Hughes certainly deserved something bright during a week hit by indescribable tragedy, and Weis was going to give it to him.
On Notre Dame’s first possession in the 46-44 triple-overtime loss to Navy on Saturday afternoon, a six-yard gain on first and goal by James Aldridge put the Irish on the three-yard line. In trotted Hughes for the next play, who’s older brother Earl “Tony” Hughes was shot and killed back in their hometown on Chicago’s West Side Tuesday morning. The 24-year old was Hughes’s best friend and role model.
It only took one play.
Hughes took the ball, ran to his right, made a quick move inside, initiated contact at the goal line and crossed the plane to give Notre Dame a quick 7-0 lead.
“That was a special time,” Aldridge said. Per school policy, freshmen do not speak to the media following games. “I think he really needed that. I’m glad for him, I’m very happy for him.”
Hughes was mobbed by teammates, 50 of whom attended a service in Chicago on Friday, in the end zone and then again on the sideline. The ball was kept as a keepsake.
“I don’t know what was going through his head,” fifth-year senior tight end and captain John Carlson said. “I’m sure he had a lot of thoughts running through his head. I’m happy for him, I’m happy for his family, I’m happy for Tony.”
Hughes, who bounced back and forth between Chicago and school this week, got back to the South Bend area on Friday night. Weis said his mother, sister, uncle and another attended the game.
Fifth-year senior Travis Thomas, who later scored three touchdowns in the game in similar situations, and had been handling all the goal line duties among the running backs this season, was informed of Weis’s plan by offensive coordinator and running backs coach Michael Haywood.
“I told them the first time we got down on the goal line I wanted to give the ball to Robert,” Weis began. “I said I was going to give it to him every play whether we scored or not. He was going to get it every play until he got it into the end zone. Fortunately he got it in on the first one and I think that was a pretty emotional time for both Robert and the team.
“When he got back, a couple minutes later I saw him on the sideline and he kind of had those far away eyes. You could see then at the time he just scored a touchdown but he really wasn’t too much thinking about anything other than his brother.”
The touchdown run was Hughes’s second score of the season, and he did not return, as the Irish (1-8) saw their NCAA record 43-game winning streak over one opponent come to an end against the Midshipmen (5-4).
“This was a -- the low point for me is the fact that we didn't win the game and I wanted Robert Hughes to be standing up on that chair singing the fight song in the locker room,” Weis said. “You want to know what's really important to me? That's what's really important to me. What you look at as important is different than me.
“I wanted that Number 33 to be standing on that stool in the locker room singing a fight song so all of his teammates could be sitting there hugging him. That was really the most important thing to me today and that didn't -- that wasn't able to happen.
And to me that's what's really important. So it is a little different for me because I look at it personally as well as professionally.”