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Forgetting for a moment

Joe Hettler | Monday, November 17, 2003

Julius Jones high-fived fans, got patted on the back and walked through the tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium for the last time with a smile on his face Saturday. For Jones and the Irish, everything was forgotten for a short time.The players forgot about the 4-6 record. The three straight home losses. The blowouts and embarrassments in this disappointing season.And Jones could enjoy the moment without thoughts of his past struggles and shortcomings.All failures of the 2003 season weren’t on the minds of Irish players and coaches Saturday when, in the second half, Notre Dame played like Notre Dame should.The Irish beat BYU on Senior Day by their biggest margin of victory all season – 33-14. They did so impressively – by using a ball control offense to dominate time of possession, and a stifling defense that did not allow the Cougars’ offense a single yard in the third quarter. They did so with a powerful running game, led by Jones’ 161 yards and three touchdowns. And they did so by playing the way great Irish teams did during Notre Dame’s successful seasons.The only difference was this season has been far from great, or for that matter, even mediocre. The team is 4-6 with slim hopes of a bowl and a best case scenario of a .500 record. They have been slammed by top teams in ways few thought Notre Dame football teams would ever allow. But Saturday, it’s doubtful that the players or coaches were thinking of the struggles this season when they saluted the student body after the game.No one remembered the disappointment of losing to Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue in successive weeks. No one recalled the feelings of starting the season 2-6, after being smoked by Florida State 37-0 a few short weeks ago. And no one recalled the entire season Jones missed after flunking out. In a way, Jones story is similar to the story of the 2003 Irish. He had great expectations put on him after a solid junior season, while the Irish were expecting good things in 2003 after finishing the 2002 season with a 10-3 record.Adversity hit the star tailback before last year when found himself out of school and out of a future with football when he didn’t have the grades to stay enrolled. Not until he recommitted to the books at Arizona State and trained himself to become a better player and person did Jones make his way back to South Bend. He came back this season ready to become a leader for Notre Dame and finish what he started four years ago.But more struggles were ahead for Jones and the Irish, as the team lost games and Jones played inconsistently. But Saturday both Jones and the Irish came full circle. Notre Dame played one of its best games of the season and got the win, much thanks to the performance of the senior running back. For a few moments Saturday, everything was good for the gold helmets.The memories of a disappointing season were in the past, the criticism of a bad season out the door and the health of Notre Dame football was intact. Despite enduring an unacceptable four- or five-year stretch when Notre Dame teams had two losing seasons, zero bowl wins and no national titles, the seniors went out on top Saturday.For all the times the team played poorly this season, they played well in the second half of the seniors final home game. How appropriate that Jones led the way. Notre Dame played well below expectations for much of the season and Jones didn’t put up the numbers he hoped in several of those games.But Jones and Notre Dame ended the home season on a high note by playing to expectations in the second half of the BYU game.They didn’t have to remember the past Saturday, but simply focused on the moment when Notre Dame football came back to life for a short time.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not neccessarily those of The Observer. Contact Joe Hettler at [email protected]