It was an interesting weekend of football.
Pay close attention. I didn’t say it was an exciting weekend of football, though there were exciting games and plays to be seen. And I didn’t say it was a good weekend of football, because that would imply that I was happy with the quality of games I watched or the results of those contests. No, it was an interesting weekend of football.
Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame Floundering Irish sealed the deal on having the worse football season in the school’s storied history. I couldn’t find the stomach to watch most of the game, instead Heather and I kept checking in on the Irish during game breaks during the Ohio State – Illinois matchup.
When I was watching, there didn’t seem to be much to enjoy. Air Force moved the ball at will; the Irish were unable to sustain anything meaningful on offense. At this point in the season discussing the Irish’s pathetic play on the field sounds like a broken record. Injuries, inexperience, lack of talent – the cause could be all of those things. The source of the problem could even be with the coaching staff. Though I don’t believe Coach Weis’ job is in jeopardy.
First, he is Notre Dame alum, and I believe the University will give more leniency to one of their own. Two, his early success with the team grants him a little more time. Three, from what I’ve read the man is a recruiting machine. A number of the different college recruit evaluators have all commented on the strength of Weis recruiting classes and his approach to recruiting overall. So the future seems bright for the team. However, if two or three years from now the Irish faithful are watching another 1-9 team that is winless at Rockne Stadium, then none of those three reasons will save Weis’ job. As for now, we have to speculate on the talent and experience.
While I was avoiding watching another Notre Dame meltdown, I was afforded the opportunity to watch a meltdown of another type. Ohio State, the number one ranked team in the country, fell to the visiting Fighting Illini of Illinois.
Even though I grew up and now live in Illinois, I’ve never been much of an Illini football fan. I pull for their basketball team; but historically their football program hasn’t been much to talk about, so my interest in the gridiron version of the Illini has been small. South Bend has always seemed closer than Champaign, so factoring in my Irish Catholic upbringing, it’s always been the Fighting Irish for me.
But over the past few seasons a new coach, Ron Zook, and his recruiting prowess have started to build Illinois into a football team looking for more respect. Earlier this year they knocked off a highly ranked, and highly regarded, Wisconsin team, beat Penn State, they played Michigan closely on a nationally televised Saturday night game, and they have remained competitive and at the top of the standings in the Big Ten. But I don’t think anyone expected them to come into Columbus and hand the Buckeyes their first regular season loss in almost three years. But that’s what they did.
Since marrying Heather and living some time in Ohio, I have become a fan of Ohio State. The school has a strong football program headed up by Jim Tressel, a coach whom I hold a lot of respect for. I enjoy watching their teams play and especially have fun seeing them beat up on Michigan. However, on Saturday I couldn’t help but feel a little pride in seeing those Illinois helmets running around the Horseshoe, befuddling Ohio State defenders and securing a resounding victory. I know it was bandwagon fanish of me to do so, but I couldn’t help it.
Now following an Ohio State victory over Michigan and an Illini win over Northwestern, the Illini could finish tied for second in the Big Ten. Exciting stuff.
Sunday’s pro games were no less interesting. The Cleveland Browns – Pittsburgh Steelers game was a nationally televised game, so Heather and I got to watch Cleveland’s hot-handed QB Derrick Anderson take on the hated Steelers. The Browns are having a great season, which made this game, which has been a horrible mismatch since Cleveland had to hit the reset button on their football franchise in the late 1990’s, a fantastic match-up. Even though the Browns jumped out to a big lead, Ohio-native Ben Roethlisberger was able to rally his Steelers to win the game. It was a difficult loss, but I still love seeing the Browns be competitive, even if I don’t like the outcome.
I was living in Cleveland when owner Art Modell picked the team up and moved them to Baltimore in 1995, and grew to understand and appreciate the city’s pain over losing their football team. The Cleveland Browns are how Cleveland defines themselves. They may love their Indians and go crazy for their Cavaliers, but deep down Cleveland is a football city. It was great when the city got a Browns team again; which they have embraced enthusiastically. It has been a difficult road for the new team, but you get the feeling that they may finally have the right management, coaching, and talent to start building towards something bigger than an also-ran in the AFC North division.
And how about those Bears? That was some of the worst three quarters of football I have ever seen. The play on the field matched what you would expect from two teams coming into the game with losing records. 3-3 at the half? 6-3 (in favor of the Raiders) at the end of the third quarter? And Devin Hester was trying way too hard on his punt and kick returns. The Raiders were playing inspired special team coverage. Don’t get all fancy with switchbacks and redirects. Run forward and hope for some blocks and bad tackles. I was too disgusted to be bored with the game, but I stuck through it.
Then Rex reminded us all why we were so in love with him a year ago. He has the ability to step out on the field and completely light the place up. Before his touchdown strike to Bernard Berrian, Grossman had gone down the field a couple of times (once even over-throwing a speeding Hester) but without the same end result. Grossman likes to air the ball out. Go for the big strike. I know it can get him into trouble, but damn if it isn’t exciting to watch.
So while Grossman was redeeming himself by leading the Bears to victory, Cedric Benson revealed that he just isn’t the sort of runner the Bears need. The Oakland Raiders have one of the worst run defenses in the league. Still, Benson was barely able to squeak out 76 yards on the ground. The crew FOX had calling this game was horrible, but they did point out something that I hadn’t noticed about Benson’s running style – the guy runs all tippy-toe to the line of scrimmage. Benson doesn’t run up to the line, look for his hole, and try to muscle his way through. He dances before he even gets there. How are you going to get any power to your stride if you aren’t extending yourself when you prepare to hit the line? The guy’s a certified bust.
Does one game of “Good Rex” mean that the season can be salvaged? I don’t know. I do know that I find a game with Rex behind center more exciting to watch than one with him on the bench. Let’s look and see what the rest of the season brings.