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Notre Dame Football

Though he's skipping the Sun Bowl, Notre Dame can still always love Sam Hartman

December 12, 2023
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Notre Dame’s love for Sam Hartman peaked on senior day against Wake Forest, his former team, when the stadium’s production staff zoomed in on the bearded quarterback in the fourth quarter while "I Will Always Love You" by the late Whitney Houston played over the loudspeakers.

This overt display of public affection drew ire from Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson.

"We saw it last week (at Notre Dame)," Clawson said during his midweek press conference following a 45-7 loss to the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium. "Here's a guy we recruited and we developed, and they are putting on a video of him, saying 'We will always love you.' I'm like, you only dated him for a couple of months. 

“It can't be love. We are the ones who love him. We had five years with him. You rented him for a season. They bought him and rented him for a year, and now they love him. When that video played, it's just like, holy cow, this is where college football is." 

Due to the rant, Clawson came across as an Instagram-stalking ex who’s tired of losing the breakup.

He also wasn’t completely wrong, either. 

The union between Notre Dame and Sam Hartman was short (failing to make it to its first anniversary) and founded upon a business decision for both parties.

So, you can’t fault him for dipping out before the matchup with No. 21 Oregon State (8-4) in the Sun Bowl. Unfortunately, playing in a mediocre bowl game without a handful of his go-to receivers or at least one future NFL tackle protecting him fails to serve his future.

At the same time, he still thoroughly enjoyed his time in South Bend, even if it didn’t follow the storybook ending he and many others envisioned two months ago. 

Notre Dame won its first four contests by an average of 34.3 points, and Hartman led the way by completing 71.1% of passes for 1,061 yards and 13 touchdown passes without throwing an interception. He also added two rushing scores.

People then wondered if he could be Notre Dame’s first Heisman Trophy winner since wide receiver Tim Brown in 1987. 

Then Hartman’s numbers took a nosedive. 

He barely threw for 200 yards per contest the rest of the way, connecting on 60.2% of throws while producing an equal touchdown-to-turnover ratio (12 to 12).

Overall, his final numbers are a little worse than the last Fighting Irish one-year rental at quarterback, Jack Coan.

Notre Dame Transfer QB Season Record

CMP%

Yards TDs Picks
Jack Coan 2021 11-2 65.7% 3,150 25 7
Sam Hartman 2023 9-3 63.5% 2,689 24 8

That doesn’t mean his Fighting Irish tenure was a bust. He etched his name (and Notre Dame’s by association) in the college football record books by climbing into the top five all-time in career passing yards and passing touchdowns

Plus, there were a few magical moments, like his scramble on 4th and 16 with the game on the line at Duke.

Most importantly, it was a party whenever Hartman played Notre Dame Stadium, where he still completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for a 12-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio while leading the Irish to a 5-1 home record and a 31.8-point average margin of victory.

He could jack up the crowd of adoring fans during a postgame on-the-field interview by telling them to “be early, be loud and be rowdy” for a matchup with No. 6 Ohio State in Notre Dame Stadium. 

Or he’d celebrate a win inside the tunnel before hundreds of screaming fans by turning USC’s famed "V" for Victory Two-Fingered "Salute" hand gesture. 

More importantly, the man mastered the art of saying what the public wanted to hear, like when he told reporters he wanted to buy Al Golden a Ferrari following stout defensive performances or the time Hartman stood before the media at Clemson and said he was solely responsible for the 31-23 loss.

“If you guys want to blame anyone, put it on me,” Hartman said in his post-game press conference. “I played very (poorly) today. I didn’t play well enough to be a winning quarterback, a winning football team.”

I get it; he might’ve taken his people-pleasing act a little too far when he said he had “two games” left prior to the regular-season finale at Stanford, a nod that he’d play in the bowl game. 

Is he pandering? I wouldn’t go that far, but he was certainly so full of team-first clichés to the point that he occasionally came across as disingenuous (While also frustrating beat reporters who just wanted a usable quote for their story.). 

That’s not to say he indicated he’d play in the bowl simply to butter up fans. He genuinely thought he’d suit up, so why not say it? 

Many Fighting Irish fans have wished Hartman well, but a few seem to be holding a grudge. 

My advice to you is don’t be like Dave Clawson. You had your moment. You experienced magical highs and remote-busting lows over 11 months. 

No one can tell you that your infatuation wasn’t real.

Now, it’s time to move on and get ready to love another (transfer quarterback, that is). Perhaps that’s what Notre Dame’s stadium’s production staff was preparing fans to do all along.

Just before Houston belts “I Will Always Love You," she gently sings the line, “Please don’t cry. We both know I’m not what you need.”

Sure, new transfer quarterback Riley Leonard may lack a grizzled beard, and he’d undoubtedly look ridiculous if he ever attempted a hair flip, but he possesses other endearing qualities. He apparently has no shame (at least based on his failed request for a homework extension on national television) and might be a better dunker than anyone currently on the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

Of course, Leonard will only earn genuine admiration if he wins more games and leads Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoffs.

If that happens, there won’t be a reason to have anything but fond memories of Hartman’s tenure in South Bend, and fans will certainly forget about the promising 2023 season that got away. 

 
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