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Difficult to forget this one

Mike Gilloon | Monday, September 19, 2005

Is it over? Are you finished Brady Quinn? Done yet Drew Stanton?

The game ended Saturday, but fans who saw it will replay the overtime thriller in their minds – and their VCR’s – for years to come.

Never mind which team you were pulling for during Michigan State’s 44-41 win over Notre Dame Saturday, the performance by these two quarterbacks and their teams was worthy of applause.

Don’t worry about Michigan State coming in and spoiling the Irish victory party for a record fifth consecutive time. Don’t focus on Jason Teague’s 19-yard scamper that officially ended the marathon game.

The ushers should have charged extra money from fans as they shuffled out of the Stadium. Whatever they paid for their ticket, it wasn’t enough to deserve this type of entertainment.

This was a game during which you couldn’t use the bathroom without hearing another record shatter on the torn-up turf of Notre Dame Stadium.

It was a spectacular offensive display, with enough yards collected to fill the Goodyear blimp hovering overhead.

For Notre Dame, this was much more than another frustrating loss to a rival. In recent years, the Irish deserved their defeats to Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, etc. When they got down, they had no chance of coming back.

But Saturday was different. The Irish bared their teeth, showed a little fight and scraped together a comeback created for Saturday afternoons in the fall.

The game, as cliché as it may sound, could have gone either way. Neither team deserved to win, but neither deserved to lose.

Notre Dame, however, is disappointed in its loss. Twelve penalties for 92 yards – almost as much as the Irish rushing total – take some of the optimism out of the team’s performance. Not many people were surprised at Weis’ ability to immediately upgrade the Irish offensive production so soon. But the lack of concentration and execution displayed in the false starts and holding calls showed Weis still has plenty of work ahead of him.

Michigan State had its own issues. At times, Quinn made the Spartan secondary look as soft as cheesecake. If the defense can somehow become even half as good as the offense, the Spartans will be the surprise of the Big Ten.

But save the criticism and finger-pointing for the film session. Appreciate one of the best college football games that will be played all season. Remember the players who stole the show.

Exhibit A: Drew Stanton.

Stanton is a taller Doug Flutie – mobile, accurately-armed and blessed with a knack for winning. The Spartans could have cleared their dishes and left the table after the Irish rallied back from a three-touchdown deficit. In the fourth quarter, as well as Quinn and the Notre Dame offense performed, it seemed all but certain the Irish would scrape together the win.

But here came Stanton, scrambling to the Spartans’ rescue. He calmly handled the final few snaps with his team’s back to the wall to run out the clock on regulation.

After the Irish field goal in overtime, Stanton smelled victory. His pitch to Jason Teague, right under the eye of the Notre Dame student body, was the final slug in a game of punches.

But which team threw that final punch seems unimportant.

There will be a Jumbotron in Notre Dame Stadium before Quinn’s five touchdown passing clinic is forgotten. With that single-game record, Quinn finally has something at Notre Dame that’s all his.

At a position of names – Montana, Theismann, Huarte, Bertelli, Clements, Lujack, Mirer, Rice – Quinn now stands out. He lacks a Heisman Trophy and a national title, but at the very least his performance Saturday gives him his own little place in Irish history.

It was just another bronze performance in a game the 80,795 fans in attendance were lucky to witness.

Just hope you saved your ticket stub.

The opinions in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Mike Gilloon at mgilloon@nd.edu