Apologies for the delay in the latest installment of painful moments. I know most of you have been waiting breathlessly over the last few weeks. The break was due to my wedding and honeymoon, not to brag.
Now, back to the list.
2008: Pitt 36, Notre Dame 33 (4 OT)
When Notre Dame fans think of some of the most painful losses over the last two decades, this game may not immediately come to mind, but it might have been the most frustrated I have ever been after a Notre Dame loss.
This game, along with the aforementioned North Carolina loss, was an opportunity for the Irish to make 2008 a stabilizing 8-4/9-3 year after the carnage that was 2007. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the Tar Heels and Panthers landed the Irish in the Hawaii Bowl as opposed to a New Year’s Day bowl.
What made this game so frustrating was the Irish were in complete control into the third quarter. Leading 17-3, the ND had seemingly forced Pitt into a punting situation on the Panthers’ first possession of the second half and looked prime to keep their momentum going.
Away from the play, however, Harrison Smith (playing linebacker at the time, which is a subject for another day) was called for a personal foul, which gave Pitt a first down and changed the entire game. Pitt would score a touchdown on the extended drive and eventually forced overtime with a touchdown on a 4th & 6 with two minutes remaining. I don’t think the defense during the Weis era every stopped an opponent on a critical fourth down.
The overtime that ensued became a field goal fest that saw each team match field goals in the first three overtimes before Irish kicker Brandon Walker pushed his 39-yard attempt in the fourth OT and the Panthers converted theirs for the win.
This is another example of the Irish clearly being the superior team, but unable to put teams away and losing tight contests.
I prefer the 2012 Pitt overtime game.
2016: Duke 38, Notre Dame 35
The extent of Notre Dame’s shortcomings, and especially their defensive shortcomings, came into full light against the Blue Devils. After driving down the field with little resistance from the Duke defense on their first two drives, the Irish built a 14-0 lead and looked well on their way to an easy victory.
The turning point of the game came when Duke returned the kickoff after ND’s second touchdown to cut the lead in half – that gave the Blue Devils the spark and belief they needed.
From that point, the Irish were in a dog fight, which they didn’t have the mental toughness nor defense to win. Duke and ND traded punches for most of the second half, but the Irish defense had no answers vs. Duke’s second-string quarterback. The Blue Devils drove down the field and converted a short field goal to give them a three-point lead, while the Irish offense stalled in the final minutes to give Duke the win.
This loss clued Irish fans into what kind of season they were in store for.
David Cutcliffe has turned the Blue Devils into a laughing stock into a program that consistently finishes in the top half of the ACC.
Dukes ascent as a quality football program makes this loss a little less embarrassing than it might seem on paper, but the Irish still came into the contest as three touchdown favorites and even the 2007 team managed to beat Duke.
2006: Michigan 47, Notre Dame 21
The 2006 season was supposed to build upon Weis’ first season in 2005. Instead, 2006 felt like more of a regression.
The Irish began the season ranked #2 in the preseason polls and there two games leading into the Michigan game left some question marks.
ND began the 2006 campaign with a road game at Georgia Tech and that was the first sign of trouble. The offense failed to click like it had in 2005 and Irish struggled throughout the game. Surprisingly, it was the defense that kept Calvin Johnson and Reggie Ball at bay en route to a 14-10 road victory.
ND’s second game saw the Irish destroy a ranked Penn State team at home. This was what Irish fans expected throughout 2006 and ND had another opportunity to prove they were national title contenders the following week when the hosted Michigan.
The only thing the Irish proved, however, was that they didn’t belong on the same field as the Wolverines.
Brady Quinn threw a pick-six in the first minute of the game and the onslaught was on. Quinn took a beating throughout the game, which was characterized by a slew of Irish turnovers and missed defensive assignments.
Michigan climbed to a 34-7 halftime lead and the Irish never mounted a comeback in the second half. It was complete and utter domination – the first such loss of the Weis era.
The loss was also inexplicable from an Irish fans’ perspective, especially off of such an impressive performance the previous week vs. Penn State. (ND’s first two games of 2006 were at Georgia Tech and home vs. Penn State, while Michigan began with home games against Vanderbilt and Central Michigan).
ND fans realized that this was different than the 2005 team and there would be no National Championship run in 2006.
2013: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
(Not posting the highlights because this is a family organization)
Now, some Notre Dame fans would have this higher on the list. No questions it was one of the most demoralizing losses, but the fact that it was in the National Championship game lessens the blow if only slightly.
After some of the games higher on this list, a National Championship appearance seemed all but impossible.
I don’t think I need to summarize the game as every ND fan has it seared into their memory. After such a memorable run in 2012 the one-sided result is the most inexplicable aspect.
Did ND’s lack of depth hurt their preparation? Was the layoff too long? How would have the game looked if it was played a week after the regular season ended? How did ND’s defense, full of future NFL starters, get taken behind the woodshed that badly? Was Manti Teo’s girlfriend situation a factor? Or was Alabama simply that superior?
All of these questions have been bantered between ND fans for most of the last five years, but there are still no clear answers.
After defeating Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Oklahoma, and USC during the regular season, the Irish seemed as though they were finally able to compete with the nation’s elite on a consistent basis.
For as dominant as Alabama appeared, their spot in the game was the result of some extremely good fortune (i.e. the Tide’s miraculous win at LSU and their escape vs. Georgia in the SEC Championship Game).
This is a bit of a tangent, but after beating USC and with our opponent still to be determined, many of my friends were rooting to face Alabama because of the prestige that would go into such a matchup. I understood that line of thinking, but as a Philadelphia Phillies fan, winning the World Series vs. the Rays felt a whole lot better than losing it to the Yankees.
Why couldn’t we have just played Kansas State?
2000: Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 21
I have said it a million times, but considering the offensive limitations of the 2000 squad, it is amazing how close they came to playing for a National Championship. They were essentially two plays away from facing off against the fabled 2000 Miami team (that hypothetical game would have made Alabama 2012 look like a nail-biter).
We will get to the Nebraska game later in this list, but the second heartbreak of the 2000 season came in East Lansing.
After quarterback Arnez Battle went down with a broken wrist against Nebraska in the second week of the season, the Irish were pressed into piecing the quarterback position together. It worked it a last-second victory vs. Purdue at home, but at Michigan State was a different ballgame.
Bob Davie went to former tight end Gary Godsey to command the offense. The results were not great to put it nicely (4/15 for 20 yards). In fact, the Spartans out-gained the Irish 348-212 and more than doubled ND’s first down total. However, behind the strong running of Julius Jones and the opportunistic defense, the Irish were ahead 21-20 in the closing minutes.
ND forced Michigan State into a 4th & 10 on their final drive and were one play from knocking off the #16 Spartans and then this happened.
One of the few breakdowns the defense would have all year and it came at the worst possible time.
This game was prototypical of Michigan State in the early to mid-2000s. They would peak and play amazing against the Irish to create some national buzz, only to fall on their face for the remainder of the season.
The Spartans backed up their win over the Irish with a 20-point home loss to Northwestern. Michigan State would go on to lose six of their final eight games to finish the season 5-6.
We are halfway through. Unfortunately, it is going to get worse before it gets better.