The ESPN College Football Encyclopedia contains a chapter on every major college football program in the nation. The chapter on Notre Dame begins:
“Every sport needs its kings. Kings define excellence and provide a standard for everyone else in the sport to measure themselves against. They are loved, hated, respected and feared, revered and reviled. They are royalty. Baseball has the Yankees, pro basketball the Celtics, pro hockey the Canadiens. And college football has Notre Dame.”
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana
Colors: Blue and gold
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium (opened: 1930; capacity: 80,795)
All-time record (1887-2006): 821-269-42
Bowl record: 13-15 (through 2006)
National championships: 1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977,
Heisman Trophies: Angelo Bertelli (1943), John Lujack (1946), Leon Hart (1949), John Lattner
(1953), Paul Hornung (1956), John Huarte (1964), Tim Brown (1987)
Outland Trophies: George Connor (1946), Bill Fischer (1948), Ross Browner (1946)
First round NFL draftees: 58 (through 2007)
Web site: www.und.com
Notable alumni: Arizona governor Bruce Babitt; television personalities Phil Donahue
and Regis Philbin; Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist Red Smith; Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre; Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward; author Nicholas Sparks; newscaster Hannah Storm; Emmy Award-winning television producers Don Ohlmeyer and Terry O’Neil; Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Eric Weischaus; Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh; Congressional Gold Medal-winner Dr. Thomas Dooley; actor George Wendt; San Francisco 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.; Cleveland Indians’ owner Larry Dolan; Golden State Warriors’ owner James Fitzgerald; Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ chairman Vince Naimoli; Oakland Athletics’ President Michael Crowley; San Francisco 49ers’ director John York; Arizona Diamondbacks’ general manager Joe Garagiola Jr.; sportscasters Don Criqui and Ted Robinson; sportstalk host Bob Fitzgerald; ESPN sports personality Mike Golic; NFL vice president of public relations Greg Aiello; Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith; Hall of Fame baseball player Carl Yastrzemski; Hall of Fame basketball coach Ray Meyer; basketball players Adrian Dantley, Austin Carr, John Paxson and Bill Laimbeer; Olympians Shannon Boxx and Jim Delaney
This is the general view of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football. Kings. Number one. The best of the best. If a vote were conducted, Notre Dame would probably be ranked number one. An on-line poll would likely result in the Irish winning. A discussion among the media would generally result in the same finding. If a vote were undertaken among USC alumni, the Fighting Irish would get a lot of, if not the most, votes.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, however, Notre Dame has not achieved the level of greatness emblematic of their glorious past. Their last national championship is a two-decade-old event. A book, Under the Tarnished Dome by Don Yaeger, was a best seller which revealed that former coach Lou Holtz reduced the traditional standards of Notre Dame excellence in order to achieve parity with the likes of Miami and Florida State. In the wake of the book’s revelations, Holtz was gone and his successors, apparently trying to do it the “old way,” have not measured up on the football field.
In the meanwhile USC, long considered the “football school” who could not compete with Notre Dame academically, did precisely that: compete with Notre Dame academically. At first it seemed that in so doing, USC had forfeited any chance of competing at the same level with the Irish, Hurricanes, Seminoles, Cornhuskers and Sooners on the football field. Then along came Pete Carroll, and that concept no longer is a consideration.
Year by year in South Bend, it has been like being in a pot of water that rises to the boiling point slowly, but the individual never realizes what is happening until the steam overtakes them and it is too late. For college football fans, some time in the new century they looked up and examined the numbers, the statistics, the records, and increasingly the conclusion has been reached that under Pete Carroll, Southern California passed Notre Dame as the greatest of all collegiate football traditions.
The current era is not unlike the year 1982, however. That was the season in which USC beat the Irish for the fifth straight time. The all-time record between the two schools was then virtually even. The Irish had beaten USC only twice in sixteen years, and it took two of their greatest national championship teams to do it (1973, 1977). Since 1962, USC had won five national titles to three for Notre Dame. Since 1965, USC had won four Heisman Trophies to Notre Dame’s one.
But time is not static. If indeed 1982 similarly marked the ascendance of USC to an equal place in history with the Irish, the following two decades completely reversed that course. Like the stock market reaching all-time highs before going into a prolonged “bear market,” the Trojans fell far below their historical standards while Notre Dame embarked on a period of glory under Holtz.
The current claim that USC is the number one tradition for a New Millennium is of course not a static, unchangeable fact. All empires - the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, French and British – came and went. How long the “Trojan empire” can defend the Spartans and the Carthages of college football remains to be seen. But the change has come and it is upon us.
That said, Trojan superiority is not as clear-cut as some other sports empires. The Yankees, for instance, hold a position in baseball, and in all of athletics for that matter, that is unassailable and seems likely to be maintained for another century. UCLA’s eleven NCAA basketball championships places it so far above the Kentucky’s, Indiana’s, North Carolina’s and Duke’s that it would require a run . . . like Pete Carroll’s football Trojans of the 2000s . . . to challenge them.
Other dynasties are not as comfortable. Slowly but surely, the Los Angeles Lakers have built a pro basketball history that can be compared to the great Celtics, who have been mediocre for years now. If one compares the Minneapolis and Los Angeles franchises, then the Lakers are only a few NBA titles away from the sixteen won by Boston.
In pro football, there no “traditional champions,” really. The Green Bay Packers were a dominant NFL franchise prior to the creation of the Super Bowl. They won the first two and another in 1997, but in the modern era the Pack is not nearly as successful a franchise as Pittsburgh or Dallas. New England crashed the party with Tom Brady.
Elite Ten by the numbers
COLLEGE HALL OF FAME
1. Notre Dame 48 (includes coaches)
2. Southern California 35
3. Michigan 30; 11 in Citizen Savings Football Hall of Fame
4. Ohio State 25 (8 coaches)
5. Oklahoma 19
6. Alabama 18
6. Nebraska 18 (12 players, 6 coaches)
8. Penn State 16
9. Texas 10
10. Miami 3
All that said, Notre Dame has a strong case. The argument saying Notre Dame is still the best is legitimate and worthy. The way it all started drips with history. University of Michigan students traveled by train to South Bend, Indiana to engage in the first football game ever played by the University oif Notre Dame.
In 1913, the Irish truly put themselves on the map when they went up against mighty Army. While the “forward pass” was not completely unknown, it was not considered a valid offensive weapon until Irish quarterback Gus Dorais and end Knute Rockne used it to spur a nation-shaking 35-13 triumph.
No team even comes close to shaping the college game as Notre Dame did in the 1920s. They were truly the right team at the right time. Its Catholic identity resonated with growing ethnic populaces in major cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles. The heavy European immigration flow of the early twentieth century was now Americanized with large, growing families. Many of them were Irish. They all rooted for the Irish.
Rockne’s team dominated play on the field and in the sports psyche of a fascinated public in the 1920s. His untimely death in a plane crash in 1931 turned him into an iconic figure like James Dean or JFK. Under Frank Leahy in the 1940s, the Irish dominated the decade like no team had done in the modern era.
Elite Ten by the numbers
National championships (1869-1945)
Illustrated Football Annual (begun 1930)
Parker H. Davis Ratings (1889-1933)
Dickinson System (1924-40)
Dunkel System (begun in 1929)
Helms Athletic Foundation (begun in 1883)
The Football Thesaurus (begun in 1927)
Various other polling services
1. Notre Dame 8 (4, 1924-29-30-43/recognized historical national champs)
1. Michigan 8 (4, 1901-02-18-23-33/recognized historical national champs)
3. Southern California 5 (4, 1928-31-32-39/recognized historical national champs)
3. Alabama 5 (4, 1925-26-30-34/recognized historical national champs)
5. Oklahoma 1
5. Texas 1
10. Nebraska 0
10. Miami 0
10. Penn State 0
10. Ohio State 0
Alabama (5): 1925 (Helms, Billingsley, Boand, FR, Houlgate, NCF, Poling;
split/Dartmouth), 1926 (Billingsley, FR, Helms, NCF, Poling; split/Stanford), 1930 (FR, split/Notre Dame - Parke Davis), 1934 (Dunkel, Houlgate, Poling, Williamson, split/Minnesota), 1941 (Houlgate, split/Minnesota, Texas)
1926: Tied vs. Stanford, Rose Bowl
Michigan (8): 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1918, 1923, 1932, 1933
Notre Dame (8): 1919 (split/Illinois - Davis, split/Texas A&M – NCF, other/Harvard –
unanimous, Illinois – Boand), 1920 (split/Princeton – Davis, other/California – Helms, FR, Houlgate, NCF, Princeton/Harvard – Boand), 1924 (Bill, DS, Helms, Boand, FR, Houlgate, NCF, Poling, other/Pennsylvania – Davis), 1927 (Houlgate, other/Illinois – DS, Davis, Helms, NCF, Yale – FR, Georgia – Boand, Poling, 1929 (Bill, DS, Dunkel, Boand, Helms, FR, NCF, Poling, other/Pittsburgh – Davis, Southern California – Houlgate), 1930 (all but FR, split/Alabama – Davis, also FR), 1938 (DS, other/Tennessee – Bill, Dunkel, LS, Boand, Houlgate, FR, Poling, Sagarin, Texas Christian – AP, WS, Helms, NCF), 1943 (unanimous including AP)
1919, 1920, 1927, 1929, 1930, 1938,1943: No bowls
Ohio State (0)
Oklahoma (1): 1915
Penn State (0)
Southern California (5): 1928 (DR, other/Georgia Tech), 1929 (Thes, other/Notre Dame – Bill,
Dickinson, Dunkel, Boand, Helms, FR, NCF, Poling, other/Pittsburgh - Davis), 1931 (Dick/Rockne, Dunkel, Ann, Helms, Thes, Wms, FBR, NCF, Poling, Bill, Mas), 1932 (Ann, Dunkel, Thes, Helms, Wms, Davis/Co, FBR, NCF, Poling, Bill, Mas, other/Michigan), 1939 (Dickinson/Rockne, other/Texas A&M - AP)
1928: no bowl
Texas (1): 1914
In 117 years of football through 2006, Notre Dame has had 110 winning years. They have featured twelve unbeaten, untied seasons and ten others in which they were unbeaten with a tie. In twenty-eight additional seasons they have suffered only one loss.
Notre Dame’s 821-269-42 record (through 2006) ranks virtually tied with Michigan (860-282-36) for the best all time. Their 821 wins (through 2006) is second only to Michigan’s 860. Perhaps Notre Dame’s strongest argument that they remain superior to USC is their 42-31-5 record against the Trojans as of 2006. This includes one thirteen-year unbeaten run against them between 1983 and 1995.
Notre Dame is tied with USC for the most national titles with eleven. However, Notre Dame’s eight Associated Press titles are the most of any program. None of their national championships are tainted by bowl defeat. Furthermore, the Irish easily could have been national champions in 1913, 1919, 1920, 1941, 1948 and 1953. Overall, there are at least nineteen seasons in which the Irish “qualified” to be the national champion by virtue of some rating service or historical analysis.
Fighting Irish on the run
S/start season; F/finish season
Year Record Run
1918 3-1-1, F/1-0-1 3-1-2 (1918)
1919 9-0 10-0-1 (1918-19)
1920 9-0 19-0-1 (1918-20)
1921 10-1 S/2-0, F/8-0 29-1-1 (1918-21
1922 8-1-1 36-2-1 (1919-22)
1923 9-1 F/3-0 37-2-1 (1919-23) 40 games
1924 10-0 46-3-1 (1919-24) 50 games 55-3-1 (1919-24)
1925 7-2-1 S/3-0 56-3-1 (19191-25) 60 games
1926 9-1 63-5-2 (1919-26) 80 games
1927 7-1-1 72-6-2 (1919-26) 90 games
1928 5-4 F/1-0 79-8-3 (1919-28) 90 games
1929 9-0 86-11-3 (1919-29) 100 games
10-0 (1928-29) 83-11-3 (decade: 1920s)
1930 10-0 96-11-3 (1919-30) 110 games
1931 6-2-1 S/1-0, 6-0-1 105-11-4 (1919-31) 120 games
1932 7-2 112-14-4 (1918-31) 130 games
112-13-5 (1918-32) 130
Year Record Run
1940 7-2 7-2 (1940)
1941 8-0-1 15-2-1 (1940-41)
1942 7-2-2 22-4-3 (1940-42)
1943 9-1 31-5-3 (1940-43)
1944 8-2 39-7-3 (1940-44)
1945 7-2-1 F/1-0 46-9-4 (1940-45)
1946 8-0-1 S/5-0, 5-0-1, F/3-0, 3-0-1 54-9-5 (1940-46)
1947 9-0 56-9-5 (1940-47) 70 games
1948 9-0-1 S/9-0 66-9-5 1940-48 80 games
1949 10-0 75-9-6 (1940-48) 90 games
82-9-6 (decade: 1940s)
29-0-1 (1946-49) 30 games
1950 4-4-1 S/1-0 83-9-6 (1940-50)
37-1-2 (1946-50) 40 games
1951 7-2-1 85-9-6 (1940-51) 100 games
1952 7-2-1 97-13-8 (1940-52) 118
91-11-8 (1940-52) 110 games
1953 9-0-1 99-13-8 (1940-53) 120 games 106-13-8 (1940-53)
1954 9-1 115-14-8 (1940-53)
108-14-8 (1940-54) 130 games
1955 8-2 123-16-6 (1940-55)
118-14-8 (1940-55) 140 games
Year Record Run
1988 12-0 12-0 (1888)
1989 12-1 24-1 (1988-89)
1990 9-3 33-4 (1988-90)
1991 10-3 43-7 (1988-91) 50 games
1992 10-1-1 51-8-1 (1988-92) 60 games
1993 11-1 61-8-1 (1988-92) 70 games
1994 6-5-1 S/1-0 65-9-1 (1988-94)
68-11-1 80 (1988-94) 80 games
The Irish are tied with Southern California and Ohio State for the most Heisman Trophy winners (seven). They have the most consensus All-Americans with ninety-five (through 2005). Notre Dame’s forty-one players and five coaches (through 2006) inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame are the most of any institution. They are tied with Alabama and Michigan for the most Super Bowl MVP awards (Joe Montana with three). USC has two. More than 400 players have represented them in pro football, the most of any college over the years (a virtual tie with Southern California). 453 Irish players (slightly trailing USC) have been drafted. They have five number one overall NFL draft picks, tied with USC for the most of any program. Notre Dame’s five Associated Press Pro Football Players of the Year are the most from any college.
Elite Ten by the numbers Associated Press Pro Football Player of the Year
Notre Dame: 5
1961 Paul Hornung, Green Bay, HB
1971 Alan Page, Minnesota, DT
1983 Joe Theismann, Washington, QB
1989 Joe Montana, San Francisco, QB
1990 Joe Montana, San Francisco, QB
1966 Bart Starr, Green Bay, QB
1974 Ken Stabler, Oakland, QB
2005 Shaun Alexander, Seattle, RB
Southern California: 2
1973 O. J. Simpson, Buffalo, RB
1985 Marcus Allen, Los Angeles Raiders, RB
1979 Earl Campbell, Houston, RB
These are just numbers, and do not begin to explain the mystique, lore and appeal of Notre Dame football. They are the only school with their own television deal (NBC). Perhaps as telling as any other statement is the fact that former USC quarterback Pat Haden is NBC’s “voice of the Irish.” Haden grew up Catholic. After starring at Bishop Amat High School in southern California, he chose USC mainly because in his senior year he lived with coach John McKay. His parents had moved to Walnut Creek (near San Francisco) due to a job transfer. McKay’s son, J. K. was his receiver in high school and college. Recruiters from Notre Dame, Stanford and other schools had to call on the McKay household in order to meet with Haden, who went on to lead USC to an astounding 55-24 win over the Irish in 1974. He set the all-time career record for touchdown passes against Notre Dame.
Despite his USC pedigree Haden, who is also a corporate lawyer in the L.A. area, announces his games with the utmost admiration for Notre Dame. When the two teams play each other, there is no discernible bias favoring the Trojans; in fact it may be the other way around. The Haden-Notre Dame symbiosis is an example of what ex-USC quarterback Craig Fertig calls “pure mutual respect” between the two schools.
NOTRE DAME VERSUS CONFERENCES (THROUGH 2005)
Atlantic Coast (72-27-2), Big East (56-20-1), Big 10 (213-106-15, Big 12 (37-18-2), Mountain West (26-7), Mid-American (4-0, Pacific-10 (74-39-6), Southeastern (21-12), Western Athletic (2-0)
Every even year in L.A., Fertig and Tommy Hawkins, a former Notre Dame basketball player who played for Lakers, then became a media personality in L.A., emcee an event called “the game is on.” Much good-natured ribbing takes place, but the kind of humor and admiration the two schools openly express for each other and their respective heroes is genuine. This kind of thing certainly does not take place, at least to this extent, between California and Stanford; Nebraska and Oklahoma; Auburn and Alabama. When Auburn football coach Shug Jordan played golf with Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, he was careful to keep it a secret from his school’s followers.
Notre Dame versus biggest rivals
Versus Southern California 42-31-5
Versus Michigan 14-19-1
While much of the Notre Dame legend is built on “blarney” and “malarkey,” it is nevertheless the stuff of great American mythology. Only true greatness shines forth in such a manner. The “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame” story may have been a media gambit; the “win one for the Gipper” story made up. No matter. They resonate with the populace. The love for Notre Dame is genuine and heartfelt. Notre Dame fans are the most intense, loyal and regular in the nation. Certainly fans of Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Louisiana State and some other programs share the same kind of commitment, but the Notre Dame follower is sophisticated, national, travels, and is enthusiastic at least on a level with all others.
“I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept myself for years. None of you knew George Gipp – it was long before your time. But you all know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, ‘Rock,’ he said, ‘sometime, when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they got and just win one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,’ he said, ‘but I’ll know about it . . . and I’ll be happy.”
- Pat O’Brien as Knute Rocke, Knute Rockne: All-American (1940)
Ronald Reagan played Gipp. Not only did Gipp never give the dying testimonial, Rockne never gave this speech in the Yankee Stadium dressing room on November 10, 1928. It was based on some scant mention in the New York Daily News’ game account by reporter and Irish alum Francis Wallace, apparently incorporated by Hollywood director Lloyd Bacon. Gipp apparently contracted strep throat and pneumonia caused when he, after continually breaking school curfew to go gambling and drinking, was locked out of his dorm by a zealous priest, forcing him to sleep on the freezing steps. Rumors swirled around Gipp’s death and gambling debts. On November 20, 1920, he sat out the game at Northwestern. According to the Notre Dame media guide, it was because of a shoulder injury incurred one week earlier versus Indiana. Other stories claim he already was sick and sat shivering in a blanket on a freezing day; that he owed money to gamblers and agreed to sit out the game to keep the spread down in return for forgiving the debt; entered the game out of a crisis of conscience, throwing the touchdown pass which put the Irish above the spread, foiling the gamblers; and the exertion worsened the illness. The official story is that Gipp stayed in Chicago to “give punting instructions to a high school team coached by a former teammate,” where he got sick. This makes little sense, since Notre Dame was scheduled to play at Michigan State only five days later (November 25). Between practice, school and travel there was no extra time to hang around at a high school practice in Chicago. Either way, he was gravely ill, hospitalized, did not play against the Spartans, and died of complications (pneumonia) from the strep on December 14, 1920 at the age of 25.
The Notre Dame fan base is far more loyal than USC’s which for the most part is as dedicated as that of any other Los Angeles sports team, but is still fickle in the notorious L.A. manner. When USC ventures into Notre Dame Stadium, they are a genuine road team facing every possible disadvantage. For years, when Notre Dame entered the Coliseum, perhaps forty percent of the crowd rooted for them. In the Pete Carroll era, this has changed perceptibly, but it is still not nearly as fanatical in favor of the Trojans as vice versa in South Bend.
Notre Dame versus Elite Ten
Alabama (5-1), Miami (15-7-1), Michigan (14-19-1), Nebraska (7-8-1), Ohio State (2-2), Oklahoma (8-1), Penn State (8-8-1), Southern California (42-31-5), Texas (8-2); Total: 109-79-9
The recent rivalry between Charlie Weis and Pete Carroll added a new wrinkle to the rivalry. When Weis took over at Notre Dame after being the offensive coordinator of three New England Patriots Super Bowl winners, he told his team, “I never lost to that (expletive deleted) in the NFL, and I don’t intend to lose to him now.” When USC visited Notre Dame Stadium in 2005, Weis instructed the groundskeeper to grow the grass as high as the Indiana wheatfields at harvest time. It was a vain attempt to slow down Reggie Bush.
Then there are the movies. USC, despite being “Hollywood’s school,” with numerous alumni making their mark as directors, writers, producers and actors, has only a TV movie about tragic running back Ricky Bell, who died young of a rare disease, and a low budget effort about women’s basketball called Love and Basketball. Boyz N the Hood, directed by USC alum John Singleton, touched on the death of a Trojan football recruit but was not about the school. Many films are shot on location at USC, but feature mention of the school in a peripheral manner. Ironically, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was filmed at USC.
Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne: All-American and Rudy, however, were blockbusters that remain classics to this day. Ronald Reagan built his image in large measure based upon his portrayal of George Gipp in Knute Rockne: All-American. A film based on the book One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007), which details how the 1970 USC-Alabama game helped end segregation, may be USC’s Hollywood answer to Irish cinema dominance, but even its proposed pitch line demonstrates adherence to Notre Dame: “Finally, USC’s Rudy.”
Despite an occasional accusation, Notre Dame is the cleanest of all programs. Among big time athleticf programs, only Penn State, Duke, Stanford and possibly Michigan approach their overall academic/athletic record. Notre Dame has claimed an incredible ninety-eight percent graduation rate. They have never been on NCAA probation. Even their media guide is, unlike many other schools, impeccably honest. With their great record, there are many opportunities for exaggeration or misleading information, but they do not inflate their national championship record, All-American roster, or the like.
They are a Catholic institution and therefore remain devoted to the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ watches them, knows what is in their hearts, and judges them accordingly. They are a school comprised of human beings and therefore they have their failings, but Notre Dame’s adherence to Christian principles is real. Even their greatest rivals, USC, Michigan . . . and everybody else, admires them for that.
Notre Dame’s awesome image is not all movies, magic, and morals. It is not all dominant seasons and runaway victories, either. They have played an inordinate number of extremely big games; made some incredible comebacks; ended some long winning streaks; overcome incredible odds; and to the consternation of their opponents, whether it be real or not, have at times seemed to have the kind of “luck of the Irish” that gives the impression that, every so often, God favors them.
Their greatest, most legendary games include:
· Notre Dame 11, Michigan 3 (1909)
· Notre Dame 35, Army 13 (1913)
· Notre Dame 27, Army 17 (1920)
· Notre Dame 13, Army 7 (1924)
· Notre Dame 27, Stanford 10 (1925 Rose Bowl)
· Notre Dame 12, Army 6 (1928)
· Notre Dame 7, Carnegie Tech 0 (1929)
· Notre Dame 60, Penn 20 (1930)
· Notre Dame 18, Ohio State 13 (1935)
· Notre Dame 0, Army 0 (1946)
· Notre Dame 27, Southern Methodist 20 (1949)
· Notre Dame 7, Oklahoma 0 (1957)
· Notre Dame 51, Southern California 0 (1966)
· Notre Dame 24, Texas 11 (1971 Cotton Bowl)
· Notre Dame 23, Southern California 14 (1973)
· Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23 (1973 Sugar Bowl)
· Notre Dame 13, Alabama 11 (1975 Orange Bowl)
· Notre Dame 49, Southern California 14 (1977)
· Notre Dame 38, Texas 10 (1978 Cotton Bowl)
· Notre Dame 35, Houston 34 (1979 Cotton Bowl)
· Notre Dame 38, Southern California 37 (1986)
· Notre Dame 31, Miami 30 (1988)
· Notre Dame 27, Southern California 10 (1988)
· Notre Dame 34, West Virginia 21 (1989 Fiesta Bowl)
· Notre Dame 28, Southern California 24 (1989)
· Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24 (1993)
Crowd shots of two games eleven years apart tell the story of Notre Dame’s impact on America. The 1913 “forward pass” win over Army was played before a high school-sized gathering at Notre Dame. The 1924 “Four Horsemen” win over Army was played before a packed Polo Grounds throng in New York. The 1925 Rose Bowl win over Stanford was played in front of a huge crowd in Pasadena. The 1928 “win one for the Gipper” win over Army occurred before a packed “House That Ruth Built.”
In addition to these games, the Irish helped fill the Coliseum for games against USC. At Chicago’s Soldier Field, 120,000 (1927) and 112,000 (1929) saw Notre Dame beat the Trojans.
There have been “agonies” too, as listed in The Fighting Irish: Notre Dame Football Through the Years by William Gildea and Christopher Jennison. They include:
· Southern California 16, Notre Dame 14 (1931)
· Great Lakes Naval Training Station 19, Notre Dame 14 (1943)
· Army 59, Notre Dame 0 (1944)
· Army 48, Notre Dame 0 (1945)
· Purdue 28, Notre Dame 14 (1950)
· Iowa 14, Notre Dame 14 (1953)
· Southern California 20, Notre Dame 17 (1964)
· Michigan State 10, Notre Dame 10 (1966)
· Texas 21, Notre Dame 17 (1970 Cotton Bowl)
· Southern California 55, Notre Dame 24 (1974)
· Miami 58, Notre Dame 7 (1985)
· Michigan 24, Notre Dame 23 (1986)
· Miami 27, Notre Dame 10 (1989)
· Stanford 33, Notre Dame 16 (1992)
· Boston College 41, Notre Dame 39 (1993)
· Northwestern 17, Notre Dame 15 (1995)
· Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9 (2001 Fiesta Bowl)
· Southern California 34, Notre Dame 31 (2005)
William Gildea’s description of the 1974 loss to Southern Cal is classic: “How could it be possible for a team not equipped with knives or guns to score fifty-five straight points on the Fighting Irish?”
“I still don’t know how it happened,” USC coach John McKay told reporters. “I can’t understand it. I’m going to sit down tonight and have a beer and think about it. Against Notre Dame? Maybe against Kent State. But Notre Dame?”
In The History of USC Football DVD, McKay stated, “I have no idea what happened, but I guarantee I was there . . . and I clapped.”
Even in defeat, Notre Dame helped shape a nation. The losses to Great Lakes Naval Training Station and Army during the middle of World War II undoubtedly had the Nazis and Japanese scratching their heads, wondering how the American military could field teams good enough to beat our best football squad while simultaneously beating them from one corner of the globe to another. Only America.
Prior to Rockne taking over in 1918, Notre Dame had gone unbeaten in 1912 and 1913. Consensus All-Americans included Gus Dorais (1913) and Frank Rydzewski (1917). Rockne’s first team featured Curly Lambeau, who would go on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career as a pioneering NFL player and coach with the Green Bay Packers. Lambeau Field is named after him. In 1919, when the Irish were 9-0 under Rockne, back George Gipp made his mark and followed that up with an All-American campaign in the 9-0 1920 campaign. George Trafton went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears.
Eddie Anderson earned consensus honors in 1921. In 1924 the Irish fielded what still may be their greatest team. “The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame” were 10-0 with a victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Three of the “Four Horsemen,” Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden, were consensus All-Americans. Other All-Americans of the 1920s were Bud Boeringer (1926), John Smith (1927), Jack Cannon (1929), Frank Carideo (1929-30), and the great Marchy Schwartz (1929-30).
The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame
“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreyer, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.
- Grantland Rice, New York Herald Tribune, October 19, 1924
The “Four Horsemen” were quarterback Harry Stuhldreyer, halfbacks “Sleepy Jim” Crowley and Don Miller, and fullback Elmer Layden. It was based of course on the Biblical reference, and the 1924 film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Notre Dame press assistant George Strickland made mention of the movie in the Polo Grounds press box, inspiring Rice’s lead. A week later Strickland arranged a photo of the four Irish stars on steeds from a local South Bend stable. It was really the victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl two and a half months later that fixed them in the public’s imagination.
Rockne, talked into the USC rivalry ostensibly by his wife, led Notre Dame to victory over the Trojans in four of his last five years. A single point in each game (13-12, 7-6, 13-12) achieved the first three victories. These were instant classics. Between 1928 and 1932, the national champion was the winner of this game. USC achieved their true status as a great program only when they upended Notre Dame, 27-14 on the way to their 1928 national title. Their 16-14 fourth quarter comeback against the Irish in the new Notre Dame Stadium (1931) did everything to elevate their prestige to the greatest of heights. Above all else, it placed them on an equal status with the Irish after having lost to them four of the first five times, albeit by the narrowest of margins.
Notre Dame won twenty straight games between 1929 and 1931. They carried a 26-game unbeaten streak into the 1931 USC game. Rockne’s teams were 105-12-5 during his thirteen years. They won national titles in his last two seasons, 1929 and 1930. They were surefire favorites to do it again in 1931.
When USC beat Notre Dame three straight times (1931-1933), it was the end of coach Hunk Anderson tenure, and the beginning of Elmer Layden’s. Consensus All-Americans of the 1930s were Tommy Yarr (1931), Joe Kurth (1932), Jack Robinson (1934), Wayne Millner (1935), Chuck Sweeney (1937), and Ed Beinor (1938). When the NFL Draft started in 1936, Notre Dame’s Bill Shakespeare was Pittsburgh’s first round choice. Millner is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, having played for the Boston and Washington Redskins in the NFL.
Notre Dame’s 7-0 victory over Carnegie Tech in 1938 had them thinking that this would be their first national championship without Rock, but USC’s 13-0 win over them ended that. They held out hope the polls might favor them if the chips all fell into place in 1939, but again USC dispelled the notion by virtue of a 20-12 victory in South Bend, which served to elevate Troy to the number one position.
Frank Leahy came on the scene in 1940. Nobody did it better: 8-0-1 (1941), 7-2-2 (1942), 9-1 (national champions, 1943), 8-2 (1944), 7-2-1 (1945), 8-0-1 (national champions, 1946), 9-0 (national champions, 1947), 9-0-1 (1948), and 10-0 (national champions, 1949). Three Irish players - Angelo Bertelli (1943), Johnny Lujack (1947) and Leon Hart (1949) - earned Heisman Trophies. The Irish never lost a game in the 1941, 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949 seasons, compiling a 21-game winning streak (1946-1948) and a 39-game unbeaten streak (1945-1950). Only a stunning 14-14 tie against USC in 1948 prevented what may have been their fifth title of the decade while keeping them from capturing an elusive three-straight AP crowns.
Did you know . . .
That the 1946-1947 two-time national champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish never trailed in a game (although in 1946 they played Army to a 0-0 tie)?
Not just consensus All-Americans but College Hall of Famers strode the legendary Notre Dame stage: Bob Dove, Pat Filley, Creighton Miller, Jim White, John Yonakor, George Connor, Bill Fischer, Emil Sitko, and Bob Williams. Connor (1946) and Fischer (1948) won Outland Trophies. Many, including Beano Cook to this day, call the 1947 Irish the best team ever assembled. They never trailed in a game and posted three shutouts in a row.
First round draft choices: Angelo Bertelli (Boston, first overall pick, 1944), Creighton Miller (Brooklyn, 1944), Frank Szymanski (Detroit, 1956), John Yonakor (Philadelphia, 1945), Frank Dancewicz ((first overall pick, Boston, 1946), Johnny Lujack (Chicago Bears, 1946), George Connor (New York Giants, 1946), Emil Sitko (Los Angeles Rams, 1946), Frank Tripucka (Philadelphia, 1949), Bill Fischer (Chicago Cardinals, 1949), Leon Hart (Detroit, 1950). George Sullivan was the first pick of the Chicago Rockets of the All-American Football Conference in 1947. Connor played for the Chicago Bears and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Elite Ten by the numbers
MOST DRAFTED CLASSES
1. Notre Dame 16 (1946)
2. Southern California 15 (1953)
2. Notre Dame 15 (1945)
4. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 14 (1975)
4. Southern California 14 (1977)
6. Notre Dame 10 NFL, 7 AAFC (1948)
The 1946 0-0 tie with Army remains mythical in status. After getting blown out, 59-0 (1944) and 48-0 (1945) by “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside” (Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis), the Irish met Red Blaik’s juggernaut before 74,121 at Yankee Stadium on November 8, 1946. With the war won, the game had all the trappings of the Greeks holding an Olympics to celebrate the end of the Peloponnesian War, or the Romans holding gladiatorial contests at the Coliseum in celebration of Caesar’s triumphs abroad.
Notre Dame was the heavy underdog but somehow held Army scoreless. The play of the game was Lujack’s open-field tackle of Blanchard after a 21-yard rumble at the Notre Dame 36. The tie was considered a “moral victory” for the Irish. It turned out to be more than that when the Associated Press voted them number one at season’s end.
In the 1950s, two Notre Dame stars won Heisman Trophies: Johnny Lattner (1953) and Paul Hornung (1956). Great Irish stars of the decade were Jerry Groom, Art Hunter, Bob Toneff, Ralph Guglielmi, Al Ecuyer, and Monty Stickles. First round draft picks were Bob Williams (Chicago Bears, 1952), Jerry Groom (Chicago Cardinals, 1952), Art Hunter (Green Bay, 1954), Johnny Lattner (Green Bay, 1954), Neil Worden (Philadelphia, 1954), Ralph Guglielmi (Washington, 1955), Frank Varrichione (Pittsburgh, 1955), Joe Heap (New York Giants, 1955), Paul Hornung (Green Bay, 1957) Nick Pietrosante (Detroit, 1959), George Izo (Chicago Cardinals, 1960), and Monte Stickles (San Francisco, 1960).
While national championships escaped their grasp, it was a decade filled with monumental moments. In 1953, Notre Dame opened the season with a 28-21 victory at Oklahoma. It was the last time the Sooners would lose over the next forty-seven games. The Irish then ended Georgia Tech’s 31-game unbeaten streak, 27-14 at South Bend. A 14-14 tie with Iowa ended their national title aspirations.
Notre Dame coaches’ winning percentage
1. KnuteRockne (.881)
2. Frank Leahy (.855)
3. Ara Parseghian (.836)
4. Elmer Layden (.770)
5. Lou Holtz (.765)
Terry Brennan took over for Leahy in 1954. He carried the success over with 9-1 and 8-2 seasons. In 1956 Notre Dame was only 2-8, yet the season remains a memorable one thanks to the great Paul Hornung. He captured the school’s fifth Heisman Trophy. A colorful personality whose persona was similar to Frank Gifford’s, he was one of pro football’s all-time greats with Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Hornung is a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The following year (1957), a dejected Irish squad arrived in Norman, Oklahoma on the heels of successive losses: 20-6 to Navy and 34-6 to Michigan. Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners had won forty-seven straight games and showed no sign of letting up. Just as they had done with Army eleven years earlier, the Irish defense stiffened, producing a shutout. The 7-0 victory was one of their great moments.
Notre Dame has ended twelve perfect seasons (one tie). They have twelve unbeaten, untied seasons; ten unbeaten (with a tie), and twenty-eight one-loss years. They have finished in the AP Top <ED: 10> 10 thirty-five times . . .
There was little to celebrate over the next six seasons, however. The game appeared to have passed them by. USC and Alabama came back with a vengeance. The South began to rise again with Auburn and LSU also winning national championships for the first time. Eastern football re-emerged in the form of an integrated powerhouse at Syracuse.
Notre Dame’s biggest rivals? Everyone . . .
Notre Dame versus number one-ranked opponents (1936-2005): 8-16-1 . . .
Notre Dame is 62-13-3 when playing as the number one-ranked team . . .
The Fighting Irish are 141-118-10 versus ranked opponents . . .
In 1964 Notre Dame brought in Ara Parseghian. The “era of Ara” was one of the most successful in school history. In his first year, Parseghian inherited some talented seniors, namely quarterback John Huarte and tight end Jack Snow. They grew up in Orange County, California where they developed pass pattern on the beach during summers. Playing great defense and steady, ball-control offense, the Irish marched through their schedule unbeaten.
Alabama’s heralded quarterback, Joe Namath was the Heisman favorite in 1964. When he went down with an injury in the seventh game of the season, Huarte was able to win the award. Still operating under a “no-bowl” policy, all the Irish needed to do was get past Southern California in a packed L.A. Coliseum.
Oh, that’s all.
Huarte engineered Notre Dame’s 17-0 halftime lead, but Southern Cal quarterback Craig Fertig led Troy all the way back in the second half. Desperately trying to ward off USC, Notre Dame had one last chance to stop the Trojans on a fourth down play with about a minute left. Fertig hit receiver Rod Sherman over the middle for a touchdown. It was all over.
Two years later, Notre Dame fielded one of their all-time greatest teams. Led by sophomore quarterback Terry Hanratty, they won their first eight. The Irish defense pitched three consecutive shutouts against Army (35-0), North Carolina (32-0), and Oklahoma (38-0); then two more against Pittsburgh (40-0) and Duke (64-0). As great as their defense was, Michigan State’s defense was considered even more dominating, led by defensive end Bubba Smith and linebacker/rover George Webster.
On November 19 Notre Dame traveled to East Lansing for the “Game of the Century.” It was hard-fought and competitive, an incredible game, and a big part of history, but other games overshadow it. With the score tied, 10-10 late in the fourth, Parseghian had a chance to make it the real “Game of the Century.” Had he masterminded a final drive, utilizing the passing of talented Coley O’Brien (who replaced the injured Hanratty) plus the running of Rocky Bleier and Nick Eddy, Notre Dame might have driven into field position – the way USC did against them twelve years later – and kicked a game-winning field goal that would have made it the “Game of the Century.” Instead, it went down as the “tie one for the Gipper” game.
A week later, Parseghian’s Irish came to Los Angeles with their minds on the polls. Despite the tie, Notre Dame maintained the number one position in the Associated Press (although they fell to second in the United Press International). Michigan State stayed number two in the AP, but moved to first in the UPI. Alabama, who started the season number one but fell to third as the year moved on, stayed at number three even though they were unbeaten and untied.
In 1966, both the AP and UPI voted their last poll prior to the bowls. Notre Dame had no bowl to play in. Neither did Michigan State, since they were constrained by the Big 10’s “no-repeat” rule and had no more games. Alabama still had Southern Mississippi and Auburn left, then a Sugar Bowl date with Nebraska.
Parseghian reasoned that he held the top spot in the AP. Michigan State would have no further opportunity to impress the voters, but Alabama did. Furthermore, the voters might figure that a ‘Bama victory in the Sugar Bowl, even if it did not technically affect the final AP vote, would figure in voters’ thinking. He also knew that the voters had been embarrassed by their awarding of the national title to Alabama two years earlier, only to see the Crimson Tide illegitimatized by their Orange Bowl defeat against Texas. This was followed by another embarrassment when the UPI was stuck calling Michigan State their champions despite losing to UCLA in the 1966 Rose Bowl.
The calculation, to Parseghian’s way of thinking, was that a big win over the Trojans would garner the title for Notre Dame for four reasons. For one, the voters would rather play it safe and give it to a team that had no bowl game they could lose and therefore make everybody look bad; two, another national title for Alabama followed by a potential loss to Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl seemed an intolerable possibility; three, a large majority of the writers were from the East Coast and were of Catholic persuasion; and four, in the heat of the civil rights struggle, all-white ‘Bama was not, to use a 1990s term, the “politically correct” team.
Did you know . . .
That when Notre Dame football star Rocky Bleier was injured in Vietnam, the military doctor said just before putting him under for surgery: “Rocky, I went to USC and was in the stands the day Notre Dame beat us, 51-0 at the Coliseum”? Thanks in part to the USC man’s excellent work, Bleier eventually was able to make a pro football comeback with the Steelers. Much like the doctors who saved Ronald Reagan after he was shot and told them, “I hope you’re Republicans” – the reply was, “We’re all Republican today, Mr. President” – in this case, the USC doctor and his staff were all “Fighting Irishmen.” Lucky ones . . . and good.
Many people found fault with Notre Dame for “running up the score” against USC, 51-0 in front of their home fans on November 26, 1966; all except the Trojans players, fans and coaches, all of whom agreed that instead of getting mad at the Irish, it was there job to stop them. They failed.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Associated Press national championships (1936-2006)
1. Notre Dame 8 *
2. Oklahoma 7 @
3. Alabama 6 #
4. Southern California 5
4. Miami 5
6. Ohio State 4
6. Nebraska 4
8. Texas 3
9. Michigan 2
10. Penn State 2
*5 no bowls
@1 lost bowl, 1 probation
#1 lost bowl
Alabama (6): 1961, *1964 (split/Arkansas - Billingsley, Football Research, Football Writers,
Helms, Poling, National Championship Foundation),1965, 1978 (split/Southern California – UPI), 1979, 1992
*Lost Orange Bowl
Miami (5): 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 (split/Washington – UPI), 2001
Michigan (2): 1948, 1997 (split/Nebraska – USA)
Nebraska (4): 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995
Notre Dame (8): *1943, *1946, *1947, *1949, *1966, 1973 (split/Alabama lost bowl –
Ohio State (4): *1942, 1954 (split/UCLA no bowl – UPI), 1968, 2002
Oklahoma (7): *1950, 1955, @1956, #1974 (split/Southern California – UPI), 1975,
*Lost Sugar Bowl
Penn State (2): 1982, 1986
Southern California (5): 1962, 1967, 1972, 2003, 2004
Texas (3): 1963, 1969, 2005
Parseghian’s Machiavellian calculations played out just as he foresaw them. The Irish had the first national title in the “era of Ara.” To what extent the 51-0 drubbing inspired USC against Notre Dame over the next decade and a half is debatable. What is not debatable is that, following this game, beating Southern California became a rare accomplishment for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Between 1967 and 1982 they did it twice.
Notre Dame fielded some of the best teams in their history during this period, but they were denied glory year after year by USC. The 1970, 1971, 1974 and 1978 teams all had a good or decent shot at the title but-for the USC game. The 1973 and 1977 teams were the only ones to accomplish the feat, and they finished number one on each occasion.
In the 1960s, Notre Dame’s consensus All-Americans included Jack Snow, John Huarte, Dick Arrington, Nick Rassas, Nick Eddy, Jim Lynch, Alan Page, Tom Regner, Tom Schoen, Terry Hanratty, George Kunz, and Mike McCoy.
NOTRE DAME’S “TEAMMATE HEISMANS”
1943 Angelo Bertelli
1947 John Lujack
1947 John Lujack
1949 Leon Hart
1953 John Lattner
1956 Paul Hornung (freshman/ineligible ’53)
First round draft picks were Jack Snow (Minnesota, 1965), Nick Eddy (Denver, 1966), Paul Seiler (New York Jets, 1967), Alan Page (Minnesota, 1967), Tom Regner (Houston, 1967), Kevin Hardy (New Orleans, 1968), George Kunz (Atlanta, 1969), Jim Seymour (Los Angeles, 1969), and Mike McCoy (Green Bay, 1970). Snow became a star with the great Los Angeles Rams teams coached by George Allen. After retirement, he was a popular sportscaster. His son, J. T. Snow, became a fancy-fielding first baseman for San Francisco, playing in the 2002 World Series. Page spearheaded great Vikings teams to four Super Bowls (1970, 1974, 1975, 1977). Pro football’s Player of the Year in 1971, when Minnesota’s defense carried the terrific moniker “Purple People Eaters,” Page is a member of Pro Football Hall of Fame. He became an associate justice of Minnesota’s state Supreme Court.
From 1968-1970, Joe Theismann starred at Notre Dame. He was frustrated, as Brady Quinn would be thirty-six years later, from achieving ultimate glory. In 1968 Notre Dame was 7-2-1. In 1969 they were 8-2-1. The great 1970 squad, which may have been the best team in the country, was 10-1. Each season, something happened to trip up the Irish. Theismann passed for a school record 526 yards against Southern California in a driving rainstorm at the Coliseum in 1970, but USC won 38-28. Theismann closed out his college career with a monumental 24-11 win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl, ending the Longhorns’ national championship aspirations.
Theismann, despite all his accomplishments, was not considered a major professional prospect. He took his services to Canada. Eventually, he went to the National Football League where he starred for the 1982 Washington Redskins’ Super Bowl championship team. In January 1984 Theismann, the NFL Player of the Year that season, brought a 14-2 Redskins team into the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Raiders. Ex-USC star Marcus Allen overshadowed him, winning the game’s MVP trophy while leading his team to a 38-9 triumph. Theismann’s career eventually ended on Monday Night Football when he suffered an excruciating injury. He has been a leading personality on pro football telecasts, including Monday Night Football, for years. Theismann has led a celebrity life and may well join Goldern Domers Curly Lambeau, George Trafton, Wayne Millner, George Connor, Paul Hornung, Alan Page, Joe Montana, Nick Buoniconti, and Dave Casper in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio some day. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame in 2004.
Notre Dame is 178-91-3 on national TV (through 2005) . . .
In 1973, Notre Dame was itching to get back to the promised land. The field looked to be obstacle-laden. Defending national champion and pre-season number one Southern California would have to be contended with at Notre Dame Stadium on October 27. In addition, Ohio State, Michigan and Alabama were juggernauts that year.
The Trojans, who had not lost since mid-way through the 1971 campaign, came in with a 23-game unbeaten streak. Quarterback Tom Clements, halfback Erick Penick and cornerback Luther Bradley pulled out all the stops before a more-fired-up-than-usual Notre Dame crowd. The 23-14 victory spurred the Irish to an unbeaten regular season. When Michigan and Ohio State tied in their big game, the Sugar Bowl, played on New Year’s Eve, was for the national championship against unbeaten Alabama.
Clements, Penick and tight end Dave Casper starred in one of the all-time great college football games. Alabama quarterback Richard Todd scored on a pass-catch-and-pass to put the Tide up, 23-21 late in the game. Clements hit tight end Robin Weber on a key third down conversion deep in Irish territory. From there, Notre Dame drove until Bob Thomas kicked a 19-yard field goal. Alabama had time to rally but Notre Dame held on to win a “barnburner,” 24-23. Parseghian had his second national championship. It was Alabama’s seventh straight bowl loss.
In 1974, Notre Dame’s defense allowed an average of only two yards per rush and was ranked first in the nation when the Irish (9-1) traveled to the Coliseum. Up 24-0 just before the half, they were calculating that with Oklahoma on probation, if they could beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl while USC beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, a repeat national championship might just be theirs. They were almost right; the Irish did beat the Crimson Tide in a donnybrook, 13-11 in the Sugar Bowl, while USC squeaked out a thrilling 18-17 win over the Buckeyes in Pasadena. There was only problem with their plan: their 24-0 lead was converted, within the span of just seventeen minutes, into probably the greatest USC victory of all time, 55-24. To this day, nobody has ever adequately explained what happened. Not John McKay, not Trojan assistant coach Craig Fertig, not linebacker Richard “Batman” Wood, quarterback Pat Haden, wide receiver J. K. McKay or rover Charles Phillips.
Some Notre Dame historians have postulated that the only way it could happen would be if USC had been equipped with “guns and knives.” Perhaps the star of the day, the ultimate “Notre Dame killer” himself, Anthony Davis stated it best: “We turned into madmen.” “A. D.,” as he is known, has lived off his performances against Notre Dame in 1972 and 1974 to this day, marketing and signing T-shirts, cups, and posters, in person or through web sites.
1974-1975 will not go down as great years at Notre Dame. They were 9-2 with a wonderful win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in 1974, then 8-3 in 1975. Defeat against USC, whether by big scores or close scores, tugged at their elbows. But years later, those two seasons turned out to be some of the most memorable in the school’s history. That was when Rudy Ruettiger, a walk-on practice player, was part of the program. His story was told in the inspiring 1993 film Rudy, starring Sean Astin. Rudy played in the final home game of the 1975 season, a 24-3 win over Georgia Tech. There was a freshman quarterback on that team named Joe Montana.
1977 played out in similar manner to the 1973 campaign after Notre Dame lost to Ole Miss in the second game of the season. Montana, a junior from western Pennsylvania, had come to South Bend with great promise but so far not shown much of it. USC, now coached by John Robinson, maintained their place at the heights of glory. By the fifth game of the season USC was ranked number one in the nation.
On October 22, the Trojans entered Notre Dame Stadium thinking about the national championship. Notre Dame – not coach Dan Devine, who took over from the retired Parseghian in 1975; not their players; nor their fans – was truly willing to think such grandiose thoughts. A loss to Troy, the second of the season, would end such hopes and make it difficult just to play out a semi-successful - by Notre Dame standards - season.
Montana got the start, but it was a shaky call. He had performed erratically and engendered little confidence from Devine or the Golden Domers. Devine was not quite as taciturn as he was portrayed in Rudy, but he was charismatically challenged. He was a football man. His game was Xs and Os; blocking and tackling; fundamental football. He was at Notre Dame, with all that lore, magic, mystique; how to use that?
A few year earlier, Burt Reynolds had starred in a film about a football game between prison convicts and guards called The Longest Yard. In that film, the cons surprise everybody by emerging on the field in new uniforms emblazoned “Mean Machine.”
Devine, perhaps desperate, trying to conjure up the image of Rockne inspiring his team with some kind of outside influence, took enough time away from practice and game-planning to make an inspirational move of his own. It could be a big hit, but if it did not work out he ran the risk of making himself and his team look foolish. He took the risk.
Devine ordered special green jerseys for the game, but kept it a secret. The Irish warmed up in their traditional blues, then went into the dressing room for final preparations before the contest. USC came out, swaggering with the confidence of champions, waiting for their opponents to take the field.
Twenty minutes before making that entrance, Devine pulled out a box and informed his team that it contained their uniform tops for this game. The players were stunned, but immediately sensed that the Kelly green, a symbol of Irish luck, was not just a motivational tool for them, but would electrify the crowd. Not to mention, the Trojans would be thinking about it, too.
When the crowd got sight of the “green machine,” they went ballistic, which is saying something. Every Notre Dame crowd goes ballistic, but this was over the top. USC was indeed stunned. They tried to laugh it off as a ploy, and at first hit hard to force a fumble with a touchdown recovery. Notre Dame started slowly, but Montana, tight end Ken MacAfee and linebacker Bob Golic made big, smart plays to create separation. The crowd sensed the upset. In the second half they got it in spades when Montana directed his team to a 49-14 rout.
Oh, what a day. Irish eyes were smiling.
With USC knocked off, Notre Dame set their sights on the only unbeaten team, number one Texas, led by the great Earl Campbell. Montana, his confidence finally restored, led the Irish to an excellent second half, but they remained stuck at number five because the team’s ahead of them did not lose. The final regular season poll ranked Texas (11-0) number one, followed by Oklahoma (10-1), Alabama (10-1), Michigan (10-1) and Notre Dame (10-1). Arkansas, Kentuckyand Penn State were all 10-1 also. The polls had the potential of turning the national championship vote into a chess match. Who would play Texas in the Cotton Bowl?
Michigan was aced out of the equation by virtue of being locked into the Rose Bowl against Washington. A Texas-Oklahoma Cotton Bowl seemed possible but the Sooners, as Big 8 champions, traditionally played in the Orange Bowl. They had already lost to Texas during the season, anyway. Oklahoma went to battle Arkansas in Miami. Alabama could play Texas in the Cotton Bowl; there was precedent, but as Southeastern Conference champions their tradition was to play in the Sugar Bowl. So they did, against Ohio State.
Notre Dame, who had played Texas in two memorable Cotton Bowls in 1970 and 1971, got the invitation to Dallas. It was the first game of the day, as it always is. If Texas would win, they would be the undisputed national champion. They were favored. In pre-game calculations, Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan, Arkansas, even Penn State, rooted for the Irish, thinking that if they won unimpressively each of these teams would have a shot. Maybe there would be a split vote. Many tried to convince themselves that there would be no “leap frogging” from fifth to first; that a second-ranked Oklahoma, for instance, would automatically move to number one.
Because of pro football Sunday play-offs, the bowls were held on January 2. Notre Dame linebacker Bob Golic (eighteen tackles) teamed with defensive ends Ross Browner and Willie Fry to lay wicked hits on Texas, who coughed up six fumbles. Campbell gained 116 yards but was never a factor. Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson keyed the ground game. Joe Montana displayed the steady hand that would win four Super Bowl championships in the next twelve years. Notre Dame 38, Texas 10. The dominance of the Irish immediately placed them in a favorable poll position, but they needed to wait it out.
Michigan’s outside hopes went out the window when Warren Moon and Washington upended them in the Rose Bowl, 27-20. When Alabama destroyed Ohio State, 35-6, Notre Dame hearts sank. Bear Bryant was now a beloved figure, not the accused segregationist of 1966. Would the voters cast in favor of ‘Bama to “make up” for the 1966 “Catholic vote” and the 1973 Sugar Bowl?
If Oklahoma could beat Arkansas in the Orange Bowl, further confusion would ensue. Instead the Razorbacks, coached by a young Lou Holtz with an even younger assistant named Pete Carroll, blew the Sooners away, 31-6. That left it between Notre Dame and Alabama. Many Alabamians still think the “Catholic vote” cost them when Notre Dame emerged number one in both the Associated Press and United Press International polls. While the Crimson Tide certainly did all they could do, nobody argued against the notion that Notre Dame took the field against the top-ranked team and the nation’s best player in front of their de facto home crowd, winning as convincingly as could be asked of them. They deserved it.
Form continued to play out in 1978. Just as USC extracted revenge in 1974 for the 1973 upset in South Bend, so too did they fight their way back into the victory column that year. In 1978, Notre Dame lost their first two games, 3-0 to Missouri and 28-14 to Michigan. Then they reeled off eight straight wins heading into the Southern Cal game. The Irish were out of the national picture, but USC was in the hunt.
In many ways the nature of the 1974 and 1978 games reversed itself. The reversal occurred in that USC got out to a big lead, as the Irish had in 1974. Then Joe Montana brought Notre Dame back, as USC had done four years earlier. His performance in that game ranks as one of the greatest ever seen. But in the end, a Frank Jordan 37-yard field goal ended Irish hopes for an upset. The 27-25 Trojan victory rates as one of their most memorable moments, propelling them to victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl and another national title a little over a month later.
Consensus All-Americans in the 1970s were Larry DiNardo, Tom Gatewood, Clarence Ellis, Walt Patulski, Greg Marx, Dave Casper, Mike Townsend, Pete Demmerle, Gerry DiNardo, Steve Niehaus, Ross Browner, Ken MacAfee, Luther Bradley, Bob Golic, Dave Huffman, and Vagas Ferguson. First round draft picks of the decade included Walt Patulski, the first choice of the 1972 draft (Buffalo), Clarence Ellis (Atlanta, 1972), Mike Kadish (Miami, 1972), Mike Fanning (Los Angeles, 1975), Steve Niehaus (Seattle, 1976), Ken MacAfee (San Francisco, 1978), Ross Browner (Cincinnati, 1978), Luther Bradley (Detroit, 1978), and Vagas Ferguson (New England, 1980). Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers of course was the MVP of three Super Bowls and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Casper was an All-Pro member of the 1976 Oakland Raiders world champions. He, too is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1980 Notre Dame was 9-0-1 with a strong shot at the national championship when they rolled into the Coliseum against an injury-depleted Trojan team. Back-up running back Michael Harper keyed Southern California’s 20-3 win. The Irish had one last-gasp try to grab the voters’ attention, but were beaten by unbeaten Georgia and Herschel Walker in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs took their first national title.
Elite Ten by the numbers
NUMBER ONE POLL RANKINGS - ASSOCIATED PRESS (1936-2006)
1. Notre Dame 89
2. Oklahoma 86
3. Southern California 81
3. Ohio State 81
5. Nebraska 65
6. Miami 62
7. Texas 43
8. Michigan 32
9. Alabama 29
In 1981, the nature of Notre Dame football changed. Gerry Faust, who had built Moeller High School in Cincinnati into the greatest of all prep football powerhouses, was hired. Faust had no previous college coaching experience. A devout Catholic, strict academician and rule-abider, his was most definitely the moral high road. When Faust’s Irish beat Louisiana State in the opener 27-9, Sports Illustrated touted him, perhaps not the “second coming,” but up there with John the Baptist. When the Irish lost at Michigan 25-7 the next week, and in October fell to Marcus Allen and USC 14-7, Irish fans began to look at him the way Herodias, the wife of King Herod’s brother Philip, looked at John the Baptist. It would take five years, but eventually Faust would meet the football version of John the Baptist’s fate and lose his figurative head.
Faust brought in hotshot quarterback Steve Beuerlein from Servite High School in Anaheim, California, but he was no “second coming” of Montana. Faust’s teams were a pedestrian 5-6 (1981), 6-4-1 (1982), 7-5 (1983), 7-5 (1984) and 5-6 (1985). Their gravest sin was a 58-7 loss at the hands of the “criminal element” Miami Hurricanes in 1985, which some fans portended to be a sure sign of the Apocalypse. Lost in the consternation over Faust’s weak record was the fact that, after losing again to Southern California, 17-13 in 1982, he beat the Trojans three straight years (1983-1985), starting Notre Dame on a 13-year unbeaten streak against USC.
Faust was unceremoniously dumped. A man some thought of as his total opposite, Lou Holtz was brought in. Holtz may have been given a bad rap. He, too was a Catholic boy and lifelong Notre Dame fan now fulfilling his dream job, so the image of the mercenary coach being drafted from the pro ranks (his stay with the New York Jets was actually a brief one) is not quite accurate. But if Faust was “letter of the law” straight, Holtz was not. To the extent that somebody – alumni, faculty, the Pope? – gave him “free reign” to restore Notre Dame football luster at all costs has been speculated upon yet not truly deciphered.
What is known is that Holtz did restore Notre Dame football luster. For a couple of years, his teams were as good - as fast, talented and powerful – as any the school has ever had. In Notre Dame’s world, that was not necessarily considered a good thing.
“Notre Dame always fielded country boys from the Midwest,” wrote Bill Dwyre, longtime editor of the Los Angeles Times, and a Notre Dame alum. “ They’d come to the big city and win in underdog fashion.”
The historical memory conjured up the image of out-manned Irish teams rising up like David to strike down such Goliath’s as Army, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, USC, Alabama, and Texas. Somehow, the fact that Notre Dame has more often than not been Goliath has not resonated, at least as far the mythology goes. “Country boys,” in Dywre’s terminology, more often than not meant white kids with Italian, Irish or Polish-sounding names: Bertelli, Szymanski, Dancewicz, Lujack, Siko, Mastrangelo, Connor, Sullivan, O’Connor, Tripucka, Ostrowski, Guglielmi, Varrichione, Pietrosante, Buoniconti, Lamonica, Kelly, Goeddeke, Hanratty, Kuechenberg, Gladieux, McCoy, Patulski, Mahalic, Niehaus, MacAfee, Golic, Montana.
Knute Rockne, the son of Finnish émigrés, had played to the cities and started a tradition of Ellis Island second- and third-generation immigrant kids who sounded like they justhad to have come from Chicago, Boston, the Bronx; the steel mills of Pennsylvania, factory towns in Ohio and Michigan.
A few came from the South. Paul Hornung was a Kentucky boy. An endless aqueduct of California gold had never flowed into South Bend, absent the occasional trickle: John Huarte, Jack Snow, Daryl Lamonica, Steve Beurlein. It was hard to convince a California “blue chipper” that the monastic life of Notre Dame was better than the party scene at USC, where a guy might see more good-looking girls walking from Heritage Hall to Howard Jones Field every day than he would in four years under “touchdown Jesus.”
But Holtz reversed form. He got guys that Miami wanted. He stole kids from USC and UCLA. He used his Ohio connections to out-recruit the Buckeyes. Brought ‘em in from the South. Holtz inherited a new kind of player Faust had managed to land, Tim Brown from Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas. Then he went after the sort of guy one expected to see wearing a Hurricane or Seminole uniform, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail.
Notre Dame, in accord with its Christian principles, had always been open to black players, but its location and “smash mouth” big line reputation had attracted more guys whose names ended with vowels. Holtz recognized that this was part of the past. A new day had arrived.
With the South thoroughly integrated by 1986, the SEC and all teams on that side of the Mason-Dixon Line were scooping up all that African-American talent. It was no longer ticketed for USC and Michigan State, where a Clarence Davis or a Bubba Smith landed in the hands of John McKay and Duffy Daugherty like so much Manna from Heaven.
It was also an age of steroids, new TV contracts, big money, corruption, and recruiting pressures. It was now an era of bowl games that were no longer New Year’s Day festivals but rather enormous paydays for universities otherwise lacking the endowments of Harvard and Yale. Holtz knew it. He knew how to play the game. He had a national reputation, having coached Arkansas to glory. He had NFL imprimatur, the savvy, the contacts. He was like a “rainmaker,” a former Senator or winner of a big televised trial who is hired by a law firm to attract wealthy clients who do not pay attention to how many billable hours they are being charged.
Holtz was there for eleven seasons and won one national championship, yet the Irish missed three, maybe even four others by some very thin margins. As a practice coach, game strategist, referee baiter, press manipulator, recruiter, alumni schmoozer and competitor, he was among the best. He was a winner.
It took two years to weed out Faust’s slow players, figure out a way to make use of his one fast one – Tim Brown – and bring in more speed of his own. They were 5-6 in 1986, then 8-4 in 1987 with 35-10 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. In these two years, however, there were highlights for the ages.
In 1986 the Irish trailed USC 37-20 in the fourth quarter at the Coliseum. The L.A. crowd had mixed emotions. On the one hand, it looked like they would finally beat the Irish after three straight desultory losses. On the other hand, Trojan alums were no happier with coach Ted Tollner than Golden Domers had been with Faust. If Tollner won, then won his bowl game, he would not be fired. Nobody around USC much figured that the program could attain past glories with Tollner.
Elite Ten by the numbers
All-Americans (all services)
1. Notre Dame 176 first team, 76 second team (through 2006)
2. Ohio State 171 first team (through 2005)
3. Southern California 143 first team (through 2006)
4. Oklahoma 141 (through 2005)
5. Michigan 121 first team (through 2005)
6. Texas 118 (through 2005)
7. Nebraska 106 first team (through 2005)
8. Alabama 104; 92 first team, honored 103 (through 2005)
9. Miami 81 (through 2005)
10. Penn State 81 (through 2006)
Tim Brown (252 all purpose yards) gave them, perhaps in a rude manner, what they were “looking for,” leading Notre Dame in a furious 18-point comeback to win, 38-37. Coliseum fans were shocked. Even more shocked were TV viewers. John Carney’s 19-yard game-winning field goal came during a CBS commercial, so all people saw was an Irish celebration and a replay. Tollner (1-7 versus Notre Dame and UCLA, 0-4 against the Irish) was dumped. Brown’s national TV effort against Southern California vaulted him into Heisman contention. In 1987 his spectacular performance won him the award.
1988 was a seminal year in college football, or at least it looked that way most of the season. Notre Dame went to the veer, led by athletic quarterback Tony Rice. It was a new wrinkle at Notre Dame, where traditional drop-back quarterbacks engineered ball control offenses, mixing short passes with a low-risk running game. That was the secret of John Huarte’s, Terry Hanratty’s, Tom Clements’s, and Joe Montana’s success. Joe Theismann had been a little more wide-open. Nobody, however, had ever mistook the Irish offense for the Sooners, the Longhorns, the Razorbacks . . . until now.
DID YOU KNOW . . .THAT SEVENTY NOTRE DAME COACHES/ALUMNI HAVE ALSO BEEN PRO FOOTBALL COACHES (AS OF 2006)?
The opener was a humdinger, with Raghib Ismail announcing his presence with authority in the 19-17 squeaker over Michigan. Early on USC, now coached by Larry Smith, faced adversity but managed to withstand challenges from Stanford and Washington to remain unbeaten. The best team in the country in the beginning appeared to be UCLA, where quarterback Troy Aikman led the Bruins to a startling 41-28 victory over Nebraska.
On October 15, defending national champion Miami arrived at Notre Dame Stadium. The excitement that hung in the air was reminiscent of Crusaders defending Christendom from the Mohammedan hordes in order to earn eternal salvation. The annual game with USC certainly revived in Notre Dame hearts the sense that they represented Midwestern piety against Hollywood worshipping the “golden calf” in the form of Oscar statues, but in reality USC’s reputation as a conservative, patriotic, former Methodist school belied the conundrum of its Beautiful People reputation. But Miami . . . ?!
They called it the “Catholics versus the Convicts.” Only one year earlier, Miami’s Jerome Brown, dressed in full battle fatigues, had orchestrated a walkout of a Fiesta Bowl banquet with Penn State. The Hurricanes were loud and obnoxious. Many had been in trouble with the law, or were seemingly always on the verge of so doing. Their image was of a bunch of guys sleepin’ in until noon, grabbin’ some free grub courtesy of a booster’s credit card, getting in a nice ride provided by a friendly car dealer, then driving to a pro style practice run by coach Jimmy “My Slick Hair Never Moves” Johnson. They were fast, “juiced”, and “hip-hopped” to the nth degree. The rap scene was hitting hard and their guys played the part of “public enemies” and “outlaws.”
While Notre Dame was no longer just a bunch of Polish fellas named Patulski and Szymanski – in truth they probably had as many fast, athletic black players as the Hurricanes - nobody could help making mental note of the racial element that was outlined against a blue-gray October sky, under the watchful eyes of “touchdown Jesus.” To the Notre Dame faithful, it was good versus evil. It was a chance at redemption after the 58-7 drubbing administered by Miami three years earlier, not to mention the 20-0 loss to the Hurricanes in 1983, the 31-13 loss to them in 1984, the 24-0 shutout at their hands the year before . . .
How good was this game? In Notre Dame’s eyes it may have been the sweetest of them all. The best game ever played? Well, weighing all the factors that go into that consideration – a bowl game, for the national title late in the season, a Heisman battle, traditional rivals – perhaps others rank higher. However, for sheer drama, Notre Dame mystique - and the glory of beating an opponent one considers not merely “illegitimate” in that they took it upon themselves to re-write the rules, but were somehow “morally inferior” – well, this was one righteous fall Saturday.
A pre-game shoving match did little to help Notre Dame gain the moral high ground at first. Miami came out with their smoking offense, led by dynamic quarterback Steve Walsh. The teams were explosive in the first half, battling to a 21-21 tie. Many quietly felt relief that the Irish could hold their own, but the sense that Miami was about to turn the thing into a track meet was palpable. Trailing 21-7,Walsh had led two quick scoring drives to tie it. Irish linebacker Frank Stams saved the day, forcing two fumbles while making eight tackles. Slowly but surely Notre Dame began to gain control in the second half. The partisan crowd no doubt affected Miami. Trailing 31-24 the Hurricanes drove within sight of the Irish goal, but Notre Dame linebacker Michael Stonebreaker recovered running back Cleveland Gary’s fumble. It was a controversial call that Jimmy Johnson vociferously argued was an incomplete pass, but what was done was done.
Both teams lost fumbles in their succeeding possessions, setting up a final game-deciding drive by Walsh and Miami. The crowd stood on pins and needles; the prospect of a Miami comeback in their house too horrendous to bear. A blasphemy of some kind. To the horror of the South Bend throng Miami scored on a seven-yard fourth down touchdown pass by Walsh to Andre Brown.
There was no overtime then. Nobody wanted to see a tie. Both teams could lose their national title chances if they tied. Johnson calculated that the upset of a tie would play like a Miami loss with voters. He went for two. Walsh tried for the corner. Bodies collided in the air. In football, there is the perilous sense that a pass interference call can be flagged on virtually any close aerial play. A loose hand, bodies brushing together, a defensive back blocking out the receiver too aggressively. It would have taken courage for the referee to make that call in that stadium at that time. Replays show that it was close, but they also do not reveal that it was pass interference. It was football and the best referees “let ‘em play.” The ball fell harmlessly on the “green plain” while this Miami team was “swept away by the South Bend cyclone,” their 36-game regular season winning streak now a thing of the past.
Oh, may Irish eyes be smiling!
Elite Ten by the numbers
1. Notre Dame 96 (through 2006)
2. Southern California 78 (through 2006)
3. Michigan 73 (through 2005)
4. Ohio State 71 (through 2004)
5. Oklahoma 63 (through 2005)
6. Nebraska 53 (through 2005)
7. Texas 42 (through 2004)
8. Alabama 38 (through 2006)
9. Miami 37 (through 2004)
10. Penn State 34 (through 2004)
With Miami out of the way, UCLA took over as the top-rated team in the nation. A unique triangulation had occurred, with all three teams set for a quasi-play-off in November. It looked like 1988 was a “California year,” a unique sports event that occurs every so often; 1962 and 1972, in particular. In the spring, Stanford had won the College World Series and the Los Angeles Lakers the NBA championship. The Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers won their respective leagues, meeting in an all-California World Series with the Dodgers prevailing in five games. Now UCLA and USC looked to be the class of collegiate football. The struggle for the number one ranking and the Heisman Trophy, between UCLA’s Troy Aikman and USC’s Rodney Peete, was in the offing just as it had been with UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O. J. Simpson when the teams played for a Rose Bowl and national championship eleven years prior.
Then UCLA lost to Timm Rosenbach and Washington State on October 24 to fall to 7-1, but they would still have their shot at unbeaten, number two USC. Notre Dame took over the number one position. Despite their perch, the conventional wisdom held that the explosive Peete, playing in front of a home crowd at the Coliseum, would inspire Troy over the Irish. Surely Notre Dame could not extend their winning streak over USC to six games . . . could they?
The teams played it out without further upset, and on November 19 UCLA hosted their cross-town rivals in front of more than 100,000 fans at the venerable Rose Bowl. The Bruins looked to be the favorite playing as the home team with Aikman considered to be the better quarterback. Their respective professional careers demonstrated that he was, but not on this day. Peete engineered a steady 31-22 win, setting up one of the most ballyhooed regular season epics of all time.
Incredibly, despite all the incredible games played between USC and Notre Dame since 1926, never had the teams met as one-two until now. Accusations that Holtz was a “win at all costs” coach went out the window when he suspended stars Tony Brooks and Ricky Watters for “excessive lateness.” Southern Cal was unable to stop Rice on the option and was dominated in first half play, but was within hailing distance at 14-10 when the teams went into the half.
In the second half, however, cornerback Stan Smagala intercepted Peete. With Frank Stams running crushing interference he returned it sixty-four yards for the touchdown that broke Trojan hearts. Notre Dame, 27-10. Neither Peete nor Aikman won the Heisman Trophy. The great Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State could not be denied in the end.
This set Notre Dame up for an oddly anti-climactic national championship showdown with 11-0 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl. After monumental battles between the Trojans and Bruins; Trojans and Irish, America had become used to traditional rivals playing each other for the highest stakes. It was a “coming out party” for the Mountaineers, who were never thought of as much beyond the basketball school producing Jerry West; at least not until January 2, 1989. Rice was his usual effective self, running to set up the pass, while Stams simply dominated. A boring 23-6 Notre Dame blowout got interesting late when Rice was intercepted but it was never really in doubt, 34-21. Holtz had his national title.
Michigan entered the 1989 campaign with national championship aspirations, which served only to make Notre Dame’s 24-19 victory over the Wolverines on September 11 that much more important. Another season played out with powerhouses angling for the eventual “gunfight at the O-K corral” in the form of top-ranked 11-0 Notre Dame losing to number seven Miami, 27-10 at the Orange Bowl. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Notre Dame. Not only was it defeat at the hands of a hated rival, but it ended (a) their chances at a repeat national championship, (b) their 23-game winning streak, and (c) their 19-week run atop the AP polls (at the time a new record, having eclipsed the old mark of 17 set by USC in 1972-1973).
A 21-6 victory over Colorado in the Orange Bowl game completed the 12-1 season, good for a number two ranking in the AP, third in the UPI. Miami captured their third national championship and thus ended hopes for Notre Dame’s mythical “Team of the Decade” status. In the 1980s, Notre Dame started with a national championship contender; slipped into mediocrity; then vaulted back into the highest echelons of collegiate excellence. Consensus Irish All-Americans included John Scully, Bob Crable, Tim Brown, Frank Stams, and Michael Stonebreaker (1988, 1990). Additional star players were Stacey Toran, who went on to an excellent career with the Los Angeles Raiders; Mark Bavaro, a Super Bowl player with the New York Giants; running back Allen Pinckett; and Steve Beuerlein, a starting quarterback for the Raiders. First round NFL draftees were Crable (New York Jets, 1982), Tony Hunter (Buffalo, 1983), Greg Bell (Buffalo, 1984), Eric Dorsey (New York Giants, 1986), Tim Brown (Los Angeles Raiders, 1988), and Andy Heck (Seattle, 1989). Brown is a surefire Hall of Famer, considered one of the greatest receivers in NFL history with the Raiders.
Elite Ten by the numbers
PRO FOOTBALL PLAYERS (THROUGH 2005)
1. Notre Dame 400
2. Southern California 395
3. Michigan 282
4. Miami 253
1990 turned out to be a season of upsets. Notre Dame, Miami and Florida State were among the powerhouses who fell by the wayside. The Irish certainly were as good as any team in the land, but in the end their chance to “upset the apple cart” against number one Colorado fell one point short, 10-9 in the Orange Bowl. The Buffaloes and Georgia Tech shared the national title while Notre Dame (9-3) finished a disappointing sixth in both polls.
In 1991 Notre Dame was 10-3, ranked thirteenth, but the season ended on a very upbeat note when they beat Florida, 38-29 in the Sugar Bowl. In 1992, a 17-17 tie with Michigan left a bad taste in their mouths, but it was nothing compared to the 33-16 upset administered to them when Bill Walsh’s Stanford Cardinal came to Notre Dame Stadium. At 10-1-1, the Irish finished fourth in the Associated Press after beating Texas A&M, 28-3 in the Cotton Bowl. 1993 turned out to be one of the moist exciting, crazy, “close but no cigar” years in college football history.
Defending national champion Alabama, Florida State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, plus on-probation Auburn, all battled each other at various points in the season. Even though both Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles and Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers were juggernauts - two of the best teams in respective school history – the Irish looked to have made it through one of the most Darwinian “survivals of the fittest” seasons ever.
The 1988 USC-Notre Dame game in Los Angeles was huge, but the 1993 Notre Dame-Florida State battle in South Bend was as they say, “off the hook.” This time, action on the field lived up to the pre-game hype. ESPN was big by then, with a GameDay presence fueling the intense enthusiasm engulfing Notre Dame Stadium on November 13, 1993.
Amazingly, the Irish had never knocked off a top-ranked opponent at home. Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Charlie Ward threw a touchdown pass to Kevin Knox, putting number one Florida State in front by 7-0. Notre Dame roared back to take a 21-7 lead. Florida State seemed to lose focus, and trailed by 24-7 and 31-17. With 2:26 left the Seminoles scored on a fourth-and-goal pass by Ward to Kevin McCorvey from twenty yards out. It barely slipped through Irish defender Brian Magee’s hands.
Just like the 1988 Miami game, Notre Dame needed to hang on against a determined foe. A partially blocked punt gave Ward one last shot, but Shawn Wooden knocked down his last-gasp pass to give Notre Dame the 31-24 triumph, one of the biggest in their hallowed history. But it did not seem to settle much. There was immediate talk of a Notre Dame-Florida State bowl re-match, which left unbeaten Nebraska and West Virginia wondering where they fit into the picture. Notre Dame was in the driver’s seat any way you cut it . . . for a week.
Number seventeen Boston College came to town. Few if any games have seesawed in such wild fashion. Irish fans were exhausted by the previous week’s football version of Anzio or Bastogne. BC, the little Catholic school, hardly seemed much of a concern. For years, Notre Dame had not played other Catholic colleges. This disturbed some who felt had they played the likes of the University of San Francisco, the University of Santa Clara, Loyola, St. Mary’s and other small but once-strong Catholic schools, those programs would have survived instead of withering on the vine . . . thus leaving Notre Dame as the only real major college choice for Catholic players. That is, except for BC, who had stuck it out and were looking to get at the Irish for their perceived slights of the Catholic brethren, not to mention a 54-7 shellacking at the hands of Notre Dame in 1992. That game seemed to have validated the “no Catholics” policy.
The Eagles jumped out to a 28-14 lead. Quarterback Glenn Foley appeared to have iced the upset win with a touchdown pass to Pete Mitchell, making it 38-17. But Notre Dame forged a comeback for the ages. A quick scoring drive was followed by a turnover and another touchdown. It was 38-32 BC, with four minutes remaining. Notre Dame held, setting up a brilliant, tumbling fourth down catch from four yards out by Lake Dawson from quarterback Kevin McDougal with a mere 1:09 to play. The scene was utter bedlam as only Notre Dame Stadium can get.
Notre Dame kicked off. BC got the ball with fifteen extra yards tacked on by virtue of a personal foul against Notre Dame. Foley then threw two passes to Mitchell and a screen to Ivan Boyd. Racing upfield against the notorious “prevent defense” (which as every fan has joked seems good only in “preventing victory”), the Eagles were at the Irish 24. A dropped interception, however, was what killed Notre Dame, giving BC one last shot via a 41-yard field goal by David Gordon which was straight and true. 41-39, Boston College. Few teams – perhaps only USC, Michigan on occasion, but not many others – had ever reversed the tables on Notre Dame in this manner. Miracles were the province of the Irish, but “touchdown Jesus” smiled on Gordon and his Catholic-school teammates that memorable November night.
Notre Dame’s invite to the Cotton Bowl, which by this time was held in a crummy, dilapidated stadium in a game with little of the old prestige, was a big anti-climax, even with an exciting 24-21 win over Texas A&M. They finished number three in the final rankings.
That night, Florida State beat unbeaten Nebraska, 18-16 to give Bobby Bowden his first national championship. It was quite a lackluster defensive struggle. Notre Dame was forced to watch it feeling that they were better than both of the teams playing.
Irish fans leaving the Cotton Bowl after the win over Texas A&M were happy, as all college football fans are when their team wins a big bowl game, regardless of residual disappointment over having fallen short of the ultimate prize. They still had a great team that dominated the field of play; a genius-level coach bringing in a plethora of national “blue chippers”; and expectations that they would continue to play “Notre Dame football” as God intended it for years to come. That proverbial <ED: CAP> “Top <ED: 25> 25 poll of the twenty-first century” would have placed the Irish firmly at the very top. Their longtime rivals, Southern Cal, were floundering amid hope that there was still enough of the Picture of Dorian Grayhanging on the Heritage Hall wall to keep them in the top five. Notre Dame had kept up with the Jones’s, or at least the Miami’s, Florida State’s and Nebraska’s. Alabama had fallen but picked themselves back up. Penn State was still a contender for the throne. USC was almost embarrassed to still call themselves Notre Dame’s “rival.” Their performance against their other main competitor, UCLA, was no better.
Thus is the nature of hubris and sports. The win over the Aggies turned out to be Notre Dame’s last bowl victory. An NCAA record nine consecutive bowl losses followed. This included losing to:
· Colorado, 41-24 (1995 Fiesta Bowl)
· Florida State, 31-26 (1996 Orange Bowl)
· Louisiana State, 27-9 (1997 Independence Bowl)
· Georgia Tech, 35-28 (1999 Gator Bowl)
· Oregon State, 41-9 (2001 Fiesta Bowl)
· North Carolina State, 28-6 (2003 Gator Bowl)
· Oregon State, 38-21 (2004 Insight Bowl)
· Ohio State, 34-20 (2006 Fiesta Bowl)
· Louisiana State, 41-14 (2007 Sugar Bowl)
Just as disturbing as the defeats is the fact that after the 1996, 1999, 2001, and 2003 seasons, Notre Dame did not even play in one. In 1994, USC ended the 11-game winning streak with a 17-17 tie. In 1995, the Irish beat a good 6-0 Trojan team 38-10, but the unbeaten skein finally came to an end in the form of a 27-20 loss to John Robinson’s Trojans in the 1996 game at the Coliseum.
Don Yaeger’s 1993 bombshell book, Under the Tarnished Dome, purported to tell “how Notre Dame betrayed its ideals for football glory.” After its publication, Notre Dame cut back on the recruiting tactics Holtz had used to assemble his great champions of the 1980s and early 1990s. It had produced 1990s All-Americans like Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, Chris Zorich (Lombardi winner, 1990), Todd Lyght, Mirko Jurkovic, Aaron Taylor (Lombardi winner, 1993), Jeff Burris and Bobby Taylor.
Notre Dame’s College Hall of Famers (48)
Jerry Groom 1948-1950
Adam Walsh 1922-1924
Tommy Yarr 1929-1931
Hunk Anderson 1918-1921
Jack Cannon 1927-1929
Bill Fischer 1945-1948
Frank Hoffmann 1930-1931
Bert Metzger 1928-1930
John Smith 1925-1927
George Connor 1942-1947
Ziggy Czarobski 1942-1947
Jim Martin 1946-1949
Edgar Miller 1922-1924
Fred Miller 1926-1928
Bob Dove 1940-1942
Leon Hart 1946-1949
Jim Martin 1946-1949
Wayne Millner 1933-1935
Ross Browner 1973-1977
Alan Page 1964-1966
Ken MacAfee 1974-1977
Angelo Bertelli 1941-1943
Frank Carideo 1928-1930
Ralph Guglielmi 1951-1954
Paul Hornung 1954-1956
John Huarte 1962-1964
Johnny Lujack 1943-1947
Harry Stuhldreher 1922-1924
Joe Theismann 1968-1970
Bob Williams 1948-1950
James Crowley 1922-1924
George Gipp 1917-1920
Johnny Lattner 1951-1953
Creighton Miller 1941-1943
Don Miller 1922-1924
Marchy Schwartz 1929-1931
William Shakespeare 1933-1935
Red Sitko 1946-1949
Ray Eichenlaub 1911-1914
Elmer Layden 1922-1924
Louis Salmon 1900-1903
Jim Lynch 1964-1966
Chris Zorich 1987-1990
Dan Devine 1975-1980
Jesse Harper 1906-1917
Frank Leahy 1939-1953
Ara Parseghian 1964-1974
Knute Rockne 1918-1930
The pros had come a-callin, too: Lyght (first round to the Rams, 1991), Ricky Watters (San Francisco, 1991), Zorich (Bears, 1991), Ismail (Raiders, 1991), Stonebreaker (Eagles, 1991), Derek Brown (first round to the Giants, 1992), quarterback Rick Mirer (first round to the Seahawks, 1993), Jerome Bettis (first round to the Rams, 1993), Tom Carter (first round to the Redskins, 1993), Irv Carter (first round to the Saints, 1993), Demetrius DuBose (Buccaneers, 1993), Bryant Young (first round to the 49ers, 1994), Aaron Taylor (first round to the Packers, 1994), and Jeff Burris (first round, Bills, 1994). Watters and Young starred with the 49ers. Bettis helped Pittsburgh win the 2006 Super Bowl. Taylor had an outstanding career on great Green Bay Packers teams before embarking on a television sportscasting career.
But after the 1993 season, there was a sharp decline. No Irish player would earn a consensus All-American selection in the remaining years of the 1990s. The pipeline of first round picks dried up with the exception of Renaldo Wynn to Jacksonville (1997) and Luke Petigout to the New York Giants (1999).
It would not be entirely accurate to blame the demise of Notre Dame between 1994 and 2004 (or the present day, depending upon their standards) on the conscious decision not to recruit a certain “type” of player who might not have lived up to their longheld academic traditions, or been a little more of an off-field problem than was deemed acceptable in South Bend (although quite normal in Miami, Norman and other places).
In 1994 a new quarterback came on the scene, and he was “cursed.” Ron Powlus was the most heralded prep quarterback in the nation, a player who entered college with as many accolades as Todd Marinovich had arrived at USC with in 1988. But the “curse” of Powlus came in the form of longtime college football analyst and notoriously biased Notre Dame fan Beano Cook. He breathlessly informed America that young Mr. Powlus would “win two or three Heismans.”
All-Time Notre Dame Team
Selected by Blue and Gold magazine
LG Hunk Anderson
G Bill Fischer
T George Connor
T Jim Martin
C Adam Walsh
TE Dave Casper
FL Raghib Ismail
QB Joe Montana
TB George Gipp
FB J Jerome Bettis
PK John Carney
UT Paul Hornung
DE Leon Hart
DE Ross Browner
DT Alan Page
DT Chris Zorich
LB Jim Lynch
LB Bob Golic
LB Bob Crable
DB Luther Bradley
DB Johnny Lattner
DB Todd Lyght
DB Johnny Lujack
P Craig Hentrich
Charles White, who had bragged the same thing about himself when he entered USC in 1976, could have told Powlus how tough such an accomplishment was, not to mention living up to the prediction even if it had been not by him but on his “behalf.” White had one of the greatest college careers in history, setting numerous records, yet came away with “only” one himself.
Powlus started four straight years. Notre Dame was 6-5-1 (1994), 9-3 (1995), 8-3 (1996) and 7-6 (1997). He was not terrible; he led the team in passing every season, but won no Heismans, not to mention no bowl games and, in his last two years, no games against USC, or Michigan, or Stanford. Hawaii fell, 23-22 in Honolulu, if there was any consolation to be had.
All reports were that Powlus was a fine young man and credit to the University of Notre Dame, but he was never even drafted. His name appears on the roster of the 2000-2001 Philadelphia Eagles, yet his contribution to their cause was nil. Unlike Marinovich, Powlus never embarrassed anybody, but his case points out the great mystery of sports; the fallibility of scouting; and the deadly, hyper-competitive nature of greatness. Many are called, few are chosen. When observing the Joe Montanas, Paul Hornungs, and Alan Pages, consider the Ron Powlus’s and so many others like him. Fans need to understand that in Montana, Hornung, Page and their like, one is in the presence of greatness rarer than the most exquisite piece of art or fine diamonds.
Elite Ten by the numbers
All-Star Games (Hula Bowl, East-West Shrine, Senior Bowl, College All-Star, Japan Bowl, Coaches All-America, Blue-Gray, et al) (through 2006)
1. Notre Dame: College All-Star (163; 2 MVPs, 6 coaches), Blue-Gray (42), Japan (41),
Gridiron Classic (13), Hula (76; 1 coach), East-West Shrine (118; 4 MVPs), Senior (51; 1 MVP): Total: 504
2. Southern California: Hula (130), East-West Shrine (102), Senior (54), College All-Star
(72), Japan (40), Coaches All-America (26); Total: 452
3. Ohio State: Hula (77), East-West Shrine (111), Senior (57), Blue-Gray (39), Rotary (15):
Between 1997 and 2004, Notre Dame’s coaches were Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham. The 1998 squad entered the USC game 9-1, but losses to the Trojans and to Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl ended that season with a thud. Similarly, the 2000 team had the shine of a 9-2 record going into the Fiesta Bowl. When Oregon State made the game look like a track meet in a 41-9 drubbing, it seemed they would have been better off not going at all. Willingham’s first team (2002) also started 10-1, but were lambasted by Southern Cal (44-13) and North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl (28-6).
Charlie Weis came in 2005 with a tremendous reputation built as the offensive coordinator of the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. A former Notre Dame student (but not a player), he represented a unique combination of pro savvy and school loyalty. In his first year, the Irish came this close to beating USC at home. In the end, however, the Trojans’ 34-31 victory over Notre Dame turned out to be one of the greatest moments in the history of Southern California.
Notre Dame was never a team to consider close losses “moral victories,” and neither did Weis when asked if he would characterize the last-second defeat in such a manner. His practical NFL side was plain to see as he said that a loss was a loss; not a “moral victory.”
Like Davie’s 1998 team and Willingham’s 2002 squad, however, the 2005 Irish ended their season in ignominy with a resounding 34-20 loss to Troy Smith and Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Beano Cook and many pundits predicted a national championship for Notre Dame along with a Heisman Trophy for senior quarterback Brady Quinn in 2006. It was a year of incredible comebacks, and indeed Quinn may have been the nation’s best player. But Michigan destroyed them in South Bend and USC destroyed them in Los Angeles,. LSU also destroyed them in the Sugar Bowl. Their 10-3 record and number seventeen finish in the AP poll (nineteenth in the USA Today/BCS) demonstrated that a good record in late November followed by consecutive crushing losses when the games count is little more than a bluff; a façade; a “Potempkin Village” hiding the shaky reality beyond first glance. Quinn was completely out-played by LSU’s JaMarcus Russell in the Sugar Bowl. Russell was the first pick of the 2007 draft; Quinn number twenty-two (Cleveland).
If these mediocrity’s did not occur while Pete Carroll and Southern California were simultaneously imitating, if not threatening to altogether create a better record than Knute Rockne’s Irish (1920s); Frank Leahy’s Irish (1940s); Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners (1950s); John McKay’s Trojans (1960s); and Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide (1970s); then Notre Dame would still have enough polish to hold them off. Their tradition would still be the number one all-time collegiate football dynasty.
Carroll and the Trojans, however, have simply been too dazzling. They have caught them or passed them in too many historical statistics. Their modern record is too great in comparison with the “leather helmet” mystique of the Irish. The Trojans have passed the Irish.
This said, the Irish can take solace. First, USC has been there before, namely in the early 1980s, but like the 101st Airborne Division defending Bastogne, Notre Dame fought them off. The history of Notre Dame football is one in which the program has achieved enormous success with occasional down periods. This describes every collegiate tradition. No program goes forever without slipping up. USC has had their fair share of failures, as has Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, and Penn State. Many schools were hardly even on the college football map for decades while Notre Dame was defining what the game meant to America.
There is a cyclical nature to success in college sports. The right coach must combine with the right recruiting classes. Luck and geography play a part in it. Notre Dame has advantages and disadvantages. They must get players who meet high academic standards; who often must be willing to attend school far from home, in a small town with cold weather and little nightlife. The average 18-year old is tempted by Hollywood (USC), South Beach (Miami) or coeds who look like Playboy Playmates (LSU). All of these realities are more enticing at first glance than the pious opportunity to serve Christ at Notre Dame. However, for this very reason, the players Notre Dame does get tend to have moral fiber, and when that is combined with athletic greatness, they represent high ideals, making them “America’s team.”
The title “college football’s all-time greatest tradition” is a fluid, Democratic concept. Like elections, it changes. It is not written in stone. Over the next years and decades, Notre Dame will come back. They will compete for the title with USC, Alabama, Oklahoma and the other storied programs that make college football the best game that there is! Yes, their fans will again “hallow their name.”
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism