s usually a writing no-no, but if I can’t talk to anyone else, I’m going to talk to myself. I’ll probably even reply. And this is that result.

Some of those distractions will seem preemptive, but that’s what happens after losing five weeks of content from spring practices and then the two weeks afterward reflecting on those performances. From an editorial content calendar perspective, May has already arrived.

At first, back on Thursday and Friday, there was still the ignorant thought the Irish might resume a condensed spring practice at some point in April. Given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation Sunday night that all events of 50+ people be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks, the idea of a football practice in April is an impractical one, pun intended.

And stop, you, yes, I hear you about to ask, “What if they just practiced with half the roster?” Sure, and with no coaches by your math. “Fine, what about 20 players at a time?” It’s not going to happen. It’s just not. That’s a good thing. In a time when basic probabilities indicate our every priority needs to be elsewhere, let’s not shoehorn in some football practices.

There is the natural temptation to believe the CDC could be setting eight weeks as the expectations with hopes of shortening that rather than initially saying four weeks and then later on having to lengthen it. I can understand that rhetoric, but then I look at the NBA hoping for a “mid-to-late June return to play.” The NBA has smart people figuring out when it can stop losing hundreds of millions of dollars, and if they do not expect to be able to play until three months from now, there is no chance Notre Dame practices before the end of the scheduled semester.

I look at Major League Baseball “preparing” for a June Opening Day, and I ignore any “open-air” claims of an expedited timeline for football.

Personally, my No. 1 hope is for health and safety, obviously, with a few at-risk individuals in my life constantly at the front of my mind, as I am sure is the case for most of us. When sports will return is down the list of priorities a bit, which is saying something for someone whose livelihood very much depends on them, but once to that point among my priorities, my hope is the Irish host Arkansas on Sept. 12.

We can begin worrying later about the trip to Dublin to face Navy on Aug. 29. So many factors are at play with an international game in normal times, it is utterly difficult to project with any logic currently. But if the season as a whole begins largely on schedule, that will not only represent a semblance of normalcy and a South Bend safe haven, it will also set an end date to a content planning game of darts.

Ironically, this was always going to be a slow stretch. The Irish had a 12-day hiatus built into their spring practice schedule, courtesy of spring break.

My usual goal in the slow stretches is to have a consistent enough baseline of content that no one has to place a wellness check on me. You think I kid, but my mother admitted to me this weekend what I have long known: She checks my publishing regularity when I have not called home recently. Note: I called home each of the last four days, but uncertain times call for unusual measures.

Frankly, establishing a default method of warding off a wellness check is probably a good idea these days. Publishing every day might not be necessary, but I pledged more days than not, right? I also mentioned preemptive thoughts.

The summer staple of “Notre Dame 99-to-2” might forgo its usual implicit countdown indication and instead become a spring-into-summer filler. The preseason “Notre Dame’s Opponents” previews could now come before the preseason even begins. The “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC” columns may no longer be published on only Saturdays.

Like everything these days, this content calendar is in flux. Hopefully, unlike the bars, restaurants and coffeehouses in your neighborhood, this space will not be empty. That is my promise to you, just because you are sitting at home on your couch right now.

Have I wasted 5-10 minutes of your day yet? Great, now waste another minute in the comments. More than ever, content ideas and questions are welcomed.

More than ever, chatter amongst yourselves to add some socializing to your social distancing is encouraged.

More than ever, hang in, sports will return, and with them, Notre Dame football.

Notre Dame cancels in-person classes due to coronavirus
If Notre Dame continues to practice, hard to believe it will be for long
Notre Dame suspends spring practices, cancels Blue-Gold Game
30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: The Irish fell, but more importantly, football returned after 9/11

CORONAVIRUS READING, please, the more we all know, the better we understand the reasons for self-isolation and social distancing, and the better off the greater population is:
‘It could happen to anybody’: Lawyer, 45, in critical care
This is not a snow day
Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”
Here’s the biggest thing to worry about with coronavirus

Coronavirus prompts Notre Dame DE Alexander Ehrensberger to stay in Germany for now
The NBA had no choice. Neither do the rest of us. Shut everything down.
The ACC wanted its tournament to play on. Only Duke’s president had the courage to stop it
Sports crystallized coronavirus for America; now we adjust to life without them