Crum Hopes To Go Out Winner
Notre Dame's football program is sinking. The Fighting Irish (6-5) have lost three of their past four games. If they fall tonight at USC (10-1) - the Trojans are 321/2-point favorites - Notre Dame will be at .500. Its once-certain bids to either the Gator or Sun bowl? Gone. Somebody will take a 6-6 Notre Dame team in their postseason game.Right? Irish senior linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. hopes that's the case. If not, if the Irish lose tonight, it could be Crum's final college game. He's determined to have no regrets. "It goes back to being a competitor, week in, week out," said Crum, the former Tampa Bay Tech standout. In good times and bad. Crum, the 17th player in Notre Dame history to be named captain in consecutive seasons, started with a flourish. There were consecutive bids to BCS bowl games and a famous near-upset of USC in 2005 before the Trojans rallied for a 34-31 win. Last season was 3-9 (with a 1-9 start). This season, the wheels have come off again. Last week, the Irish lost at home against Syracuse, 24-23, marking the first time Notre Dame was defeated by an eight-loss team. Notre Dame players were pelted by snowballs from the disgusted home fans. Low point. But Crum keeps trudging along. Tonight will be Crum's 47th career start at Notre Dame - one behind the school record set by Tom Zbikowski from 2004-07. Crum has 303 career tackles, good for eighth place on Notre Dame's all-time list (Bob Crable, with 521 from 1978-81, is the leader). Crum's tackles total ranks 21st among active Division I-A players (Eastern Michigan's Daniel Holtzclaw leads with 425). He remembers the 2005 game against USC, what almost happened, the feeling that Notre Dame was all the way back. "The one thing I can draw from that is the idea that it can be done," Crum said. "It just has to be a group collective effort. Everyone on the team has to buy in and show no fear. "There was such a buzz around campus. I was relatively young, and it was the biggest game I'd ever played in my career. The thing I remember most is kind of being in awe." Crum probably believed he would be playing for a national championship at some point. It never happened. "The ultimate goal for us is to win," Crum said. "We know that being Notre Dame, we're going to get everybody's best shot until the last second rolls off the clock." Crum's Notre Dame career is officially on the clock. And it would mean the world to walk off the field one final time as a winner. CALDWELL IN THE BOOKS: Cincinnati Bengals rookie receiver Andre Caldwell (Jefferson) had the first catch of his NFL career - three receptions for 26 yards overall - in a 27-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 20. Caldwell's role increased when audacious star receiver Chad Johnson was inactive after being sent home for reportedly falling asleep during an offensive meeting. "Andre Caldwell showed it wasn't too big for him and that he can make some plays and not get flustered," Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh told Bengals.com. Caldwell had a 15-yard catch on third-and-10 early in the fourth quarter, breaking a skid of eight consecutive failed third-down conversions. "He had the right look in his eye out there," Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "This game is definitely not too big for him. I think part of it is probably coming from Florida and playing on a big stage, but he was out there. "He wasn't shy. He wanted the ball."
Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353.