It was a bittersweet day for Notre Dame fans, as junior Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen declared for the NFL draft on Monday.
Golden Domers can take solace in the fact that Clausen may be the highest Irish draft pick since Todd Lyght, Rick Mirer, and Bryant Young all went in the top 10 in the early 1990s.
If only Clausen's time in South Bend generated more victories for the Blue and Gold.
Ultimately, Jimmy Clausen's legacy is a mixed bag involving a myriad of factors and circumstances.
The future seemed promising for the No. 1 recruit from California, as he came to Notre Dame specifically to play under the tutelage of offensive mastermind Charlie Weis.
And, coming off two relatively successful seasons, the Irish program seemed to be rising out of mediocrity.
But things didn't stay wonderful for very long.
First, Clausen's own ego-filled commitment to Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame rubbed thousands of people the wrong way.
Then, a lingering arm injury prevented him from weightlifting and strength training right up until the beginning of his freshman season.
And, of course, the Notre Dame program was about to fall to depths never seen before in history.
With Clausen’s injury, the team couldn’t find a quarterback or an identity, the offensive line seemed to quit, and Notre Dame racked up nine losses.
Last year, the Fighting Irish improved to a record of 7-6, with some highlights along the way, but Clausen threw 17 interceptions, and the team could not hold leads in the second half.
This year, Clausen had a coming-out party and finally displayed all of the skills and talents that made him such a highly sought after recruit.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame collapsed late in the season and finished 6-6, despite a half-dozen miracle comebacks (and near comebacks) engineered by Clausen himself.
And, in the blink of an eye, Clausen is done at Notre Dame.
It is probably the smart move for Clausen to turn pro at this point, given the new coaching staff about to be hired, his high draft stock, and his age and experience.
Still, Clausen’s time at Notre Dame will leave many fans with mixed feelings and, likely, many of those will be negative.
The cocky attitude. The brash Californian swagger. The hyped press conference. The untimely interceptions. The crushing losses to inferior opponents. The (small) off-the-field issues.
Perhaps these things do not make Clausen a bad person (or obviously a bad football player), but they are the kind of things people will remember, especially when he followed in the footsteps of Brady Quinn.
It makes matters worse that Clausen’s first two seasons were bad, but were followed by an incredible individual effort in 2009, where he made progress as a leader on the field and innumerable other areas.
The ND Nation was ripped of Clausen after his full potential only began to come to light, and it will likely leave many Irish fans feeling a bit empty and unsatisfied.
The ridiculously accurate passes. The heroic fourth-quarter comebacks. The toughness battling through injuries. The increased leadership. Earning his degree early.
These will also be part of the memories associated with Jimmy Clausen.
In the end, though, many will remember Clausen at Notre Dame for this: an extremely talented quarterback who never really fit in at South Bend and did not live up to expectations.
Still, Clausen finishes his career with some eye-popping numbers:
Those are about as good of numbers as you are going to find from someone playing big-time Division I football and ending up with a 16-18 record as a starter.
So, while Clausen’s decision to forgo his final year of eligibility leaves many Irish fans upset, sad, and depressed, we can take some comfort in the fact that we witnessed one of the greatest individual efforts in Notre Dame history in 2009.
Plus, there is hopefully a new coach about to be signed who will do something about that annoying .500 winning percentage that’s really putting frowns on the faces of Notre Dame fans everywhere.
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