If someone said, “Joshua, write down your top 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football players of all-time RIGHT NOW,” I’m pretty sure that most of the time I would stupidly leave Justin Tuck’s name off of that list. For whatever reason, myself and plenty of other fans would be just that obtuse.
Tuck redshirted his freshman year, and only played for three years while at Notre Dame. He bypassed a fifth year for the 2005 NFL Draft, and was selected in the third round by the New York Giants. Tuck also graduated from Notre Dame that same year with a degree in management. He also left as the record holder at Notre Dame for sacks in a career and sacks in a single season.
That really should be enough- shouldn’t it? It should be enough to cement his name and legacy onto the hearts of the Irish faithful forever- right?
The circumstances surrounding Tuck’s departure along with the immediate few years after may tell us why.
Although Tuck earned his degree from Notre Dame (which is really high on the importance list for fans and alumni) he left with a year on the table. That alone back then, was still a bit taboo. Add that to him slipping down from a projected mid-first round pick to round three, and it left fans scratching their heads and feeling a bit short-changed. To compound matters even more, Tuck had only a small role in his rookie year with the Giants, and then he was injured for most of his second year.
There were many fans that after taking all of that into consideration, couldn’t help but wonder what the 2005 team could have accomplished with Tuck on the team. With two narrow losses to the Michigan State Spartans and the USC Trojans, the Irish secondary would have had a lot more help with a Tuck pass rush, and perhaps the Irish would have won both of those games.
It’s not an unlikely scenario.
Tucks biggest perceived crime, however, was being loyal in the face of being called unloyal. Tuck stood up and defended Tyrone Willingham and was a vocal critic of his dismissal. This rubbed a lot of Irish fans the wrong way, and put a stain (in their eyes) on Tuck’s time at Notre Dame.
All of that was pure bullshit. It was bullshit that any fan would look at Tuck with anything less than pure admiration.
At any given time, Notre Dame’s roster has about ZERO players from the state of Alabama. That’s not only because the competition for recruits in that state is so strong with the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers, but it is also because the culture at Notre Dame is so very different than what it is there. Because of that, it would have been easy for Tuck to dive rather than thrive- and thrive he did.
Justin Tuck should be put on a pedestal for everything that he has accomplished at Notre Dame on and off the field, as well as for his incredible professional career that saw two Super Bowl wins in which he was the most dominant player on the field... period.
It was those Super Bowls that really brought a lot of Irish fans back into the fold as big fans of Tuck, but he deserves much more than that.
I used to go to a lot of Notre Dame games with my brother-in-law, Mitch. Mitch would have made a great candidate as a leprechaun if he would ever show any type of emotion- but that’s not important right now. What’s important, is that I vividly remember Mitch really highlighting Tuck during his first year when we would talk watching the games- which made me watch Tuck even more.
Justin Tuck was magnificent.
Because Tuck was so good in the NFL, and because of all the circumstances surrounding his departure from Notre Dame that some fans didn’t like, he is the NFL’s now. Forever his name will be more synonymous with the NFL than with Notre Dame, and that’s a shame and a lesson to be learned.
Justin Tuck deserves every bit of “player worship” that we give other Irish legends. I just hope that someday he actually gets that from the fans.