With that in mind, we go Through the Past Darkly in this week's edition of the IBG.
1. In the parlance of DJs, a "deep cut" is a song that wasn't released as a single and, generally, is not well-known. What Notre Dame victory is your favorite "deep cut" from the Irish catalog? In other words, what is your favorite victory that is not widely celebrated (i.e., not the "Snow Bowl" or the 1988 Miami game, etc.). Explain in much detail.
There are quite a few games that fit this description for me. For whatever reason, I just have fond memories of a bunch of Irish wins that, though inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, brought me a lot of joy when they happened. Amazingly enough, my choice was actually a Bob Davie-coached gem from his second season (seriously). Notre Dame began 1998 ranked #22 after going 7-6 with a loss to LSU in the Independence Bowl in 1997. After starting the season with stunning home win over defending national champion, Michigan, the Irish rolled to an 8-1 start. For their 10th game, Notre Dame took on a dangerous LSU team. Though they were just 4-5, they had begun the season #9 in the country and had lost four games by a total of 16 points.
This game was tremendous right from the outset. Less than two minutes into the game, LSU jumped on the board first after a Jarious Jackson pass was returned 53 yards for a touchdown. Notre Dame responded just three minutes later with a 22-yard David Givens TD run. After the two teams exchanged 2nd quarter TDs, LSU ended up going into halftime with a 21-14 lead on an 88-yard kickoff return for TD by Kevin Faulk. In spite of scoring quickly in the second half, Notre Dame still trailed after Jim Sanson missed the extra point attempt. LSU added two more TDS to take a, seemingly, comfortable 34-20 lead with 8:04 left in the 3rd. What happened next was remarkable. A Jarious Jackson TD pass to Malcolm Johnson and an 89-yard interception return for TD by Bobbie Howard brought ND to within one as Sanson missed another extra point (this time it was blocked). After the majority of the fourth quarter had gone by in a stalemate, with a minute and a half left, Notre Dame finally took the lead for the first time all game when Jackson hit Raki Nelson with a 10-yard TD pass to make the score 39-34, Irish. LSU then moved the ball to the Irish 31-yard line where, on 4th down, rather than attempt a long field goal, went for it and failed on an incomplete pass, turning the ball over on downs. If it had ended there, it would have been a great game, but not a Bob Davie game. No, instead, after a series of penalties and negative yardage plays, ND ended up with the ball on their own 10-yard line with under a minute to go. On 4th down, rather than risk a punt being blocked in the endzone, Bob Davie called for Jarious Jackson to take a safety. He did. Of course, he also tore his MCL after being tackled in the endzone and would miss the remainder of the season (two Irish losses, incidentally). After the kick, LSU had one last shot, but a desperation heave from Notre Dame's 47-yard line with no time remaining was knocked down. This was an absolutely great game. Plenty of big plays, excitement and down-to-the-wire thrills. I suspect that, had Jackson not been injured and Notre Dame won its final game against USC and then bowl game, this win might be remembered more fondly. Instead, it's now a "deep cut" that only grizzled old ND fans like me remember.
A classic Notre Dame win coached by Bob Davie? Hey, I was shocked, too.
2. As much fun as it is rooting for our heroes, it can be just as enjoyable to trash those we consider to be villains. A few years ago, the great Irish blog, Blue Gray Sky, wrote a post discussing the biggest villains in Notre Dame history. That post focused on external villains. Today's question is, of those associated with the program, who is the biggest villain? This individual must have been a player, coach or administrator at ND who, through reckless acts of cowardice, stupidity or malice, damaged the football program. (Note: Ty Willingham is off the board)
Let's all play junior detective for a moment, shall we? Since 2000, Notre Dame has:
- Extended the contract of a coach only to fire him the next season,
- Hired his replacement, only to discover he hadn't been properly vetted, leading to his scandal-plagued resignation five days later.
- Followed this up by hiring a man who, by all objective standards, was the worst head football coach in the history of the program.
What do all these things have in common? If you said, "Kevin White", give yourself a nice pat on the back. Hiring Willingham alone would be grounds for White to be branded a villain; but when you consider his other monumentally stupid moves as AD, he achieves a level of super-villainy unmatched by anyone not named "Dr. Evil." To be sure, the Notre Dame football program had seen its share of difficulties since Lou Holtz left in 1996, but the degree to which it's fallen over the last eight seasons is appalling. For all the apologists who might argue that, "over that time, they've gone to three BCS bowl games", I would counter the following - they've won none of them, been blown out in two and interspersed those seasons with three losing seasons, one .500 season and just one other winning season. In addition, there have been the aforementioned coaching moves. I'm also being charitable in not including the hiring of Charlie Weis in here. It's probably still too soon to render a judgment on that decision but, as of this writing, it's looking fairly consistent with White's history. With any luck, Notre Dame will someday break out of this decade-long malaise but, if somehow they don't, if the Notre Dame program that has been college football's gold standard for decades never again rises to its former heights, you can thank Dr. Kevin White for delivering the fatal blows.
Having already decimated Notre Dame football , Kevin White sets his sights on the Duke basketball program.
3. Falling in love is a wonderful thing. As Lt. Frank Drebin once observed, "you begin to notice things you never knew were there before; birds sing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stop signs." Describe the moment that you knew that there would be no other; you were in love with Notre Dame.
For me, this can literally be traced back to a very specific point in time. November 21, 1987, 31 seconds remaining in the Notre Dame/Penn State game. It was, at that moment, as Tony Rice was being tackled short of the endzone on two-point conversion attempt that I knew I had fallen under the spell of Notre Dame. I had begun watching Irish games with my father the season before and, while I rooted for them, I didn't have a strong emotional investment. Then, as Rice hit the turf, and the realization that Notre Dame would lose suddenly hit home, I felt a twinge. It was an odd combination of despondency and anger that I had never experienced before (thanks to the last ten years of Notre Dame football, I now refer to this feeling as "Saturday"). It was actually a pretty awful, pit-of-your-stomach feeling and, for the life of me, I couldn't shake it. I actually cared about this team and this program.
Twenty-one years and 240 or so games later, I care more than ever. For twelve Saturdays each fall (and, God willing, one bowl game), the fortunes of Notre Dame football thrill me, sadden me, anger me and, yes, even amuse me. I have now watched several generations of young men pass through this amazing program. I've watched them develop into superstars and I've watched them fade into obscurity. I've watched incredible victories, depressing losses and all variety of contest in between. In that time, I've seen a lot of things concerning Notre Dame football and I wouldn't trade a second.
4. Regrets, we've had a few but, then again, too few to ever let go of any of them. What game, or specific play, in Irish history turns your dreams into nightmares and haunts your every waking moment? Describe this moment and why you wish ND could have another crack at it?
Having now said that I wouldn't trade a second of my time as a Notre Dame fan, there is one moment that I would love to have back again. Predictably, the moment came in the ultimate "what if?" game for Irish fans - the 1993 game against BC. Moments before Boston College would line up to kick the game-winning field goal, ND linebacker Pete Bercich had a Glenn Foley pass, that was intended for tight end Pete Mitchell, in his grasp and dropped it. If Bercich hangs on, ND wins and goes to the national championship game. Sadly, that's not the way it went. Bercich, who was an exceptional linebacker, just couldn't hang on and, ultimately, neither could ND. This is one of those plays that, as a fan, you play over in your mind ad nauseum. Would the Irish have been national champions that year? Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, it would have denied BC a win that is second only to Flutie's Hail Mary in their program's history. That alone would have been worth it.
If it's alright with you, I think we'll be doing the one where Bercich drops the pick against BC again, ok?
5. With 79 consensus All-Americans and 48 inductees in the College Football Hall of Fame, it is clear that there have been many great players in the history of Notre Dame football. What was the greatest single season from a player that you ever witnessed during your Irish fandom? Be specific. Use adjectives.
No question about it; Reggie Brooks in 1992. His senior season, Brooks rushed for 1,343 yards on 167 carries (an astounding 8 ypc!!!) and 13 tds. He also managed to grab the game-winning two-point conversion pass in the famed "Snow Bowl" against Penn State. No statistic, though, could do justice to actually watching Brooks run. In my lifetime, the three best college running backs I've ever seen are Barry Sanders, Reggie Brooks and Reggie Bush. In that order. And yes, I'm basing my assessment of Brooks on one season but, if you didn't see it, you can't appreciate how totally dominating and jaw-dropping it really was. Keep in mind, too, Brooks was sharing a backfield that season with future NFL Hall-of-Famer, Jerome Bettis. Let that sink in for a second
So what made Reggie Brooks so good? He was an absolute artist. Using a combination of speed, strength and balance; Brooks could juke, cut and bounce off tackles at will. If you really want to get a flavor for how amazing Reggie Brooks was in 1992, go to YouTube and watch his touchdown run against Michigan and his highlights from the USC game (where he ran for 227 yards). You will not be disappointed.