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Football Commentary: Let’s look at what we’re losing

Bob Griffin | Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Being from New York, it’s easy to remember how much Knicks fans took Patrick Ewing for granted during his last years in the Big Apple. In fact, during the team’s 1999 NBA Finals run, some New Yorkers thought the team was better with him on the bench.

But once Ewing was gone, fans began appreciating what he meant to the city and franchise. Ewing was a mainstay in the lineup for over a decade and a top-15 center of all time, and the Knicks still haven’t found a legitimate post player to replace him.

The fact is that fans don’t always appreciate great players on their teams until they’re gone. And the Notre Dame network has been spoiled the last four years watching one of the best college quarterbacks – Brady Quinn – develop before their eyes.

They watched him as a young, wide-eyed freshman thrown to the wolves against Purdue. They saw flashes of his potential sophomore year while he was still buried in an anemic offense. Junior year was his coming out party as he out-dueled Matt Leinart in one of the most memorable games – despite losing – of his career.

Finally, senior year, they witnessed him somehow improve on the junior season in which he set 35 school passing records. And in the process, he became an iconic figure at the University – the type people will talk about for years to come given his charisma, football savvy and ability to pick apart secondaries.

In the last two seasons alone, he’s amassed 67 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with little consistency from his pass blockers – Notre Dame’s offensive line allowed 30 sacks this season compared to Ohio State’s 14. If Quinn swapped uniforms with Troy Smith, he might have Colt Brennan numbers.

Regardless of what Mark May or the Heisman voters believe, not only is Quinn the best quarterback in the country, he could be the best NFL prospect at his position since Peyton Manning.

He bleeds confidence on the field and in his press conferences – a true quality that will allow him to succeed at the next level. His coach, who knows a thing or two about the NFL, has already called him a “can’t miss” with whatever team he ends up with.

But because of the hoopla that surrounded Notre Dame for the past two seasons – its return to prominence under Weis and the daily scrutiny that only the Irish face over wins and losses – Quinn sometimes got lost in the shuffle.

It’s a strange reality since he was probably the most hyped player entering the season and one of the most talked about quarterbacks in the country throughout the year, but if Notre Dame had been 7-4 entering USC and not playing for a BCS Championship – there would have been more time to appreciate his legacy.

Quinn’s not the type to reflect publicly about his place in Notre Dame history. He’s a true team player who might not fully understand exactly how important he’s been to the overall picture of reviving Notre Dame football.

But when the Irish take the field against Georgia Tech next season, something will definitely be missing. Sure, Quinn will be off making millions, taking the next level by storm and winning a lucky city over with his competitive, yet personable nature.

But back in Notre Dame Stadium, Irish fans will watch a new quarterback’s attempt to fill some pretty large shoes. And only then will people fully appreciate how good No. 10 was – and how much he’s missed.

So with one game remaining this season, and in Quinn’s career, let’s take time to appreciate how good he’s been – regardless of the game’s outcome. It could be a long time before another quarterback provides Notre Dame with the commitment, excellence and leadership Quinn has exemplified.

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

Contact Bob Griffin at rgriffi3@nd.edu.