SOUTH BEND — Life is pretty good right now for the No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They enter their last scheduled off week with an 8-0 record, including 7-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The Irish have put themselves in a position to be ranked in the top four of the initial College Football Playoff rankings next week and control their destiny for making the playoff for the second time in three seasons.
While the Notre Dame players enjoy the weekend off, it’s a perfect time to look back at some of the more memorable things they and head coach Brian Kelly have said during the course of the season. From dancing bears to prophets, the 2020 Irish have provided some highlight-worthy soundbites.
BEAT NO. 1 … THEN DO CHORES?
No matter what happens the rest of the season, the 2020 Notre Dame campaign will be remembered for beating No. 1 Clemson, 47-40, in double overtime. It was a landmark win for a program that hadn’t had one in a long time and the first top-five win for the Irish in the Kelly era.
It was, obviously, a huge moment for the program. So, how did Kelly celebrate the big victory?
By being a dad, in the coach’s words.
“My normal routine is to go back home and be with my family,” Kelly said. “We really don’t talk much football. We kind of relax; I’ll hear from my kids, who are in college. They’ll tell me they need more money. I generally have to listen to my wife and what she had to do to entertain everybody in the box, and I get a long list of laundry items that I have to take care of on Sunday.
“So, I probably usually want to go to bed. I didn’t get much time to think about No. 1 because they weren’t thinking about beating No. 1. And then the next morning, we come right back in. So, pretty glamorous life, huh? Anybody who wants to be the head football coach at Notre Dame, that’s what you get.”
Kelly did say that once he had a moment to himself, though, his thoughts went to the sacrifices everyone has made to play this 2020 season.
“You get a moment, and I think what you think about is, more than anything else, is the players and how they’ve sacrificed so much during this time with COVID,” Kelly said. “For them to give up so much and not have a real senior day, and not have the kind of things that other seniors have had; it’s been so odd. The fans rush the field, and our players were like, ‘This is crazy.’ But they also knew it was those seniors’ last home game. There was just so many emotions, and I think most of it was centered around our veteran players and all of our players that have worked hard to get to that moment.”
The Irish do have one last home game Dec. 5 against Syracuse, but students will be gone for winter break by then. With students, parents and Notre Dame staff only being allowed inside Notre Dame Stadium this season, the Clemson game was the de facto final home game for many ND students.
AARON BANKS, A.K.A THE DANCING BEAR
At 6-5 and 330 pounds, Notre Dame left guard Aaron Banks is a big guy. A staple on the offensive line the past two seasons, Banks has become part of one of the best offensive lines in college football.
As he explained ahead of the Oct. 24 game against Pitt, though, he has one of the more unique nicknames in all of sports.
“Two years ago, I was playing right tackle behind Robert Hainsey, and that was when I was kind of starting to figure it out and play better,” Banks said. “And, Chip Long just started calling me ‘The Dancing Bear.’ He loved that nickname, and that’s what he would call me — he called me that all season. It just kind of stuck.”
Long was the offensive coordinator for Notre Dame at the time. Banks has been a versatile player for the Irish, playing both the guard and tackle positions.
And while he looks like a bear on the field, there’s no word on if Banks can actually dance or not.
After beating Clemson, Kelly mentioned to the media he had told his players before the game that they were going to win. And when they did win, the fans would storm the field. Given COVID-19 concerns, he told his players to get to the locker room as soon as possible so as to not potentially catch the virus amongst thousands of people.
When linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was asked about this prediction, he created a new nickname for his head coach.
“Man, coach Kelly? You might as well call him a prophet. Prophet Kelly,” Owusu-Koramoah said.
Sounds like a great 2021 Halloween costume idea.