Monday, August 07, 2006

ND Greatness


Not that the losses were ever all that fun for Notre Dame fans, but the irrelevancy seemed to hurt most. For a decade, the Irish didn’t even talk a good game, the once proud program emasculated by coaches who either wanted extreme humility (Ty Willingham) or used excessive excuses (Bob Davie).
Either way Notre Dame stopped being Notre Dame – the delightfully polarizing team that for nearly a century had stirred the greatest of passions among fans and foes alike.
Gone were the days of Notre Dame not just being preseason national championship contenders but also boldly embracing such expectations.
And then coach Charlie Weis strolled into his media day press conference Sunday, on the eve of a season in which Notre Dame is in everyone’s top five (if not top one), boasts a Heisman favorite, has the nation’s top recruit lined up and, just like old times, isn’t apologizing for any of it.
“National championship,” said quarterback Brady Quinn, the school’s Heisman Trophy candidate. “That’s the only thing we are thinking about.”

Notre Dame is bold and back in every conceivable way, not just as a team capable of winning it all but also as a program that has shed its woe-is-me skin and is full of the swagger missing since Lou Holtz was stomping the South Bend sidelines.
And college football is better for it. College football always is better when Notre Dame is Notre Dame.
This rebirth is the work of Weis, the second-year coach who overnight didn’t just turn the Notre Dame offense into a potent, powerful force but who also restored the appropriate arrogance that makes people either love, hate, love to hate or hate to love the Irish.
“I think that good or bad, we are judged … like we almost have an attitude, like we are holier than thou, which we certainly are not,” said Weis, who returns 16 starters from a team that went 9-3 last season.
“I try to use the analogy,” he continued. “Growing up a Yankee fan, I always found no matter where you went, people had an opinion on the Yankees. They either liked them or disliked them. I think that's very similar to what we have to deal with.
“We just try to do things right. I would like to think that people would respect us for the way we run the program.
"[But] whether you like us or not is really not that relevant.”
The people who love the Irish – they annually rank as the nation’s most popular team – eat up this stuff. The people that despise the Irish – they annually rank as the nation’s most hated team – just throw up.
But that’s the beauty of Notre Dame, which through decades of wins and hype and, depending on your perspective, accurate media portrayals or insufferably syrupy coverage (Hollywood included), is a program like no other.
At least until Holtz left in 1996, and it went through eight seasons of .577 play and, worse, a defeatist attitude that drove the fan base nuts.
Davie spent five seasons telling everyone that the entrance requirements were too stringent, the schedule too tough and the expectations too grand. Willingham spent three more projecting the most humble of humility.
Not only did Notre Dame stop playing like Notre Dame, it stopped acting like Notre Dame. Even beating the Irish ceased being all that enjoyable.
But Weis has changed everything. Not just the offense, which immediately set a school scoring record. Not just the aggressive recruiting – he scored a commitment from quarterback Jimmy Clausen, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2008. And not just expectations – No. 3 in the preseason
coaches’ poll.
But the attitude.
“There has been a lot of hype around the season,” Quinn said matter-of-factly. “We’re trying to turn this hype into fact.”
Weis is just as confident as you’d expect a four-time Super Bowl winning protégé of Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells would be if he stepped down to college football where the coaching competition is, well, not always elite.
Weis is a better coach than most and, quite possibly, as good as the college game has. Time will tell, but at the very least, he enters every game projecting a confidence from the sideline that wasn’t seen around here for a decade.
“I really haven’t done much yet,” Weis said. “Hopefully in 10, 15 years this phase of my career will be deemed a success.”
Understand that Weis didn’t sit there on Sunday declaring that Notre Dame was a lock to go unbeaten. He didn’t claim his was the only program where kids actually take real classes. He didn’t rip on anybody.
To the contrary. He was respectful, self-deprecating and mostly just honest. He mainly talked about how he was going to demand more and punish overconfidence and how he solely was focused on beating Georgia Tech in the season opener.
“Ask Auburn about that one,” Weis said in reference to Tech’s upset of the Tigers in last year’s season opener.
But Weis wears his confidence on his sleeve, and his belief that something special is developing here is obvious. He is a straight shooter, a football coach’s football coach. He talks just like Parcells, in short, common-sense sentences in which he doesn’t overhype or underplay anything.
He isn’t afraid to tell you who’s good and who isn’t. He thinks his team is good.
This plays to the delight of Notre Dame fans who had begun to wonder if this ever was possible again. And it continues to play to the horror of Notre Dame haters who see a program with too many advantages (an NBC deal, favorable BCS position, no conference) and too much gumption.
But isn’t that the fun part? Isn’t that what Notre Dame is for, so that win or lose whatever it does this year matters?
“I don’t care what anybody else thinks,” Weis said. “I care about Notre Dame.”
And once again, so do you.

Dan Wetzel-Yahoo

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bettorsworld.com Lists Ohio State and Notre Dame as Co-favorites to Win the 2007 BCS College Football Championship

New Haven, CT (PRWEB) July 22, 2006 -- One question entering this year’s College football season is whether USC and Texas, last year's contestants in the national title game, will be able to match their success from a year ago. Bettorsworld.com, the most respected sports betting information site on the Internet, has released their odds on several teams winning the BCS title in 2007. According to those odds, neither USC nor Texas will be holding that trophy come January. Bettorsworld lists Notre Dame and Ohio State as co-favorites to win it all, both at 6-1 odds, while both USC and Texas have 14-1 odds."Texas and USC have both lost key players to the NFL draft," said Dave Reynolds, a Bettorsworld handicapper. "But don't count either team out. Both recruit well and figure to contend once again. There may be some value at 14-1 with both teams." Other teams listed among the favorites are West Virginia at 8-1 odds and Oklahoma at 8-1 odds. Odds To Win 2007 BCS ChampionshipAlabama 70/1 Auburn 16/1 Arizona 175/1 Arizona St 40/1 California 30/1 Clemson 90/1 Colorado 150/1 Florida 9/1 Florida St 15/1 Georgia 35/1 Georgia Tech 95/1 Iowa 35/1 Louisville 40/1 LSU 13/1 Miami Fl 16/1 Michigan 22/1 Michigan St 130/1 NC State 150/1 Nebraska 40/1 Notre Dame 6/1 Ohio State 6/1 Oklahoma 8/1 Oregon 65/1 Penn State 30/1 Tennessee 45/1 Texas 14/1 Texas A&M 100/1 UCLA 50/1 Southern Cal 14/1 Virginia 100/1 Virgina Tech 60/1 West Va 8/1 Wisconsin 80/1

Monday, July 17, 2006

Notre Dame warns about counterfeit tickets

The Associated Press
July 17, 2006, 5:33 PM CDT

Notre Dame is cautioning fans who want to attend an Irish football game this fall to be wary of who they buy tickets from -- and warning ticket holders they better not be scalping tickets."Demand is wonderful. It's great to have the support that we do," said Josh Berlo, the school's director of athletic ticketing. "Some of the drawbacks to it is alumni are not winning as many tickets as they have historically and you have people trying to take advantage of the situation."
The excitement created by coach Charlie Weis in his first season as coach and Notre Dame's first top 10 finish since 1993 led to a record $11.7 million being refunded to alumni who were not picked in the annual ticket lottery. By comparison, $5.2 million was refunded a year earlier.Two of this season's games also were the most sought after games ever. The school received 66,670 tickets requests for the Sept. 9 game against Penn State and 61,631 requests for the Sept. 16 game against Michigan. The previous all-time high was 59,368 requests for the 2001 home game against West Virginia.The university also received a record 33,251 requests for the Nov. 25 game against USC in Los Angeles."We just had a huge outpouring of interest from our alums and just did not have the inventory to satisfy them," Berlo said Monday.Because of that, the ticket office has been notified of numerous cases of people trying to run scams on Irish fans desperate for tickets in the 80,232-seat stadium, Berlo said.The ticket office also warns that it is monitoring web sites to see who is selling their tickets and for how much, he said. Notre Dame's ticket policy forbids people to sell their tickets for more than face value, and those who get caught can be denied ticket privileges for a minimum of 5 years."We're trying to stop the profiteering and we're trying to maintain our home-field advantage," Berlo said.In Notre Dame's season-opener in 2000, about a third of those at the game appeared to be Nebraska fans wearing red to support the Cornhuskers. Then-coach Bob Davie commented on the number of Nebraska fans after the Irish lost 27-24 to the top-ranked Cornhuskers in overtime. Nebraska was allotted 4,000 tickets for the game."I think that red must be a pretty bright color because the 4,000 that were there seemed to stand out," he said.Berlo said to try to keep tickets from being sold at a profit, his office monitors Web sites and classified ads in newspapers and has people working undercover on game day.Notre Dame distributes about 32,000 tickets a game to alumni, 16,000 to season ticket holders, 11,000 to students, 9,000 to the university, 7,000 to faculty and staff and 5,000 to opponents.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Next National Champion: Notre Dame



Bold predicttion from covers.com

The Notre Dame bandwagon is packed tighter than a Tokyo subway car at rush hour, but there’s a good chance backers could ride along with the legions of South Bend straphangers all the way to the National Championship.
A nine-win season in 2005, a head coach rapidly approaching Knute Rockne status, and a returning senior quarterback who could very well be posing with the Heisman Trophy at year`s end – these are just a few reasons a school-record 41,279 fans showed up to check out this year’s annual spring game at Notre Dame Stadium to get a glimpse of the team picked by many to kiss the crystal football this winter.
It’s also why oddsmakers like the Irish at +600 to win their first championship since 1988.
But before we all go off painting the town green, maybe everybody should forget about Rudy and the Gipper for a second and ask if this Notre Dame squad is for real, or do we have another 2003 scenario on our hands?
College football aficionados have been guzzling coach Charlie Weis’ Kool-Aid like it was free beer at frat party ever since the former NFL coordinator took over last year and brought the glory days back to Notre Dame.
It also doesn’t hurt that the school, which hasn’t produced a first-round draft pick in 12 years, has the most promising pivot in the nation in
Brady Quinn and a Biletnikoff Award finalist in Jeff Samardzija – arguably the most potent offensive combo in the nation.
Things haven’t looked this good in South Bend since Joe Montana rallied the Blue and Gold to a national championship in 1977.
But even though there seems to be a rainbow leading straight to the Golden Dome, the shadows of 2003 have to be hanging somewhere in the back of every bettor’s mind. That year, Ty Willingham was a promising sophomore coach at Notre Dame just like Weis. He was coming off a 10-3 debut season in which the Irish didn’t blow a pointspread until Week 11.
Then it all fell apart.
Willingham, who came off like Ulysses S. Grant in his inaugural campaign, looked more like a Chevy Chase impersonation of Gerald Ford when Notre Dame followed up the 2002 season by stumbling to a 5-7 straight up record that hurt bandwagon bettors even more thanks to a 4-8 ATS record. Another bad performance in 2004 spelled the end of Willingham’s stay in South Bend.
It was all bad news for Irish Nation until Weis turned up last spring.
There might not be much comparison between these two coaches or their respective teams, but it’s one of those things that has to make you think twice about Notre Dame futures.
More than any other school in the country, playing for the Fighting Irish brings heavy baggage for players – especially in a season like this one with such high expectations. A renewed television deal with NBC means no team gets more airplay than Notre Dame. Don’t think that won’t affect 19 year-old kids on the field.
But a repeat of the 2003 Irish collapse in 2006? Don’t bet on it.
You only have to look to last year’s Rose Bowl to realize what ingredients it takes to win a college football championship. You don`t want to oversimplify the equation, but both Texas and USC were lead by mature quarterbacks who knew how to grab a game by the stones and squeeze out a win.
If you were a college football coach and had the chance to choose any player in the country to run your offense, you’d have to be crazy not to take Quinn this season. His numbers last year were brilliant, he has the arm to stretch defenses and the smarts to protect the football, but he’s got something else too – that magical je ne sais quoi that separates the Tom Bradys of the football world from the Ryan Leafs.
Quinn is a winner.
Under Weis’ wing, Quinn dropped the baby fat and blossomed into the kind of quarterback that can take his team on his back and charge to the end zone. He nearly did it against
USC last year with a fourth quarter drive that was capped with a courageous run to put the Irish ahead against the No. 1 team in the nation.
That game was ultimately won on a last-second touchdown by SC’s Matt Leinart, but with Leinart and his Rose Bowl nemesis, Vince Young, off to the greener pastures (as in greenbacks) of the NFL, the college gridiron should belong to Quinn this year.
People might tell you that Notre Dame’s defense couldn’t stop the cheerleading team from putting up 28 points, but that situation will also improve this season. The star power is considerably less lustrous on the defensive side of the ball, but with nine returning starters and some promising recruits, things can only improve on defense.
Notre Dame’s biggest competitor, on the other hand, took a big hit to its vaunted defense when the NFL came knocking.
With last year’s top teams in rebuilding mode,
Ohio State (+600) is one of Notre Dame’s few serious challengers for the National Championship. But you can’t expect the Buckeyes to rebuild the defensive stonewall that permitted only 15.2 points per game without the assistance of what was perhaps the best trio of linebackers in school history (A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel).
Oklahoma and West Virginia are the only other teams listed with comparable odds to win the National Championship, but the Sooners looked at least a couple of years away from a return to prominence and it’s tough to take West Virginia seriously coming out of a Big East conference that’s sorely lacking in serious competition.
That brings us back to Notre Dame with its overplayed fight song and overhyped history. Some people might not appreciate the pomp and circumstance that follows this team around like they were the crown princes of college football, but unlike the Irish teams of the last few years, this one is the genuine article.
Last fall was a high point at Notre Dame, but don’t expect things to go downhill this year. Every move Weis has made since taking the reins of this program has been positive. His recruiting class was one of the best in the country and with a schedule that doesn’t take the Irish anywhere too dangerous until a trip to L.A. in late November, the path to the National Championship will certainly go though South Bend.


By Julian Dickinson

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Firefighter demoted for taking city car to football game


I still dont see the real crime here...

HAMMOND, Ind. A Hammond firefighter who took a city car to a Notre Dame football game is getting a demotion and a cut in pay.The Hammond Board of Public Works and Safety demoted Deputy Chief Pat Moore Junior to assistant chief, with an over five-thousand-dollar annual loss in pay.
Moore admits he made a mistake by taking the car.
The avid Notre Dame fan says he couldn't remember missing a game in the last ten years, and his car was in the shop.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Weis has Irish eyes smiling again

By Gene Wojciechowski/ESPN.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Charlie Weis wasn't available. Vacation. The players? Not accessible until Aug. 6. And yet, you didn't need Mr. Buzzcut or anybody on the two-deep roster to tell you the differences between the Notre Dame football program of July 2005 and July 2006.
In one year so much has changed, except the expectations. That's why Bob Davie now works for ABC, why Tyrone Willingham works for the University of Washington, and why I'm mildly surprised Touchdown Jesus isn't sporting a crewcut.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Charlie Weis led the Irish to a 9-3 record in his first year at Notre Dame.
Weis is the reason for the ND football renaissance -- that, and the fact Willingham was a better recruiter than anybody wants to acknowledge. If it's possible to quantify an attitude, a confidence, then this program feels different. It is more sure of itself. It has its swagger back, which figures, since Weis could write the definition of the word in your Webster's.
A year ago the Irish were unranked and unnoticed. They were no-shows in every meaningful Top 25 preseason poll. If you looked hard in the agate you could find them under, "Others Receiving Votes." But that was it. Notre Dame was reduced to mercy votes.
Now the Irish will be ranked in the top five, easy. And if they aren't, you have my permission to wet-towel snap the butts of any voters who stuck them lower.
A year ago the South Bend Marriott required a two-night minimum stay during a Notre Dame football weekend. I know, because my company credit card was billed $299 per night.
Now for the Sept. 9 home opener against Penn State the Marriott is requiring a three-night minimum for -- are you sitting down? -- $649 (plus tax) per night. By the way, the 298-room hotel is sold out. The Marriott loves Weis.
A year ago there were Ty Guys and Weis Guys. It wasn't necessarily a campus divided over the clumsy methods used to dispose of Willingham, but there were still some hairline fractures in the university community. And did I mention that some of Notre Dame's heavyweight names (Joe Montana, among others) had endorsed the coaching candidacy of former Notre Dame captain Tom Clements.
Now there is closure, or close to it. At the very least, the cast is off. And Weis Guys? They're everywhere. For $18 you can buy a "Charlie & The Weis Guys" T-shirt in the Notre Dame bookstore, or a "Charlie's Army," or "Charlie's Angels" T-shirts online.
A year ago the casual football fan thought Samardzija was the bottom line of an eye chart.
Jeff Samardzija was a backup junior wide receiver with a grand total of zero career touchdown catches.
Now he is a returning consensus All-America, thanks to a 77-catch, 15-touchdown 2005. His No. 83 replica jersey is available in the bookstore for $50.
A year ago quarterback
Brady Quinn was on absolutely nobody's short (or long) list of Heisman Trophy candidates.
Now Quinn, the leading returning Heisman vote-getter, is on the cover of just about every preseason football magazine in existence. And, yeah, $50 gets you a No. 10 replica jersey in the bookstore.
A year ago NBC had to put a happy face on Notre Dame's so-so 2.5 ratings numbers during the 2004 broadcasts.
Now the network, which is beginning the first of another five-year deal with Notre Dame, needs a drool towel after the Irish averaged 3.6 ratings in 2005, a 44 percent increase from the previous season.
A year ago you didn't know much about Weis' son, Charlie Jr., or his daughter, Hannah.
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
Charlie Weis helped transform Brady Quinn into a Heisman candidate.
Now Charlie Jr., a constant on the ND sideline, is fresh from watching the MLB All-Star Game with his old man. In fact, the kid threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field earlier this summer. And Hannah? The little sweetie is the centerpiece of Hannah & Friends, Weis' nonprofit charitable foundation that benefits children and young adults with autism and developmental disorders. You can buy Hannah & Friends wristbands. You can cowboy up $1,000 for a seat at the July 24 Notre Dame Coaches' Kickoff For Charity dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Your hosts: Weis, Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian. Or you can buy a "Charlie Jr.'s Army Reserve" T-shirt (before you shriek, remember that 100 percent of the proceeds go to Hannah & Friends).
A year ago $5.2 million in refunds were distributed to those applicants who weren't able to get tickets in Notre Dame's annual ticket lottery. The lottery is available to ND monogram winners, undergraduate parents, contributing alumni and benefactors.
Now the school's ticket office is preparing to distribute more than $11.7 million in refunds. A staggering 66,670 requests -- the highest in Notre Dame ticket lottery history -- were made for the 30,000 or so tickets available for the Penn State game. The second-highest number of requests (61,631) was made for the Sept. 16 Michigan game. And the Nov. 25 game at USC drew 33,251 requests for only 15,000 tickets, which makes it the most requested road game in ND's lottery history.
A year ago only one pep rally was held at Notre Dame Stadium. The rest were held in the usual (and smaller) venue, the Joyce Center.
Now there's an outside shot of having the Penn State and Michigan pep rallies at the stadium.
A year ago nobody knew if Weis could recruit elite high school players.
Now they know. Notre Dame's 2006 recruiting class is ranked in the top 10 by most recruiting services. And the 2007 class features quarterback
Jimmy Clausen, who is considered the No. 1 recruit in the country.
A year ago Notre Dame had zero early enrollees.
Now it has three, and Clausen says he wants to report early in January.
A year ago Notre Dame didn't have a single player chosen in the first round of the NFL draft.
Now, barring injuries, Mel Kiper thinks the Irish could have as many as five.
A year ago Weis was preparing for the first season of a six-year contract.
Now he's beginning the first of a 10-year contract extension worth an estimated $30 million-$40 million, which would make him college football's highest-paid coach.
A year ago Weis was featured prominently on the Notre Dame media guide.
Now you need Lasik surgery to find him on the cover of the 2006 guide. Weis wants TEAM emphasized, not some guy wearing headphones.
A year ago Weis didn't have a single commercial endorsement.
Now, by choice, he still doesn't, though there is talk of a book deal.
A year ago Notre Dame was coming off a 6-6 season, had a rookie head coach, was picked to maybe win as many as seven games, and possibly receive a Gator Bowl bid.
Now, after a 9-3 season, a BCS Fiesta Bowl appearance, another Weis-produced spring practice, and the return of the entire coaching staff and 36 lettermen (16 starters, 19 seniors), the 2006 predictions almost always include talk of a national championship run.
That's nice. But talk is cheap, much less expensive than those replica Samardzija jerseys. Willingham finished 5-7 the year following his 10-3 debut season at Notre Dame. He was whisk-broomed away at the end of 2004.
A year ago nobody had a real clue about the Weis Era.
Now we do. That's why the expectations, as constant as the gold on Notre Dame's helmets, don't seem so oversized.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Notre Dame's Quinn Mightiest of Quarterbacks


From Athlon Sports

Best Quarterbacks
1. Notre Dame
Brady Quinn is entering his fourth season as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. Over his first three years, particularly his junior season under coach Charlie Weis, Quinn has shattered just about every single-season and career school record for passing and total offense. Last season, he posted sharply improved numbers over his first two years. He was hovering around 50 percent in career pass completion average with 26 touchdowns and 25 INTs. Then in 2005 he completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns, all school records, with only seven interceptions. He is the top returning Heisman vote-getter, finishing fourth last year. Sophomore Evan Sharpley and incoming freshmen Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer will vie for No. 2.2. Ohio State
Ohio State’s Troy Smith outplayed Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, this year’s Heisman front-runner, in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Smith, not Quinn, won the game’s MVP trophy. In 2005, Smith was 149-of-237 (63 percent) for 2,282 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also ran for 611 yards and 11 more scores. He led the Big Ten in passing efficiency and became the first Buckeye quarterback to pass for over 2,000 yards and rush for over 500 in the same season. In two starts against Michigan he has accounted for 723 total yards, and he racked up 408 yards in the Fiesta Bowl. Justin Zwick, with nine career starts under his belt, was 42-of-58 passing last fall and provides comforting depth, along with Todd Boeckman and Robbie Schoenhoft.3. Arizona State
There’s an old saying that goes, “If you have two starting quarterbacks, you really don’t have any.” Coach Dirk Koetter’s quarterback situation at Arizona State flies in the face of that logic. Veteran Sam Keller started the season amid high expectations and responded by completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,165 yards and 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions in seven starts before he was sidelined by an injury. Rudy Carpenter moved into the breach and posted even better numbers, the best in fact by a freshman in school history despite not taking over as the starter until late in the season: 68 percent completions, 2,273 yards, 17 touchdowns, two picks. Keller and Carpenter both return, and Keller enters the fall No. 1 on the depth chart.4. Louisville
After concluding his stellar high school career, throwing for over 10,000 yards at Louisville’s Trinity High School, Brian Brohm decided to stay home, honor his family tradition and play for the Cardinals. As a freshman in 2004, he came off the bench in 11 games and threw for six touchdowns and two interceptions. Last year, he started all season before tearing an ACL in Game 10. At the time of the injury he had thrown for 2,883 yards, 19 scores and five INTs. He is a 68 percent career passer — 273-of-399 — and is the reigning Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Hunter Cantwell stepped in after Brohm went down, beat Connecticut on 15-of-25 passing with a touchdown, threw for three scores against the Virginia Tech defense in the Gator Bowl and is back in ’06 as proven insurance.5. Utah
It didn’t take Utah and first-year head coach Kyle Whittingham long to replace the sensational Alex Smith at quarterback. Brian Johnson took over the job to begin his sophomore year and proceeded to lead the Mountain West Conference in total offense and passing efficiency. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,892 yards and 18 touchdowns, and was the team’s second-leading rusher with 478 yards and eight more scores. After Johnson went down with an injury late in the season, junior college transfer Brett Ratliff took the reins and led the Utes to huge wins over BYU in the regular-season finale and Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl, throwing for four touchdowns in each contest. And Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady joins the fray in the fall.
6. Michigan State

7. West Virginia
8. Florida
9. Florida State
10. LSU

Zbikowski gets first-round KO in pro debut


In case anyone missed this....

NEW YORK -- Tommy Zbikowski, a third-team All-America at safety at Notre Dame, made his professional boxing debut with a 49-second, first-round knockout of the totally outclassed Robert Bell at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.The 21-year-old Zbikowski, of Arlington Heights, Ill., won 75 of his 90 amateur bouts and earned $25,000 for his first pro fight.He had two knockdowns of the 32-year-old Bell before referee Arthur Mercante Jr. called the scheduled four-round fight."I worked hard the last six, seven weeks," said the Notre Dame player, who had more than 50 teammates on hand. "I wanted to prove that I was more than just a football player."Bell, of Akron, Ohio, fell to 2-3.Zbikowski is able to be a professional in one sport and amateur in another according to NCAA rules as long as he does not receive money for endorsements or commercials.