Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cry, Cry Again | by Brian

Back in 2007 (Notre Dame's Annus Horribilis, or alternatively, "the autumn of our discontent"), yours truly brought the good readers of BGS an in-depth, hard-hitting weekly game preview. Now, with optimism about the 2009 Irish reaching a fever pitch, and with the team headed to the state that brought us the Detroit Lions and the American Auto Industry to face the hated Michigan Wolverines in a battle of Good vs. Evil---though I hesitate to call them an Evil Empire since one national title in six decades does not an empire make---I am back to once again get everyone up to speed on what to expect this Saturday. Think of this as being like a Very Special Episode of Blossom. (Joey is using performance-enhancing drugs! The other brother has fallen off the wagon! Blossom's dad is banging Six's mom! Blossom has a zit! Etc.)

The Tears of Unfathomable Sadness

In a recent press conference, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez was overcome by emotion, and broke down in tears. It has been a tough few months for Coach Rod: what follows is just a small sampling of the issues that have contributed to his current emotional state.

---As pretty much everyone is aware, his Michigan program has been accused of exceeding the NCAA's limits on practice time.

---He has been sued for defaulting on a loan as part of a planned condo construction project in Blacksburg, VA.

---He is still upset about the transfer of former Wolverine RB Sam McGuffie and his unparallelled athleticism.

---He lost his beloved teddy bear Bobo.

---He is having trouble accepting that Ann Arbor doesn't have a Waffle House.

---He is concerned about the fates of George and Izzie on Grey's Anatomy.

---His trusty dog Rego left him to become an official pick-up truck-riding dog in the BFWJTFL (Brett Favre Wrangler Jeans Touch Football League)

With so much controversy surrounding Rodriguez and his program, the barbarians are at the gate---many feel that he is doomed for failure in Ann Arbor, and that it is time to make a change. They feel that the Michigan program needs a man who will be a role model for his players, a man who does things the right way, a man that they can be confident won't overwork the team or spend any more time on the practice field than he absolutely has to, a man who isn't afraid to turn the coaching profession on its ear with innovations such as metronomes and chocolate milk and losing; in short, Michigan needs this man:

"Though the young men of Michigan are currently navigating some turbulent waters that interfere with their ability to execute, a wolverine is still, even in this context, a vicious animal, okay?"

Quarterback Controversy No More

After toying with the idea of rotating three quarterbacks, it appears that Rodriguez has settled on freshman Tate Forcier as his primary signal caller. Forcier, known in some circles as "The Force", is a threat with both his arm and his legs, elegant weapons for a more civilized age. However, his sad devotion to that ancient Michigan program hasn't helped him conjure up the sort of signature win that he seeks on Saturday, or given him clairvoyance enough to anticipate Jon Tenuta's complicated blitz schemes.

Also expected to see action behind center is freshman Denard Robinson, a greater running threat than Forcier who could prove elusive to Irish defenders as Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick did at times during the opener. Note: if you're not familiar with Robinson's nickname and the story behind it, be prepared to hear about it ad nauseam on Saturday. He could be this year's "AAAAA Traaaaain" in that respect.

Be prepared to hear about Denard Robinson's
shoelaces once, twice, or thrice.
Rounding out the trio is junior Nick Sheridan who, though Rodriguez insists will play, is likely to make his greatest contribution through his skills with a clipboard and headset, given that he didn't get into the season-opening win over Western Michigan until the game was no longer in doubt. Let me explain this better using a hip, contemporary pop culture reference so that the kids will understand: Forcier and Robinson are like the famous teen sleuths, the Hardy Boys, while Sheridan is more like their best pal Chet Morton, who was kind of off to the side for the most part but was always willing to lend a hand, give the brothers a ride in his jalopy, and stand by while one of the Hardys hooked up with his sister.

Regardless of who is taking snaps for the Wolverines, the QB's primary target will be wide receiver Junior Hemingway. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Hemingway and I asked him about the rapport he appears to have already developed with Forcier. Hemingway's response, which I found to contain an economy of words and a penchant for understatement, was as follows:

"We met in the huddle. The young passer stood before me, stoical and impassive. As the play began, I thundered down the field like a proud bull. Tate threw the ball. The pass was good. I caught it as the striped official raised his arms signaling six points. We left the field to seek cover in the locker room. Though in tight quarters, we gathered together and ate sandwiches. They were damn satisfying. We talked of the play and of the great DiMaggio."

A Potential Gaffe?

President Josiah Bartlet
, a Notre Dame alumnus, was recently caught on camera making a remark that could hurt his reelection chances in the crucial swing state of Michigan.

Though this clip could offend some voters, the sheer truthiness of Bartlet's remarks should serve to help this controversy blow over. The only thing that would have made the clip better would have been if Timothy Busfield had reached under his bus seat and pulled out the ol' electric violin.

The Tradition Continues

According to sources close to the Michigan program, for the seventh consecutive year, Steve Breaston is poised for a breakout season.

Call Him Ismail

Like so many of a certain age who made their bones as Notre Dame fans following the great Lou Holtz-led teams of the late '80's and early '90's, my favorite player of all time is one Rocket Ismail. He was that rare player whose talent and big play ability demanded that fans pay attention whenever he touched the ball. So many moments stand out: his two kickoff returns for touchdowns as a freshman against Rice in 1988, his 57-yard reception in the Catholics vs. Convicts game against #1 Miami in '88 (starts around the 1:35 mark), his kickoff return for a touchdown against Miami in Catholics vs. Convicts III in 1990, his amazing display of speed against Tennessee in Knoxville in '90, and in his final moments in a Notre Dame uniform, his apparent game-winning touchdown punt return against Colorado in the '91 Orange Bowl, which was called back in an incompetent display of officiating that handed Colorado a bogus national championship. (What in the world was Colorado thinking not kicking that out of bounds?)

However, Ismail's finest moment came when the defending national champion Irish, still ranked #1, traveled to Ann Arbor to take on #2 Michigan early in the 1989 season. Rocket took the second half kickoff 88 yards for a Notre Dame touchdown:

Note that on this play, Ismail outruns Michigan's Corwin Brown (wearing #20), now Notre Dame's associate head coach. (This is not the only iconic play from the ND/Michigan rivalry on which Brown was made to look bad.) Rocket's return was the first kickoff return for a touchdown allowed by the Wolverines since 1957.

It would take a bit less than 32 years for Michigan to allow another.

After the Wolverines pulled back within one score in the fourth quarter on a touchdown drive led by quarterback Elvis Grbac (who had recently been inserted after an injury to starter Michael Taylor), Michigan lined up for another kickoff and, surprisingly, gave Rocket a second chance to shine:

Ismail's two returns provided the difference in Notre Dame's 24-19 win. It marked the first time in Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler's long, ringless career that a team had beaten his Wolverine squad three years in a row. The decision to kick to Rocket the second time was inexplicable---the sort of boneheaded coaching decision that Bo typically reserved for the Rose Bowl. Irish faithful everywhere, and the thousands in attendance at Michigan Stadium, will never forget the memories provided by Rocket that day. For the countless young fans like me who were still coming into their own as Notre Dame fans, it provided a snapshot of what Notre Dame football is all about, and what it can be again.

QB Browns Alert Level Update

In 2007, we occasionally kept Irish fans up to date on the progress of Brady Quinn in his rookie year with the Cleveland Browns. We bestowed upon Quinn the prestigious moniker QB Browns as an homage to Tecmo Super Bowl. As a reminder, or for those seeing this for the first time, here are the color-coded QB Browns Alert Levels:

BROWN: Taking the Browns to the Super Bowl
ORANGE: The Toast of Cleveland
YELLOW: Bench Pressing Steely McBeam
GREEN: Starting, but Unproven
BLACK: Backup
PURPLE: Pummelled by the Ravens Defense

Steely McBeam is presumably an outdated reference by now, since I have to think that the Steelers brass has seen the error of its ways and shipped Mr. McBeam back to Scotland or wherever.

I was worried that I was going to have to set the QB Browns Alert Level at SOME SORT OF GREEN/BLACK MIX---CAMOUFLAGE, IF YOU WILL, because Browns coach Eric Mangini had wanted to keep his starting quarterback's identity a secret. Schmuck. I'm sure the Vikings defense was losing sleep over this development. Fortunately, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that QB Browns has been handed the keys to the kingdom, cracking the case like the Hardy Boys solving the mystery of The Smugglers of Pirate Cove or what have you (after Chet Morton unwittingly found the map leading to the buried trunk full of doubloons or something like that.) Therefore, the QB Browns Alert Level has been upgraded to GREEN.

Back From the Dead

As is tradition, we conclude our preview by turning things over to our resident prognosticator. He is a man who is acutely attuned to the goings-on in the sports ether, and who has a mystical connection to the football gods. This man is known as The Blind Oracle of Bristol.

Devotees may recall that, last we saw the Oracle in the '07 finale, he was gunned down by Lou Holtz. It was a real crowd-pleaser. Well, it's time to use a little artistic license and bring the Oracle back from the dead. For those readers requiring an explanation for this seemingly miraculous occurrence, feel free to choose from one of the following two choices:

---The Wile E. Coyote/Kenny McCormick Theory: As has been a common motif in cartoonish violence, the Oracle was killed, only to return unscathed in the next episode as if nothing had happened. The Oracle getting shot to death by Lou Holtz? Never happened!

---The Slasher Movie Sequel Theory: In slasher movie franchises, the killer is generally killed in seemingly more and more definitive ways in each installment, only to come back to life in increasingly unlikely and spectacular ways in the next film. With that in mind, let's say that perhaps a voodoo priestess of some sort performed a ritualistic chant that caused lightning to strike the Oracle's grave during an acid rain storm, and that this brought him back to life for some reason.

With those pesky continuity issues out of the way, it's time for the Oracle's prediction. Like I'm sure is the case with all of you, I am on the edge of my seat waiting to hear who he thinks will win this matchup. With that, I turn the stage over to the B.O.O.B.

"With the maelstrom swirling, scandal and chaos, the foe gathers in strength. An Irresistible Force leads them, unseen and unyielding, outside of science or human understanding. A hundred thousand jackasses bray their hideous song. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Wolverines. Michigan beats Notre Dame 35-10."