Posted: Thursday August 18, 2005 4:46PM; Updated: Thursday August 18, 2005 6:23PM
With much of the Notre Dame offense returning, Charlie Weis should be able to help the Irish's offensive woes.
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
When Notre Dame hired Charlie Weis to be its head coach on December 12th last year, the third thought that came to mind (the first two, if you are curious, were: 1) Where's the other "s" and 2) Frank Sinatra would have been 89 today) was David Givens and Super Bowl XXXVIII.
The New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in that Super Bowl in 2004. What blew my mind, watching that game, was the number of key catches Givens made in the second half. As the fourth quarter wound down, I phoned SI.com colleague Marty Burns and we simultaneously blurted out the same question:
"Where was THIS David Givens at Notre Dame?!?!?"
Givens finished Super Bowl XXXVIII with five catches and one touchdown. He caught a total of 25 balls his senior year in South Bend. Marty and I, who both graduated from Notre Dame in 1988 (despite our blog-worthy lifestyles, we have not quite attained the success of fellow classmates Tim "Heisman" Brown and Nicholas "When-am-I-NOT-on-the-New-York-Times-bestseller-list?" Sparks), have long been amazed at how much better Notre Dame's offensive players seem to do in the pros.
When was the last time the Irish had an All-America at quarterback?
Answer: Terry Hanratty, 1968. Yet, since then, ND has sent JoeTheismann, Joe Montana and Steve Beuerlein (don't laugh; Beuerlin spent 17 seasons in the NFL) to pro careers that outshined their college ones. Don't even get me started on Julius Jones or Jerome Bettis (one thousand-yard season between them).
I don't blame Givens. He actually led the Irish in catches in 2000. It's just that he'd make a catch, make a nifty run afterward, and then disappear for two quarters. "Why doesn't he do that more often!?!" Marty and I would scream at each other from across the room, back when we both lived in New York.
Which brings us back to Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Patriots' offensive coordinator, as you well know, was Weis. And he did a few good things with their quarterback (name escapes me) and whichever running back they happen to line up behind him (Kevin Faulk? Corey Dillon?).
I don't know how many games Notre Dame will lose this season, but I do know the Irish will score. Incidentally, the Irish have lost a record-tying 13 games the past two years. They've never lost more than 18 in three consecutive seasons. So a 5-6 record will only add to the 21st-century ND ignominy.
But I believe the Irish are headed for a better season than that, despite most mags' (including Sports Illustrated) ranking them in the mid-40s. Why? Because the Notre Dame offense has a higher percentage of personnel returning this fall than the Supreme Court. Who's back? Who's not?
Junior quarterback Brady Quinn, who'll own every Notre Dame passing record if he plays his final two seasons, returns. Leading rusher Darius Walker, who set the freshman rushing record (786 yards) in '04, is also back (as are his parents, who attend more practices than NBC sideline reporter Lewis Johnson). So is the entire offensive line. So are the top seven receivers from a year ago, including tight end Anthony Fasano, whom I think should never catch fewer than four passes per game (he caught 27 all of last season; but the criminal under-usage of tight ends in college football is column for another day).
The Irish have four wideouts who can play. Rhema McKnight caught a team-high 42 passes a year ago; Matt Shelton is a burner who set a single-season record in yards per catch (25.75); and Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall are 6-foot-5 studs. Stovall, especially, is the guy about who five years from now Marty and I will be having the same conversation as we did about Givens.
So what, you may ask? Caroline in the City always kept its cast intact (including Caroline's metrosexual -- to be kind -- love interest, Del) but the show still blew. The difference is I don't think the Irish offense blows. Last year Notre Dame scored as many points as its opposition over the course of the season, 289. Although they were only 81st nationally in total offense and 72nd in scoring offense, anyone who watched the first 20 minutes of the Southern California game witnessed what this offense can do when it's in sync.
I doubt the Irish will score 289 points this season. They'll score more. Whether they do better than 5-6 and avoid losing 19 games in a three-season span for the first time has much more to do with a defense that lost eight starters, including current NFL campers Mike Goolsby and Justin Tuck.
After all, Givens had less to do with the Pats even being in Super Bowl XXXVIII than say, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson and Mike Vrabel did. But, if by some bizarre happenstance, the Irish come into their Sept. 17 home-opener versus Michigan State undefeated, it'll mean they'll have beaten top-25 squads Pittsburgh and Michigan on successive Saturdays. Don't get your hopes up, Irish fans. But if they do, well, here are two predictions:
1. It will be due to the offense
2. The popular chant of "WE ARE ND!" will be complemented by T-shirts that read "WE IS ND."