Crum wins MVP, Irish challenged
Leave it to a polished former quarterback to remove the usual gloss from Notre Dame's football banquet.
Instead of smoothing the imperfections from a frustrating season, Joe Theismann used his keynote address during the 88th annual event to challenge the team before him inside the Joyce Center. After thanking the senior class, the Irish alumnus threw down the gauntlet for the younger players and recruits in the audience of nearly 750.
"For those that take the mantle and move it forward, I ask you this question. What do you want? What do you want?" Theismann said. "I want you to remember this season, I want you to remember the pain. I want you to remember the hard work.
"Every one of you has to make your mind up that this will never happen again."
The speech wove between awards doled out to players as Notre Dame acknowledged its six wins as much as its six losses for most of the evening. There were two mentions of BCS championship berths next season at the Rose Bowl, but focus centered more on the 6-6 season that ended with a disheartening home loss to Syracuse and a blowout at USC.
Amidst the reflections, two-time captain Maurice Crum Jr. won MVP honors thanks to a vote by his teammates. The linebacker also shared the Nick Pietrosante Award with Mike Anello, an honor for the players who symbolize "the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Irish All-America fullback."
Anello hobbled to the lectern on crutches after receiving the honor from quarterback coach Ron Powlus, who referred to the former walk-on as a "special teams wizard." Anello, out two-to-four months with a broken leg suffered at USC, also won the Knute Rockne Student-Athlete Award.
Pat Kuntz won the Lineman of the Year Award, Chris Stewart took home ISP/State Farm Student-Athlete of the Year and Mike Turkovich won the Guardian of the Year Award, which went to the team's top offensive lineman.
"We want to thank the guys right here for always sticking together, always having each other's back, becoming lifelong friends, sharing many moments and many…" said captain David Bruton, who was then tackled by emotion.
After a week when head coach Charlie Weis flirted with unemployment, he drew applause for a humble accounting of his return. The University announced Weis would be back for a fifth season on Wednesday following a meeting between the coach and athletics director Jack Swarbrick a day earlier in San Jose.
"The first and foremost thing that I want everyone here to know is that I'm really happy to be the head football coach at Notre Dame," Weis said. "And you want to know something? I'm happy for the support from (University President) Father John (Jenkins), I'm happy for the support from Jack Swarbrick, but if I wasn't happy being the football coach at Notre Dame, I don't think I'd be the football coach at Notre Dame right now."
But not every moment of the banquet was weighted by the season's struggles. Toward the end of the program Weis presented Theismann with a framed No. 7 jersey with his name in block white lettering atop the garment.
"Thank you Jimmy for letting me have this," Theismann said, playful sarcasm dripping on the microphone. "Jimmy Clausen has approved this and said you can use the number one more time. Thank you so much Jimmy, very kind of you, I really appreciate that."