As the stretch Hummer limousine pulled up to the College Football Hall of Fame on April 22, 2006, there was nothing on Jimmy Clausen's mind but multiple championship rings and bringing the Irish back to glory.
Unfortunately, many didn't see it that way. Most outsiders assumed Clausen's mind was full of single-player accolades and being a future No. 1 pick with heavy contract demands.
When the doors opened, Clausen caught his first glimpse into his future as cameras flashed and microphones clicked on in order to listen to where the nation's most talked about recruit would be playing his college football. When the name "Notre Dame" was uttered and the Irish cap settled on Clausen's then-spiked teenage hair, his legacy began with a bang.
Fast forward to 2010.
Clausen, now a Carolina Panther, failed to lead the Irish back to glory. After declaring his intention to enter the draft a year early, he had been slotted as a potential top-10 pick.
He was drafted 48th overall.
Now, scratching their heads while looking at Clausen's eye-startling statistics, Irish fans simply ask, "What went wrong?"
Notre Dame fans watched Clausen throw the ball at lightning speeds for his three years in the Blue and Gold, sometimes showing glimpses of talent that no quarterback had ever shown. Clausen was mentioned among the best in both his sophomore and junior seasons, in which he threw for more than 6,000 yards and 53 touchdowns.
However, much too often those glimpses of amazement never seemed to be enough. In only three years in South Bend, Clausen left school as Notre Dame's record-holder for career losses for a starting quarterback.
It wasn't the statistics that told the story of Clausen.
No matter the outcome of the game, it always seemed as if he had played solid, as if he had done all that he could have done to win the football game.
Sure, he had plenty of knocks on him. He was much older than any other freshman entering back in 2007. He didn't have the leadership skills of Tim Tebow. He drank beer on the weekends, and sometimes, got into bar fights.
But what fans fail to sometimes realize is how special Clausen actually was for the Notre Dame program. Although it didn't result in success for the team, by no means was he the sole reason for the downfall of Charlie Weis.
Winning is a team effort. A quarterback controls the offense, and without him, the team is set up for failure. Without a defense, an offense can only do so much.
When his chance to start in the NFL comes, Clausen will start another legacy. Who knows? He maybvery well go down as one of the best passers to come through the league in decades.
With a good all-around team, everyone knows the California Kid can do damage. I, for one, fully expect him to do just that and get the ring he once promised before he hangs up his cleats.
But when we look back on Clausen's legacy at Notre Dame, the losses and unmet expectations will always loom. He won't be mentioned among some of the Irish greats like Montana, Hornung, or Theismann.
Instead, he will be mentioned along with the worst three-year stretch in the history of Notre Dame football, whether or not he deserves that blame.
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