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The Golden Standard

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Following Flynt - What To Watch for Against USC

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5740826.jpeg Fighting Irish Digital Media intern Josh Flynt ('11) continues to provide the inside scoop on the Notre Dame football program. Here is his take on what to watch for during Saturday's game against USC ...

Touchdown Timmy Returns: Before he was Mr. Raider, Tim Brown was one of the most accomplished receivers in Notre Dame history. The 1987 Heisman Trophy winner will be this week's pep rally speaker. During that season, Brown returned two consecutive punts for touchdowns against Michigan State in a 31-8 night game victory at Notre Dame Stadium.

Following the pep rally at Irish Green there will also be a fireworks show. In addition, the Irish hockey team hosts RPI in the first ever game in Compton Family Ice Arena, and the men's and women's basketball teams will hold Irish Madness at Purcell Pavilion. The event will feature ESPN college basketball analyst (and Notre Dame fan) Dick Vitale and current and former players from both teams. There will be team scrimmages and competitions, as well as fan contests throughout the night.

A New Gold Standard: One of the greatest and most recognizable symbols of Notre Dame football for the past several decades has been the gold helmet. In recent years however, that gold seemed to have lost some of its luster. Determined to make a change that would better represent the color of the Golden Dome, athletic director Jack Swarbrick asked head football equipment manager Ryan Grooms to find a better fit.

The result is a new gold helmet courtesy of Hydro Graphics Inc. Unveiled Wednesday on UND.com and the Notre Dame Athletics Facebook page, these helmets will make their debut on Saturday night. They will shine more brightly than those of the past and provide the Irish with a more consistent color from week to week.

In general, it seems that the new helmets have been met with positive feedback. The photos from University photographer Matt Cashore are great, but I had a chance to see the helmets in person earlier this week and I think people will be even more impressed with them when the Irish take the field.

The Irish Experience

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cropped_comp.jpgND.edu - A new collaboration between Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and athletics department is bringing a new experience to young people in the South Bend area, combining the excitement of Fighting Irish football and the development of life skills that can convey inspiration and success.

The new collaboration, called the Irish Experience League initiative, brings together ACE's Play Like a Champion Today (PLC) educational program and the Youth and Community Programs office within Notre Dame Athletics.

The Irish Experience League - a youth flag football league for boys and girls in grades 5 to 8 - launched on Sept. 25 at two community locations: the Martin Luther King Center in the Westside neighborhood and Kelly Park in the Northeast neighborhood of South Bend. The free program will continue to take place on Sunday afternoons from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

During five consecutive weeks, the League will host 60-minute flag football games, accompanied by 45-minute sessions exploring Play Like a Champion Today lessons in character development as well as health and life skills. The games and learning opportunities, in both girls' and boys' divisions, will feature fun with Notre Dame varsity athletes as they join in the activities.

PLC is known nationally as an initiative of Notre Dame's ACE program. PLC works primarily with coaches and parents to help students integrate constructive values in their athletic experiences and in their whole lives.

The goal of well-rounded human development among these young people is advanced not only through PLC's well-respected educational approaches for young people in public and parochial schools alike, but through the compelling messages of Notre Dame Athletics. The key message for young people is the five pillars of success in the Irish Experience - namely, excellence, education, tradition, faith and community.

"We are pleased to be working closely with Notre Dame Athletics on the Irish Experience League - a program that embodies Notre Dame's mission to turn scholarship into service, especially to the most vulnerable in our community," says Clark Power, a Notre Dame faculty member and director of Play Like a Champion Today.

Under the direction of Kevin Dugan, manager of Youth and Community Programs for Notre Dame Athletics, and with sponsorship and guidance from Power and his colleagues, the League is catalyzing new engagement between diverse segments of the Notre Dame community - faculty, staff and students - and the parents and young people of the South Bend community. More collaborations involving Play Like a Champion Today, ACE and the Notre Dame Athletics Department are being explored for the future.

PLC has launched a "Champions for Children" initiative with the goal of ensuring that children from all backgrounds can enjoy and grow from enriching sport experiences that engage them physically, but also help them to grow morally and spiritually.

Following Flynt - Tradition Tuesday

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The week is finally here - the week that Notre Dame fans marked on their calendars as soon as the football schedule was released.

During even-numbered years, it's a post-Thanksgiving trip to the Los Angeles Coliseum. In odd years, mid-October at home in South Bend. It's the greatest of all Irish rivalry games - Notre Dame vs. USC.

This year's matchup with USC is accompanied by more hype than any with the Trojans since, well, to borrow from J.K. Rowling, "The-Game-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named" (more on that later).

In March, the University announced that for the first time since 1990 the Irish would be hosting a night game. For just the eighth time in Notre Dame Stadium's storied history, the entirety of the contest will be played under the lights.

I touched on the early history of Notre Dame's series with USC in last week's Tradition Tuesday. This week focuses on the past several decades in the rich and exciting history of the rivalry.

During what would be Notre Dame's ninth national championship season, the eighth-ranked Irish hosted the sixth-ranked Trojans in late October of 1973. Notre Dame had not beaten the Trojans since 1966, going 0-4-2 in the previous six meetings. USC running back Anthony Davis torched the Irish defense for six touchdowns in the previous season, but this time, head coach Ara Parseghian's team kept him in check, knocking off the unbeaten Trojans, 23-14.

One of the most famous games in the history of the series came in 1977, another national championship year for Notre Dame. During the pep rally on Friday, men's basketball coach Digger Phelps called the students and fans to action. In what has often been dubbed the "Green Jersey Game," head coach Dan Devine surprised the crowd, and his team, by pulling a switch on game day.

Until returning to the locker room before kickoff, only the captains were aware of the different jerseys. The surprise ignited the Irish, who arrived on the field behind a giant Trojan horse assembled by a group of students. No. 11 Irish crushed No. 5 USC, 49-19.

From 1983-93, the Irish won 11 in a row against USC. One of those victories came in a key matchup during the 1988 national championship season when head coach Lou Holtz took his team to Los Angeles for the regular season finale. Both Notre Dame and USC were undefeated and ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, the only time that has occurred in series history. In their quest for a perfect season, the Irish jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Holtz and his team were not to be denied. Notre Dame won 27-10 and went on to beat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl for its 11th national championship.

In 1995, the Trojans were ranked fifth in the country when they traveled to Notre Dame for the annual game. Inspired by Holtz's pep rally speech about the Notre Dame spirit, the 17th-ranked Irish ended USC's undefeated season, dashing the Trojans' title hopes, 38-10 .

Though it was a down year for both teams, the 1999 game between Notre Dame and USC proved to be a memorable one. After falling behind 21-0 in the first half, the Irish battled back, outscoring the Trojans 25-3 the rest of the way. The deciding play came with 2:40 left in the game when Jabari Holloway recovered Jarious Jackson's fumble in the end zone for an Irish touchdown. Jackson had scrambled towards the end zone, but the ball came loose as he was hit. Luckily for the Irish, Holloway was there to recover the ball for a touchdown that propelled Notre Dame to victory.

From 2002-04, Notre Dame fell to USC by a combined score of 130-37, but 2005 was expected to be a much closer game, and it certainly lived up to the hype. ESPN's College GameDay came to South Bend for the showdown between the ninth-ranked Irish and the top-ranked Trojans.

I was not at the game, but it remains one of those "never-forget-where-you-were" moments. As a high school junior, I was returning to New York from a cross-country meet at Brown University in Rhode Island. Our team bus was able to pick up NBC's broadcast, but it occasionally faded out. A couple of us were rooting for the Irish, and a teammate of mine was able to get in touch with his family who was watching the game back at home. In the closing seconds, the clock hit 0:00 and Notre Dame had pulled off a 31-28 upset ... or so we were told.

The Trojans were given one more shot to put the ball in the end zone, and well, we know how it ended.

(Note: No matter how difficult it may be to relive Oct. 15, 2005, no discussion of this series is complete without including that game - even though it may no longer be in the record books as a USC victory.)

In 2010, Notre Dame sought to break an eight-year losing streak against USC. In a rain-soaked battle, the Irish seemed headed for a ninth straight loss at the hands of the Trojans. Down 16-13 with 6:18 to play, the Irish took over on their own 23, beginning an unforgettable drive that was capped by a five-yard touchdown run by senior Robert Hughes. USC had one last chance to regain the lead, but Harrison Smith sealed the Notre Dame victory with a key interception near the end zone, ending the streak and giving the Irish a 20-16 win.

Over the years, Notre Dame and USC have played countless classic games, hard-fought battles with championships on the line. Though this year does not have title implications, it certainly could play a role in the BCS picture, at least for the Irish (the Trojans are in the second season of a two-year bowl ban). Still, the Trojans have a lot to play for on Saturday, especially with regards to recruiting. Don't be surprised if we see Notre Dame and USC pen another thriller when the lights come on this weekend.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Following Flynt - Irish Around the League

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It's been a tough couple of weeks for the Irish in the NFL. With Seattle's John Carlson ('07) and Philadelphia's Victor Abiamiri ('07) already on injured reserve and out for the season, several other players have also been sidelined.

Justin Tuck ('05), Tom Zbikowski ('07), Sergio Brown ('10) each missed the sixth week of the season with injuries, while Mark LeVoir ('05), Darrin Walls ('10) and Ian Williams ('11) were also listed as inactive. John Sullivan ('07) left Minnesota's game against Chicago with an apparent concussion.

Ryan Grant ('05) had nine carries for 25 yards and two catches for 27 yards, as Green Bay defeated St. Louis 24-3. The Super Bowl champions improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1965.

Kyle Rudolph caught two passes for 20 yards, but the Vikings' woes continued. They fell to the Bears at Soldier Field, 39-10.

After a difficult 1-4 start, Philadelphia finally made a step in the right direction, knocking off division rival Washington, 20-13. Trevor Laws ('07) had one tackle and two quarterback hits for the Eagles.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

This Is the Week

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Women's Soccer at the Summit

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Notre Dame Magazine - When the women's soccer team won its third national championship in 2010, it established itself in the pantheon of Notre Dame athletics. The program, begun in 1988, took national titles in 1995 and 2004, and its current coach, Randy Waldrum, who came to Notre Dame in 1999, owns a winning percentage at Notre Dame (.860) that would place him between Rockne (.881) and Leahy (.855).

But to understand the story of last year's championship run you have to return to the dark, painful days of October 2010, following the tragic death of student football videographer Declan Sullivan. The women's soccer team was practicing on an adjacent field when the lift from which he was shooting toppled in high winds. Four days later the women's soccer team was booted out of the Big East tournament by UConn, losing to a conference opponent for the first time in 78 games.

The team had already faced other challenges. Waldrum prohibits his players, even those of legal age, from drinking alcohol from August till season's end. The 2009 team had included some backsliders, so the spring training sessions in 2010 were brutal.

"I think it's still left a mark on me," says three-year captain Jessica Schuveiller '12, remembering tough days with lots of running and not much soccer. "I think it was one of the lowest points [of my career]. He took away soccer." Players arriving for practice saw only orange cones, no balls.

"It was definitely disciplinary. Guys screwed up and broke our rules - not just the coaches' rules," says Erica Iantorno '11, referring to a contract all players sign, agreeing to the team rules.

Despite the punishing spring, the code was violated again during the 2010 season, just a few days before "Senior Day," the last regularly scheduled home game. The team came to the decision unanimously; the player, a senior, was dismissed.

The status of Courtney Barg '12, one of the team's stars, presented other potential troubles. The then-junior midfielder had been injured in preseason and had missed almost the entire schedule. Ready to return to play with only six games left, she faced a critical decision to come back and perhaps burn up a full year's eligibility or sit out the remainder of the season.

Notre Dame sports psychologist Mick Franco described Barg's decision to rejoin the team as an example of the players' "love for one another," but it also threatened team chemistry. Playing without Barg, the squad had climbed toward the top of the national rankings, with its only loss in overtime on the road to UCLA. "We were playing so well without her," Waldrum recalls, knowing it would take time for Barg to return to her high level of play and wary that lineup changes could hurt the team.

The fears seemed to have been realized when, two weeks later, UConn upset Notre Dame in the Big East tourney. But - everyone associated with the team agrees - that loss began the drive to the NCAA championship. "That really snapped our heads back on," says Iantorno.

The 15-2-2 Irish made the NCAA tournament but as a lowly fourth seed. No team seeded that low had ever won the title. Notre Dame would need to win six games, most on the road, to reach its ultimate goal.

Rocket Man

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Monogram Club Holds Fall Letter Jacket Ceremony

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5719151.jpeg The Monogram Club awarded letter jackets to 135 first-time monogram winners at the organization's annual fall letter jacket ceremony Tuesday night in the Joyce Center.

More than 250 individuals, including student-athletes, coaches, parents and administrators, gathered in the Monogram Room to celebrate an important Notre Dame tradition, started by the Monogram Club three years ago.

Although the organization has awarded letter jackets to varsity student-athletes since the Club's inception in 1898, a formal ceremony was implemented in 2008 to properly honor student-athletes for the competitive accomplishments to which only 8,000 individuals in the history of Notre Dame can stake claim.

"Tonight is very special, as it marks an extraordinary milestone in the lives of these honorees," Monogram Club executive director Beth Hunter said. "Through perseverance, dedication, and hard work, each of you has earned the right to become a part of the Monogram Club, which is certainly no small feat."

After her remarks, Hunter introduced University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. Jenkins praised the student-athletes for their ability to achieve success on and off the field, often under a high level of scrutiny and attention.

"I know and I see how hard each of you work," Jenkins said. "You're our most visible students, and the way you act and the way you carry yourself makes me proud and reflects so much about this University. You are ambassadors of Notre Dame in a very special way."

While the letter jacket symbolizes athletic accomplishments and academic success while at Notre Dame, it also serves as a reminder of the tenacity and effort it takes for student-athletes to achieve in the professional world once their time at the University has come to an end.

The importance of this memento was stressed by keynote speaker Kate Sobrero Markgraf ('98), a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2004, 2008) and a member of the 1995 Notre Dame women's soccer national championship team. Markgraf provided color commentary for ESPN during the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.

"Notre Dame student-athletes know that to build a foundation to be successful in life and to develop a great reservoir of resilience, you must be challenged academically, athletically, socially and spiritually," Markgraf said. "You can become anything, and your experiences at this University will help you in every aspect of your life."

Athletics director Jack Swarbrick ('76) took the stage after Markgraf to reflect on what the monogram itself symbolizes - how it's interlocking letters convey the strong, symbiotic relationships with coaches, family, friends and teachers that help Irish student-athletes better reach their academic and competitive goals.

"Every one of those people is represented in a stitch of your monogram," Swarbrick said. "I want to make sure that every time you put on and wear the monogram, you remember all the people who helped you achieve it, and you thank them with your performance and the way you represent that jacket."

At the conclusion of the formal program of speakers, Hunter welcomed faculty athletic representative Patricia Bellia to the podium, who invited the student-athletes up to the stage by sport. During the presentation of each group, coaches and administrators joined the athletes, along with Swarbrick and Monogram Club president Dick Nussbaum ('74 & '77, baseball) to celebrate the accomplishment.

Jake Brems of men's lacrosse closed the ceremony by representing his fellow student-athletes with remarks about how shared values and experiences connect Monogram winners and bring the legacy of Notre Dame to life.

"The spirit of the Fighting Irish manifests itself in everything we do - in our academics, our volunteer work and in competition," Brems said. "It is the pride in being a part of this community that places the group above the individual and integrity above winning. It is through the work that we do and the sacrifices we make toward a common goal that we find success as Notre Dame student-athletes."


Following Flynt - Irish Around the League

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The fifth week of NFL action was very quiet for former Irish players, but here's a look at some of Sunday's performances ...

- The Seattle Seahawks surprised the New York Giants with a 36-25 win at MetLife Stadium. Wide receiver Golden Tate caught two passes for 31 yards.

- Philadelphia dropped to 1-4 with a 31-24 loss at Buffalo. Trevor Laws ('07) had two tackles, including one for a loss.

- In NBC's Sunday Night Football action, Green Bay overcame a 14-0 deficit, scoring 25 unanswered points in a rematch of last year's divisional playoff game at Atlanta. Ryan Grant ('05) had one reception for six yards and was one of 12 players to catch a pass for the defending Super Bowl champions. The former Irish running back also had seven carries for 18 yards.

- Detroit puts its undefeated record on the line tonight when division rival Chicago visits the Motor City. Maurice Stovall ('06) injured his hand earlier in the season, but is listed as probable for tonight's game.

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