The Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat the Northwestern Wildcats 31-21 Saturday night, and even though I usually bask in the glory of victory... there were more than a few things that bothered me about this game.
Mostly... I couldn’t fathom what Pat Fitzgerald was thinking when he grabbed Jerry Tillery by the jersey and turned him around.
I’ve watched the game 3 times (live and 2 replays) and I kind of breezed past this incident during the replays because I saw the clip a ton of times. It still bothered me, so I went back to that play to try and piece together something that would make sense.
Here is the full play:
Okay, so there’s a lot to take in there.
- It’s a clean play with Te’von Coney tackling Clayton Thorson in bounds, and basically rolling away from him.
- Khalid Kareem runs in with Thorson on the ground. Khalid pushes Thorson’s helmet (with Thorson on the ground) with both hands, and the QB falls back to the ground forcefully.
- Drue Tranquill and Jerry Tillery run over to the play. Tillery tries to grab Kareem, while Tranquill runs interference with a Northwestern lineman trying to protect his quarterback.
- Tranquill shifts to one side, and a referee comes over to where Kareem and Tillery are standing. The referee separates Kareem from the situation, and Tillery starts to leave the location and heads back towards the Notre Dame sideline.
- As Tillery leaves the scene, Pat Fitzgerald gets up near him and half blocks Tillery’s path. Tillery slightly extends his arm.
- Fitzgerald grabs Tillery by the front of his jersey, and pulls. He then offers Jerry some words as Jerry continues to leave the scene.
First thing first — Khalid Kareem absolutely should have been flagged for what he did. So, any reaction by the Northwestern players around him was more than justified from their side of things.
Tranquill and Tillery did exactly what team leaders are supposed to do in this situation. They tried to diffuse, and get their teammates out of of the area — but also deferred to the officials to handle things.
The officials were awful all night, so it’s no surprise they missed this entire series of events since their main concentration seemed to be phantom snap infractions. Seriously... they had their heads directly up their asses.
NOW FOR PATTY... Look, I think I know what he was up to. He probably didn’t see the incident with Kareem given his spot on the sideline, and he walked over to the scene in a fairly calm manner. I think he was trying to get a message to Tillery to “calm his boys down” or something like that.
AND IT DOESN’T MATTER. In no way should Pat Fitzgerald ever grab a player from the opposing team in that manner. He grabbed and pulled a guy leaving that space, without possibly knowing what was happening. YOU DON’T TOUCH PAT!
Imagine if this was Brian Kelly. It would have been one of THE stories of the game, because that’s what happens when you’re the head coach of Notre Dame as opposed to being the head coach of Northwestern.
And there’s the final problem to all of this... the ESPN broadcast was terrible. It was one of the worst produced football games I’ve ever watched. Countless times there was no replay of penalties and provided very little context of what was happening. I can’t understand how this series of events was completely ignored, and never discussed for the remainder of the game. About all ESPN cared about (it seemed) was really having those mics on the field jacked up to pick up the slightest utterings.
Furthermore; where was the rest of the media with this? No one asked Pat Fitzgerald or Brian Kelly about this incident after the game, or on Sunday. In today’s climate, and in the wake of the findings about the Maryland Terrapins football program, isn’t something like a coach physically grabbing a player from the other team a newsworthy item that deserves further explanation?
I write about this situation for the second time because I want that explanation. I hope this article finds its way to someone that will demand reasons for Pat Fitzgerald putting his hands on a Notre Dame player. I’ll be sending this article to Northwestern for comment, but they’ve ignored previous emails on other topics — so I won’t hold my breath.