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Football

Hefferon: An unforgettable forgettable victory (Dec. 29)

| Sunday, December 29, 2013

NEW YORK — To the vast number of fans and commentators — even those in attendance among the dubious “sellout” crowd— Saturday’s Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium was largely seen as a forgettable one.

There were more turnovers than touchdowns. More yawns than points. And nine attempted field goals. Nine.

After January’s trip to the BCS National Championship Game, everything about the Pinstripe Bowl was seen as a letdown. Several bowl tiers lower and 1,000 miles up the coast from South Florida, the trip northeast may have felt more like being sent to Siberia, especially to some of the team’s leaders who had campaigned for more tropical locales.

And even with Saturday’s win, both close and convincing, the team’s main takeaway from the victory didn’t come from winning the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy, nor from any additional gains in recruiting momentum.

“First off, I wanted to thank our seniors,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “For what they’ve given to our program both on and off the field.”

As far as bowl season clichés go, “sending the seniors out with a win,” is the undisputed champion. That SteinbrennerTrophy won’t be what the seniors tell their kids and grandkids stories about.

But by winning the game, everything else about the day, and the season, avoids being tainted by a closing loss. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood experienced this in his locker room postgame, when he tried to give the same message of thanks to his seniors.

“You hope they can hear it,” he said. “When you don’t come out on top in a bowl game, there is such a finality to it. It’s…a very emotional locker room.”

The stakes are even higher for seniors, as the bowl game is one of the last times their entire class will be together — on the field or off. Because of summer classes, several of the team’s seniors have already fulfilled their graduation requirements. Many of them, in addition to Notre Dame’s six graduate students, will now head home to begin training for a shot in the NFL. Most will reassemble on campus for the program’s Pro Day in the spring, but after that the next large group gathering will probably be at some reunion, five years or longer down the line.

So, the Irish seniors probably won’t remember the eventual game-winning score from Saturday’s contest (the fourth of Kyle Brindza’s five field goals, for the record).

However, because of the win, graduate student linebacker Carlo Calabrese can look back on being home for the holidays and seeing five or six dozen of his friends and family up in the stands close out his Irish career on top.

Graduate student left tackle and captain Zack Martin won’t dwell on being the Pinstripe Bowl MVP; he was already trying to downplay that award after the game. He will take pride, though, in remembering a fourth-quarter interception by his roommate, graduate student linebacker Dan Fox. He’ll remember running over after Fox’s second career pick, lifting his friend off the ground with a huge reverse bear hug before heading out to join the offensive huddle.

With a win secured, Fox will be able to look back and smile when remembering the flu he caught this week, feeling the worst he’d ever felt during a game and still doing enough to finish as the team’s leading tackler on the season.

And senior quarterback Tommy Rees, who has had every throw famously scrutinized since taking the helm of Notre Dame’s offense as a freshman, probably won’t remember many of the 47 passes he tossed on Saturday. But he will remember standing on the sidelines with Martin, Chris Watt, Tyler Stockton and others as the last minute of their time as Notre Dame players ticked away, joking about Rees’ mobility on a five-yard scramble — his longest run in nearly three years.

The 60 minutes of football were largely forgettable. But among everything else, the resulting win made it one Notre Dame’s seniors will remember forever.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu

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

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