As a Notre Dame alumnus, writer, and fan, Thanksgiving 2012 certainly has provided a lot to be thankful for. The following are often overlooked:
The Return of Tyler Eifert and Manti Te’o
In some ways, they forsook the 2011 draft for different reasons; Eifert to improve his draft status, and Te’o to experience the “pure joy” of a senior season and Senior Day at Notre Dame. But they both dearly wanted one more chance to play (and win) for Notre Dame, and it has not only worked out great for them individually, (Eifert raising his draft status and Te’o becoming one of the all time great players and leaders for the Irish) but for the team, which certainly wouldn’t have been the same without them. Their choice to stay is a far cry from that of Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate (who were practically pushed out by ex-Irish coach, Charlie Weis) and I can only hope it is a start of a trend.
The Irish Offensive Line
Always the unsung heroes of any successful team, the steady play of the rugged and experienced offensive line cannot be overlooked. Equally adept at pass protection and run blocking, the Irish line has allowed Kelly’s complex offense to flourish, and anyone who has watched the Chicago Bears this season (with their skilled position players but shaky O-line) knows that this is no easy task.
Although they do not get as much national recognition as the vaunted Notre Dame defense, they are just as important, and the senior leadership of Chris Watt, Mike Golic Jr., Zack Martin and Braxton Cave will surely be missed next season.
The “More Mellow” Brian Kelly
As the scandals (the football-related deaths of Declan Sullivan and Lizzy Seeberg) and losses mounted, the ill-tempered Coach Kelly made Irish fans fear for the worst. But his grasp of what it means to be a head coach at Notre Dame has grown, and his handling of the shared playing time of veteran Tommy Rees and inexperienced Everett Golson (not to mention Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick) has been nothing short of masterful. Kelly hasn’t won the National Championship in his third season (as five other Irish coaches did) yet—but he’s getting close…
Notre Dame’s Two “Number Ones”
No, the football season is not over yet, but there never has been a team in BCS history that is ranked number one both on and off the field as Notre Dame is now. With both the highest BCS ranking and highest player graduation rates, Notre Dame has lived up to the old adage of Coach Lou Holtz, who told players both on the field and in the classroom to not just “[d]o it, but do it right.” While it would be great to silence the critics who said that Notre Dame would never win the National Championship again, it is equally important that the Irish accomplish this not through scandal, but “smarts.”
Notre Dame’s Fans
From their loyal alumni to their rabid subway alumni rooters, nothing can compare to the Notre Dame fans. And the reason I believe their fans are the best is not only due to the alumni and subway alumni, but to the legions of heavenly Notre Dame fans as well.
If I am correct in considering that George Gipp, Knute Rockne and the rest have long been a vibrant part of the Notre Dame cheering section, then this year’s success could be largely attributed to the intercession of the new members of the Irish heavenly fan base, such as Te’o's grandmother, his girlfriend Lennay Kekua, and young fan Bridget “The Brave” Smith.
And of course, there’s the #1 Irish fan, Notre Dame Herself…