The Boston Red Sox were cursed by the Bambino trade, the Cubs by the Billy Goat and Steve Bartman, and the Notre Dame football team by...Dayne Crist.
While Notre Dame was generally outplayed by USC in most phases of the game, few would argue that the turning point of Saturday's 31-17 loss was--right as the Irish were about to tie the game in the fourth quarter--Dayne Crist's fumbling of the snap and accidental knocking of the football backwards. USC's Jawanza Starling picked the ball up and ran it all the way in for a score, making it a two-score game for the rest of the way.
There was a play against Purdue in 2011--yes, that's right, Purdue--that really typified Crist's career. With a blowout lead, Head coach Brian Kelly sent Crist into the game as a late-game quarterback replacement. After Purdue stuffed Notre Dame's two running attempts, the Irish elected to put the ball in the air on third down. Crist tossed a nifty screen pass into the hands of an Irish running back--can't remember which one it was--with plenty of space in front of him. But just before the first down marker, a Purdue defender made a shoelace tackle from behind. Good, but not quite good enough.
Or as my mother always said, close, but no cigar. Close only counts in horse shoes and hand gernades. You get the picture.
Saturday's blooper was only the latest in a series of "bad luck" plays that have plagued Crist's career at Notre Dame. Here is a painful look back.
Crist redshirts behind Jimmy Clausen and others.
Crist played sparingly behind Clausen, displaying some mobility and an unproven arm. When Clausen was injured against Purdue, Crist played significantly, but was pulled while the Irish were trailing late in the game. Clausen promptly led the game-winning touchdown drive, culminating with a diving touchdown catch by Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolf. Later that season, shortly after the first touchdown pass of Crist's career, he hurt his knee and missed the rest of the season.
Under new Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, Crist won the starting job over freshman Tommy Rees and transfer Nate Montana. In nine starts, he threw 15 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions. Only four of those games were Notre Dame wins. In week 2 against Michigan, Crist got hurt early in the game while scoring the touchdown that put Notre Dame on top, 7-0. He woozily watched the rest of the half, which saw Notre Dame go down 21-7. In the second half, Crist reentered the game and led a comeback effort, which culminated with a 95-yard touchdown pass to Rudolf for the lead. But the Notre Dame defense could not hold for the final 3:41; Michigan answered and won the game.
The next week, it was even worse. Crist played brilliantly, throwing for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns. But Michigan State won the game on the final play with a fake field goal in overtime. A couple weeks later, he completed 12 straight passes in a win over Pittsburgh. Then, against Tulsa, he scampered for 29 yards on one play, but suffered his second straight season-ending knee injury while being knocked out of bounds. Rees took over the quarterbacking duties and orchestrated four straight wins.
Once again, Crist won the starting job at quarterback. His leash was short, though, as Kelly pulled Crist for Rees after Christ's ineffective first half against South Florida resulted in a 16-0 deficit. Notre Dame fans still have nightmares about Jonas Gray's fumble on the 1-yard line that was returned for a Bulls' touchdown. The result followed a near-perfect first drive by Crist and company.
The 1-yard line would be an issue again for Crist seven weeks later. Trailing 24-17 against USC, Rees--still the starting quarterback--hurt his knee. Crist responded by completing four of five passes--including a huge fourth down conversion to tight end Tyler Eifert--and driving the offense down to the 3-yard line. Brian Kelly inserted change-up quarterback Andrew Hendrix, who moved the pile down to the one. That's when the curse kicked in again. On third and goal, Crist bobbled the snap, and as he tried to fall on the ball, accidentally knocked it backwards and out of reach. The rest is history.
The look on Kelly's face as Crist exited the field said it all. It was like Kelly felt too much of Crist's pain to express his usual vocal displeasure.
All this has happened to a guy with a blue-chip high school career, a pro body and arm, decent mobility, plenty of smarts, and a great attitude. Seven games into Crist's senior season, I'm still not certain that he's not the best quarterback on the roster. But what I am certain of is his bad luck, Rees' turnover woes, and that the Notre Dame football program is still a bit of a fiasco.
I really do hope Crist graduates from Notre Dame in December, enrolls in a graduate program somewhere else, wins a starting job on a football team in the spring,and redeems all his misfortune in a fifth college football season. I should think he would look forward to a fresh start somewhere else.