As college football hype and highlight videos take up much of my free time, that means college football season is getting closer. In fact, Notre Dame’s matchup with Temple is 49 days from today.
As the season approaches, we are going to document the top 20 best and worst moments of our Notre Dame fandom.
I’ve lived and died with Notre Dame athletics since 2000. As I compiled the respective lists, I came to the realization that I have died far more than I have lived.
We will start with the first installment of my worst moments of my ND fandom and then transition to the best of moments as we get closer to the season.
The Irish have lost in seemingly every way imaginable in the last 17 years. How do you value the painfulness of getting crushed by a good team compared to a choke vs. BC compared with outright heartbreakers?
Not easy, but feel free to contest any of these on the list.
The night is darkest right before the dawn, right?
First, here a few games that were left on the cutting room floor.
2008: North Carolina 29, Notre Dame 24
After the calamity of the 2007 season, the Irish began their redemption tour in 2008 and started out strong. Notre Dame was 4-1 heading to their first-ever visit to Chapel Hill. After a first half that saw the Irish offense clicking on all cylinders (the 17-9 Irish lead should have been bigger). Jimmy Clausen threw a pick-six on his first pass attempt of the second half. That play infused life into the stadium and established that ND was in for a fight in the second half.
The Irish could not stop the UNC offense in the second half and were ultimately undone by a Michael Floyd fumble when the Irish were driving for a game-winning touchdown.
The Tar Heels won and, despite being ranked No. 22, rushed the field after beating the unranked Irish.
The loss was painful, but what it signified was worse. It showed that despite having as talented of an offense as anyone in the country (its mind-boggling that a Calusen, Rudolph, Floyd, Tate led offense could finish 7-6), the Irish did not have the killer instinct to put teams away.
A win over UNC would have gotten the Irish 5-1 heading into the bye week and assured of a spot in the top-25. Instead, this collapse was a forerunner for what was to come for the remainder of the Weis era.
(Note this win was later vacated by UNC, shocker).
2011: USC 31, Notre Dame 17
The first home night game in nearly 25 years was another home disappointment for the Irish. After bouncing back from a pair of losses to open the season (USF and Michigan, more on those games later) and a favorable schedule ahead to close the season, the USC game was a chance for ND to salvage a season that had begun with high expectations.
Instead, the Irish fell behind 17-0, but battled back and were on the one-yard line with a chance to tie with a touchdown in the third quarter.
However, Dayne Crist, in for an injured Tommy Rees, fumbled the snap and USC returned the fumble 99 yards and took all of the air out of the stadium.
Note: After that game, I was 100% confident that Matt Barkley was going to be a No. 1 pick and a great NFL quarterback.
Ok, now for the official list.
2003: Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0
All of the optimism that emanated from Ty Willingham’s first season as Notre Dame was lost after this defeat to Michigan. Following a Gator Bowl appearance in Willingham’s first season, the Irish opened the 2003 campaign with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Washington State.
ND then travelled to Michigan and got absolutely trounced by the Wolverines. Despite ND forcing a fumble on Michigan’s first possession, the game was never close and marked the beginning of the end of Carlyle Holiday’s tenure at quarterback.
This was the type of game ND fans thought they had ridded themselves of was Bob Davie left town. As we will see numerous times in this list, that was far from true.
2001 Fiesta Bowl: Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9
Considering how badly the Irish were beaten by the Beavers, it is amazing to think how close they came to an undefeated season and a spot in the National Championship Game in 2000.
The Irish finished the regular season 9-2. ND lost to No. 1 Nebraska in overtime in the second game of the season and lost to Michigan State when the Spartans converted a 4th & 15 for a touchdown in the closing minutes (more to come on those games later in the list).
This game was not that close.
Dennis Erickson had taken what he had learned from the crooks at Miami and implemented it in Corvalis. Oregon State boasted future pro stars Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the Beavers proved to me far too athletic for the Irish.
Freshman Matt LoVecchio’s storybook freshman year came to a screeching halt and just as the 2003 Michigan game marked the beginning of the end for Holiday, this was the case for LoVecchio, who eventually concluded his collegiate career at Indiana.
This falls under the category of demoralizing losses. They aren’t necessarily heartbreaking, but every time the Irish seem to have a chance to prove they can compete with the speed and athleticism of the best teams in the country, they fall woefully short.
Personal Note: I watched this game with my grandfather and he uttered some language I had not know existed prior to this game.
2004: Boston College 24, Notre Dame 23
This, like the UNC contest above, was a critical loss in the scheme of the 2004 season. The Irish were 5-2 heading into a the game vs. Boston College, who had dominated the series at that time.
Led by sophomore Brady Quinn and diminutive wide receiver Matt Shelton, the Irish dominated the first half. ND scored a touchdown in the final minutes of the first half, but D.J. Fitzpatrick missed the ensuing extra point. Despite that, the Irish went into the locker room with a 20-7 lead.
The second half had a different tenor and the Eagles mounted a comeback that was capped with a long touchdown pass to take a 24-23 lead in the final minute. Quinn was able to scramble the Irish to the outskirts of field goal range, but the 55+ attempt from Fitzpatrick never had a shot and BC won.
Despite bouncing back with a win the next week at Tennessee, the Irish lost their final two games of the regular season, which led to Willingam’s firing.
The losses to BC and Pitt where the straws that broke the camel’s back. If ND had won either of those games, they would have assured themselves of a Gator Bowl appearance and another year for Willingham, instead they let those opportunities slip threw their hands and were relegated to an Insight.com Bowl appearance against Oregon State with an interim staff.
Already a few games in, you can sense the theme of ND collapsing in the second half of game and that leading to a collapse in the second half of the season.
Personal Note: I was at this game and the pep rally on Friday was one of the best I’d every been to. There was a contingent of BC fans that were there and Justin Tuck let them have it throughout his speech – a few Backup College lines were thrown out there.
2008/2009: Syracuse and UConn Losses
(I honestly got PTSD from watching those highlights)
I am putting these two losses together because in my brain, they were essentially the same game. Both games were vs. grossly inferior opponents in the final home game of the season with an opportunity to salvage one more win.
Both games demonstrated what an underachieving group Weis had put together. Syracuse had only won two games prior to the matchup on 08 and prior to the UConn game, the players made a big deal about how they were playing for Weis’ job.
These games showed that Weis was a great recruiter, but struggled in player development and in-game situations.
2010: Navy 35, Notre Dame 17
This is another game that falls under the demoralizing category. Navy has been one of the most consistent programs in the country over the past 15 years, so there is no shame losing every once in a while to the Midshipmen. Their offense is impossible to prepare for and their efficiency on both sides of the ball make them a headache for all of their opponents.
With all that being said, 2010 was an embarrassment and was never close. Navy fullback Alex Teach ran for 200+ yards and Navy dominated the Irish to mark their third victory over ND in the previous four tries.
This game also marked the first realization that Dayne Crist might not live up to his five-star hype. He looked very pedestrian against an average Navy defense.
Stay tuned to The Otter Room as we continue our countdown as the season gets closer.