Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

December 2008 Archives

In the final analysis, the wrenching paw clenching about which bowl Northwestern will play in is an utter waste of hubris.

Much too much is being made about the comparative prestige of second-tier bowls - whether Iowa will jump NU, whether Morton Grove will invade Evanston while everyone is away, how well the purple passionate does or does not travel, blah, blah, blah, et cetera, et cetera, pete cetera, oomph. 

An informal poll of hirsute media homies and some idling Potawatami bingo women on Friday afternoon revealed that the world outside the Enchanted Lakefront is more concerned with:

1) How well O.J. will do in iso;
2) Whether President-elect Obama will correctly attempt to restart the dismantling of the Federal Reserve that President Kennedy attempted to begin in 1963; and,
3) Why is Billy Corgan getting yet another shot at resurrecting his grossly depressing pee-weep rock? Don't those people know that angst pop is only mainstream digestable when times are good? This new Smashing Pumpkins come-around is right out of Radio Jonestown. Li'l Tommy Edwards would never program feel-bad swill like this.

(Speaking of which: Everyone chortles about the Tribune's Fred Mitchell - unless you need a mention in his column - for his relentlessly milquetoast sportswriting. Kind of like Randy Jackson critiquing Up With People. But his piece on Tyrone Willingham this week and Willingham's transcendent take on the retention of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame was superb sports journalism. Next time Bon Chuckles sees Coach Ty at the Old Country Buffet tray line in Mishawaka, the hope is that the incumbent ND coach and his house account are buying. With a doff of the blue-and-gold Jell-o cup to Fred Mitchell!)

Back to the NU bowl: The official announcement will be forthcoming late Sunday afternoon. All Bowie knives point to the Alamo Bowl. Maybe there will be a red bicycle in the basement.

But - payoff coming...really - the quality of the bowl at this point in the Pat Fitzgerald era is not the primary concern. The primary concern is whether Fitz and his purr-matics can shake the 59-year hex that has loomed over the program and win a bowl game.

And, slotting into a mid-level bowl game like the Alamo may be the perfect accelerant to continue the ascendancy of the new happy days in Evanston. Besides, "10-3" will sound so much better next August than "9-4."

The worst that could happen - Brooklyn Bridge, 1969 - is that NU winds up in an undercard bowl on New Year's Day and gets hammered by some teeming left-out power program and ignored in the day's crush of sports happenings.

That would be a depressing and inglorious conclusion to a dandy season on the E.L.

And then maybe they would have to have Billy Corgan come around and drone through the NU fight song at the team's post-season banquet.

And that is that.

  
In today's Sun-Times, no less a college football sage than Rick Telander put forth Pat Fitzgerald's name as a possible successor if and when the lethally sharpened shamrock finally comes down on the increasingly pathos-laden career of Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

One of the most notable things about Telander's addition to the growing chorus suggesting the Irish-Catholic Fitzgerald - who turns 34 today - as a very good fit in South Bend is the fact that few would seem to lament Fitzgerald's loss at NU more than Telander.

While there is no cheering in the press box - even at Ryan Field - it remains historic fact that Telander - along with maties like Mike Adamle and Maurie Daigneau - put the Wildcats back on the Big Ten map with their valiant efforts during the Alex Agase renaissance seasons of 1970-71. Telander, in his considerable football heart, still pumps purple.

To this point, Fitzgerald has noted that while he would be "humbled" if even approached about the Notre Dame job, he would not consider accepting it. He is too happy at NW, too comfortable with professional and personal situations that include a program giving evidence of being in ascension and a household less than 15 minutes from the univeristy's football offices that includes pretty, pleasant wife Stacy, future linebackers Jack (4) and Ryan (2) and a third Wildkit due in February, "around National Signing Day," according to the head coach.

At Notre Dame, if the choice ever came down to Weis or Fitzgerald - as is, in the here and now - here is a very simple question that the Irish cognoscenti would have to stare at their hollow brick fireplaces and contemplate;

If a charm-free, socially offensive poseur like Charlie Weis can still bring AAA-trains of talent to ND and then fail to adequately coach them to consistent big-time competitiveness, what could a charismatic, competitive young fellow like Pat Fitzgerald do to restart and then realize the subway Celtic visions of grandeur for the next 10, 15 or even 20 seasons?

It would not be a case of Fitzgerald merely waking up the echoes. It would be a case of a properly fiery young Irishman seamlessly blending into the most fabled football program in American college football and quite likely taking it to levels of honor, dignity and achievement that Notre Dame Stadium has not seen in a long, long time.

Fitzgerald, it says here, would staff correctly, efficiently and forge new echoes. Hopefully, he would remember the little people - and the large bearded ones - he met on the way up. 

Only problem, right now, Fitzgerald might be "humbled" by the thought, but the emotional pull of the Enchanted Lakefront for him far outweighs any lucre or luster that the backstage masters behind the Golden Dome can summon.

If there is any more evidence of the devaluation of the head coaching position at Notre Dame from the soiled lineage of Bob Davie to Charlie Weis,it would be hard to find: Now, a 33-year-old head coach who 15 years ago would have walked from Orland Park to South Bend to play for the Irish would not accept a multi-million dollar offer to become their new head coach.

When Urban Meyer blew off the Irish for Florida at the end of November 2004, Charlie Weis became the most accidental head coach in the contemporary history of the program. That accident is now a massive gaper's block that will only retard the dignity, honor and success of ND football until the sharpened shamrock comes down. Irish football cannot heal until its bleeding is halted and that bleeding will not be halted until Weis departs.

If Weis had any sense of decency, he would resign, take a pared-down buyout and spend a year or two addressing his health issues to assure the interim security and togetherness of his wife, son and daughter. Then, possibly, he would return to football, perhaps at a much smaller, more manageable, more apppropriate level. C.W. Post, the Coast Guard Academy or any high school Newark come to mind. 

For quick-study lessons on how that sort of prioritization can work, Sorry Charlie might look no farther than the head coach's domain at Northwestern. Fitzgerald's is in order; that of Weis is nothing but sad and skewered.

And that is that.      
 

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Tina Akouris covers the Northwestern Wildcats for the Sun-Times.

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