Nov. 4, 2017
By John Heisler
We love lists.
We make laundry lists and grocery lists. Our spouses and parents give us to-do lists.
Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman and director Rob Reiner created the “The Bucket List.”
David Letterman’s nightly top 10 list became such a staple of our culture that newspapers reprinted the lists on a daily basis.
Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz even created a list of 107 things he wanted to accomplish before he died — and then he kept track and marked them off as they were accomplished.
It’s no different with Notre Dame’s greatest football games.
Even if you’re just a casual Notre Dame football fan, you have to have heard about a handful of the greatest Irish games from the past.
In this survey — recognizing all that is new for 2017 at Notre Dame Stadium — we are limiting the selections to games played in South Bend:
- The landmark home victories over #1 Miami in ’88 and #1 Florida State in ’93
- The green-jersey game against USC in ’77
- Harry Oliver’s epic 51-yard field goal to beat Michigan in ’80
- Four straight seasons under Frank Leahy without a loss
We categorized dozens of the most memorable Irish gridiron achievements played on their home field. We’ve got all the details on the games that involved unbelievable endings — and the games that featured amazing individual performances.
On top of that, we’ve got 11 more games that can make their own claims to fame in Irish annals
We like the idea that there is lots of room for debate. Like the polls and the College Football Playoff, that’s what we love about college football — there is so much open to discussion.
So, enjoy — and then make your own lists and send them to us.
Two Games That Changed the Face of Notre Dame Football
* 1. #11 Notre Dame 49, #5 USC 19: October 22, 1977
Irish Turn Blue to Green to Knock Off USC
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 4-1 (a 20-13 road loss at Ole Miss) and ranked 11th, after starting the year as the preseason #3 team.
USC came in 5-1 (21-20 loss to #7 Alabama after the Trojans had risen to #1 in the polls) and ranked fifth (AP) and fourth (UPI).
The Pertinent Details: Puzzled by basketball coach Digger Phelps’ exhortations of “Green machine! Green machine!” at the pep rally the night before, the Irish quickly understood after warming up in their traditional blue, only to find the green jerseys in their lockers moments before kickoff. A wooden, student-built, Trojan horse that barely fit through the tunnel led the Irish players onto the field.
Irish quarterback Joe Montana ran twice for scores and threw twice to tight end Ken MacAfee for TDs. Charles White, who two years later would win the Heisman Trophy, paced the visitors with 135 rushing yards.
Both teams turned the ball over five times — and Notre Dame enjoyed only a minimal advantage in total yards (386-347). But the Irish converted 14 of 19 third downs (compared to three of 14 for USC) and the Irish made great use of the element of surprise to set up two different TDs.
From a 7-7 tie, Notre Dame made quick work after White fumbled, Montana scoring from the one. After a Luther Bradley interception, Ted Burgmeier faked the field goal and Montana zeroed in on MacAfee for 13 yards and a 22-7 halftime lead.
Bob Golic’s punt block turned into a third-period TD for Jay Case, and when Montana found MacAfee again on fourth down, the Irish were off to the races at 35-7.
This One Was Determined When: The Irish took the field moments before kickoff in green jerseys (first time in that color since ’63). “You could feel the noise on your face,” said USC coach John Robinson.
The Star of the Show: Unheralded defensive back Burgmeier ran for 21 yards on a fake field goal, intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and turned a bobbled PAT snap into a throw for a two-point conversion. Case returned a blocked USC punt attempt 30 yards for a third-period score and the Irish led 35-7 after three periods. Montana was the ABC Sports selection. Golic made 11 tackles and blocked a punt.
* 2. #4 Notre Dame 31, #1 Miami 30: October 15, 1988
Notre Dame Ends ‘Canes’ 36-Game Regular-Season Streak
The Run-Up: Notre Dame stood 5-0 and rated fourth nationally — after a season-opening home win over #9 Michigan helped vault the Irish from their #13 slot coming into the year. Miami came in 4-0 and ranked first in both polls — while riding a 16-game overall win streak, a 20-game road win streak and a 36-game regular-season win streak.
The Pertinent Details: This game was all about respect for the Irish, who were only three years removed from the brutal 58-7 loss at Miami that ended the Gerry Faust regime. Miami had beaten Notre Dame four times in a row, by a combined 133-20 count. Miami quarterback Steve Walsh had yet to lose as a starting college quarterback.
The game had it all — a #1 opponent in Notre Dame Stadium, 10 combined turnovers (seven by the ‘Canes — four fumbles and three interceptions), a record-setting performance by Walsh (his 424 passing yards were most ever against the Irish, and his four TD passes tied a Notre Dame opponent mark held by three others), not to mention a heart-stopping ending.
The Irish drove 75 and 80 yards for their first two scores, then saw Pat Terrell run a Walsh interception back 60 yards for a 21-7 lead. But Walsh came back to put the ‘Canes on the board twice in the last four minutes for a halftime tie.
From there, Notre Dame took the lead after Miami misfired on a fake punt, and a Jeff Alm interception led to a field go that made it 31-21 with a period to go. Down 31-24, and with a fourth and seven ahead, Cleveland Gary caught a pass down to the Irish one but he fumbled and Michael Stonebreaker recovered. The ‘Canes gained their final shot after recovering a Tony Rice fumble at the Notre Dame 14 with 2:10 on the clock. On the fourth play (fourth and seven), Walsh located Andre Brown for the TD — but Miami ended up a point short when its two-point try went awry.
This One Was Determined When: Terrell batted down Walsh’s two-point attempt in the back of the end zone with 45 seconds to go.
The Star of the Show: There were plenty for the Irish. . . . Rice completed only eight passes but they went for 195 yards. Terrell scored a touchdown and saved the game. Frank Stams was in Walsh’s face all afternoon — and the list went on.
One Game That Framed the Tradition of Irish Football
* 1. #12 Notre Dame 24, Georgia Tech 3: November 8, 1975
They Called It the ‘Rudy Game’
The Run-Up: In Dan Devine’s first season as head coach, Notre Dame came in 6-2 (losses to Michigan State and #3 USC) and rated #12 in the AP poll. Georgia Tech also came in 6-2 (losses to South Carolina and Auburn).
The Pertinent Details: Many of the details of this contest probably didn’t matter. What did matter came in the final minute when Devine inserted a senior walk-on named Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger into the football game. A Joliet, Illinois, product who had transferred into Notre Dame from Holy Cross Junior College across the street, Ruettiger sacked Georgia Tech quarterback Rudy Allen on the final play of the game and was carried off the field by his Irish teammates.
All that became part of the feature movie “Rudy” that was filmed on the Notre Dame campus and debuted in 1993 — with scenes from this game filmed at halftime of an Irish home game against Penn State in ’92. What’s noteworthy about the movie is that, for many people who have never been to campus, it defines their impression of Notre Dame (the year after the movie debuted, applications to the University increased 20 percent).
What actually happened in the real game? It was an artistic masterpiece for the Notre Dame defense. The Yellow Jackets came in averaging 376 rushing yards per game from their Wishbone attack — but Notre Dame limited them to 143 (67 of those on a run from punt formation, a 38-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage and a 17-yard scramble by the quarterback). Georgia Tech did not complete a pass all day (it tried four). The only reason Tech managed to get as far as the Notre Dame 18 was because the Irish dropped a fumbled punt on their own 21-yard line. It marked only the second time in 21 games Georgia Tech was held without a TD.
Freshman Jerome Heavens scored a pair of TDs, as the Irish turned the tables with 311 rushing yards of their own.
This One Was Determined When: Heavens ran 73 yards for a touchdown in the third period (the second Irish offensive play of the second half), making it 17-0 for the home team and giving Rudy a chance to get into the game. Heavens finished with 148 yards on the ground.
The Star of the Show: It was Rudy that day — and then again 18 years later when “Rudy” hit the big screen.
One ‘Game of the Century’ of Its Era
* 1. #2 Notre Dame 31, #1 Florida State 24: November 13, 1993
Notre Dame Tops Florida State in Battle of 16-Game Streaks
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in ranked #2 in the country in both polls, with a perfect 9-0 record and a 16-game overall win streak. Florida State also came in 9-0 and with a 16-game win streak. The ‘Noles had been ranked #1 in both polls all season long.
The Pertinent Details: Never had a game in Notre Dame Stadium received such pre-game hype, thanks in part to the fact that it marked only the third time in the month of November that a #1 opponent had come to South Bend (also Northwestern in ’36 and Michigan State in ’65).
Notre Dame issued a record number of media credentials, and Irish coach Lou Holtz invited the burgeoning media contingent to his house for a barbeque dinner on the Thursday night before the game. The game marked the first in which the ESPN College GameDay show left Bristol, Conn., and traveled to a game site. Regis Philbin, Spike Lee, Roger Clemons — they all showed up. Fans filled the Joyce Center so quickly Friday night for the pep rally that the building was full two hours before the rally began.
The Irish sent a message early that they would win this game on the ground. Florida State had been allowing only 97 ground yards per game — by the end of the first period, Notre Dame already had 99. By the third period, the Irish had built a 24-7 advantage on their way to piling up 239 rushing yards.
Notre Dame drove 80 yards to make it 31-17 on the second of Burris’ TD runs with 6:53 remaining — but the Seminoles weren’t finished. Irish safety Brian Magee saw a potential fourth-down interception slide into the hands of Kez McCorvey to make it 31-24 at the 2:26 mark. Ward’s 50th and final pass attempt from the Irish 14 went into Shawn Wooden’s hands (he knocked it down) near the goal line as the clock ticked to 0:00.
The Seminole defense had given up only two rushing TDs all season long — but Notre Dame managed four by itself.
This One Was Determined When: Wooden ended Florida State’s final threat by knocking Ward’s final attempt to the ground as the game ended.
The Star of the Show: There were plenty of them for the Irish — defensive tackle Jim Flanigan (he made the cover of Sports Illustrated), safety John Covington (he intercepted a Charlie Ward pass after 159 Ward throws without a mistake — and made the cover of The Sporting News), safety Jeff Burris (he scored two touchdowns on his three rushing carries), tailback Lee Becton (he ran for 122 yards) and cornerback Wooden (he thwarted Ward’s last-gasp pass attempt to end the game).
Eight Games That Featured Unbelievable Endings
* 1. Notre Dame 17, #10 Syracuse 15: November 18, 1961
Second-Time Field Goal the Charm for Perkowski
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 4-3 after winning its first three games (to rise as high as sixth in the AP poll), only to lose its next three to #1 Michigan State, Ara Parseghian-coached Northwestern and Navy. Syracuse stood 6-2, having ranked as high as fifth in the AP listings after the first Orange win of the year.
The Pertinent Details: It looked like Syracuse would wake up some of its own echoes. The Orange battled back from a 14-0 Irish lead, as tight end John Mackey hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass (on fourth and one), and reserve quarterback Bob Lelli came in for injured Dave Sarette and connected on a TD pass to Dick Easterly for a 15-14 advantage (Easterly had caught a two-point conversion throw after the first Syracuse score).
Meanwhile, Orange back Ernie Nevers was on his way to leading both teams in rushing with his 95 yards, only a few weeks before he was awarded the Heisman Trophy.
The Irish squandered two chances to score by throwing interceptions twice in the final five minutes. The scene was bleak when the Irish took over at their own 30 with 17 seconds left. But sophomore Frank Budka scrambled for 20 yards and completed an 11-yard pass to George Sefcik. That set up Joe Perkowski for a 56-yard field-goal try. Syracuse’s Walt Sweeney crashed into holder Sefcik and was called (controversially) for roughing the kicker. With no time on the clock, the kick became a 42-yarder and this time it was good.
This One Was Determined When: Perkowski gained a second chance at a game-winning field goal and made the most of it.
The Star of the Show: Perkowski.
* 2. #14 Notre Dame 18, South Carolina 17: October 27, 1979
Lisch Shows Montana Not Only Irish Comeback Kid
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 4-2 and ranked 14th (AP) after losing to fourth-rated USC the previous Saturday. South Carolina was 5-1, having won five straight after an opening loss at North Carolina.
The Pertinent Details: The Irish somehow led only 3-0 at the break, despite 248 total yards — and mainly because South Carolina had completed only one pass. So the Gamecocks promptly exploded, stunning Notre Dame with 17 points on their first three third-period possessions.
A Vagas Ferguson scoring run finished off a 73-yard TD march to end the third quarter. But Chuck Male missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt, and the Gamecocks still led 17-10 when the Irish fielded a punt and took over on their own 20 with 1:36 left.
In a 54-second period, Lisch threw to Pete Holohan, Ty Dickerson, Ferguson and even to himself (for three yards on a deflected toss) — and finally Dean Masztak to make it 17-16 and again to Holohan for the win.
This One Was Determined When: Holohan hauled in a two-point conversion pass from Lisch with 42 seconds remaining to complete a comeback from a 17-3 second-half deficit.
The Star of the Show: Give the game ball to Lisch, who did his best Joe Montana imitation by hitting both the tying TD pass and then the winning two-point throw, on his way to 336 passing yards altogether.
* 3. #8 Notre Dame 29, #14 Michigan 27: September 20, 1980 Oliver Kick Produces High Drama in Win over Wolverines
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came into the season opener eighth in the AP poll, after a 7-4 mark the previous campaign in ’79. Michigan rated 14th (AP) coming off a season-opening win over Northwestern, after its 8-4 mark in ’79.
The Pertinent Details: Holder Tim Koegel swears the wind stopped at just the right time (as opposed to the 20-mile-per-hour gusts that helped produce a 69-yard Irish punt earlier). And with that, junior Harry Oliver (Koegel’s high school teammate) — whose best had been a 38-yard field goal in a junior varsity game (he’d missed a PAT earlier in the game) — kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired to give Notre Dame a 29-27 win over 14th-ranked Michigan.
After the Irish led early 14-0 and Michigan came back with three straight touchdowns, the final three minutes proved to be as good as it gets. Bob Crable recovered a Wolverine fumble, and his Irish then drove 74 yards to take a 26-21 lead with 3:03 remaining. Then Michigan responded with a 78-yard drive of its own to retake the advantage at 27-26 with 41 seconds to go (the missed two-point conversion left the Irish in striking distance).
That left it to freshman Blair Kiel, who had come off the bench and needed five plays out of the shotgun to get the Irish in position (plus a pass interference penalty) — one of them a fourth-down throw to Tony Hunter in front of the Notre Dame bench.
Westwood One’s Tony Roberts created a particularly memorable radio call of Oliver’s game-winner.
This One Was Determined When: Oliver did his thing.
The Star of the Show: Oliver (who claimed he made one from 65 yards in warmups), by a landslide.
* 4. #8 Notre Dame 17, #22 Penn State 16: November 14, 1992 Mirer, Bettis and Brooks are Stars of ‘Snow Bowl’
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 7-1-1 and ranked eighth (AP), thanks to four straight wins including a 54-7 thrashing of #9 Boston College the previous Saturday. Penn State came in ranked 22nd with a 6-3 record that included losses to Miami, Boston College and BYU in three of its last four games.
The Pertinent Details: Notre Dame’s series against Penn State ended (at least temporarily, with Penn State headed to the Big Ten the next year) with a 17-16 Irish win in the snow, as Rick Mirer threw to Jerome Bettis for the TD, then hit Reggie Brooks for the two-point conversion with 20 seconds left.
After the two teams had struggled to a 9-9 tie, Penn State took advantage of an Irv Smith fumble to drive 44 yards in six plays to take a 16-9 lead at the 4:25 mark. From there Mirer led a 64-yard drive for the ages — throwing to Bettis for 21 yards, scrambling for 15 yards on second and 16, finding Ray Griggs on a 17-yard pass play and scrambling seven more yards to the Penn State eight.
On fourth and goal from the four, with 25 seconds on the clock, Lou Holtz called a play from a formation Notre Dame had never run. With Smith covered, Mirer yelled, “Go,” Bettis snuck into the end zone and Mirer found him. Next came the far-fetched result on the conversion, on a play Mirer said he’d run hundreds of times, just never to Brooks.
This One Was Determined When: Brooks, who would go on to rush for a season total of 1,343 yards (and an awesome average of 8.0 yards per carry) but had caught only one pass all season long, became the unlikely recipient of Mirer’s two-point throw after the Irish quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and Brooks qualified as the fourth option.
The Star of the Show: A tie for first among Mirer, Bettis and Brooks. And the ending might not have happened had Bobby Taylor not blocked Penn State’s first-period PAT attempt.
* 5. #1 USC 34, #9 Notre Dame 31: October 15, 2005
‘Bush Push’ Puts End to Irish #1 Upset Bid (Recap)
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 4-1 and rated ninth (AP), thanks to road wins over #3 Michigan and #22 Purdue. USC came in 5-0 and ranked #1 — as the defending national champ and with a 27-game overall win streak. The game was so big Notre Dame issued a record number of media credentials (948) for a game in Notre Dame Stadium. Approximately 45,000 fans attended the Friday night pep rally held in Notre Dame Stadium, where Rudy Reuttiger served as master of ceremonies and Tim Brown, Chris Zorich and Joe Montana spoke.
The Pertinent Details: This game had it all — headlined by an All-America-caliber performance (160 rushing yards and three TDs) by the man who ultimately would win the Heisman Trophy, Reggie Bush. But Notre Dame (in its green jerseys) managed to rebound from deficits of 7-0, 14-7 and 28-24 to take the lead after a Brady Quinn run finished off an 87-yard scoring drive that made it 31-28 for the Irish with 2:04 left on the clock. That’s when it really got interesting.
Backed up and facing fourth and nine from his own 26, Matt Leinart connected on a 61-yard throw and run to Dwayne Jarrett down the USC sideline. With no timeouts remaining, Leinart scrambled inside the 10, only to have Notre Dame’s Corey Mays separate him from the football. The clock ran out and Irish fans stormed the field. But officials ruled the ball went out at the one (USC coach Pete Carroll did not approve replay, so there was no look from above) and put six seconds back on the clock. From there, Leinart (and Bush) concocted the game-winning (and saving) play.
This One Was Determined When: Leinart managed to sneak over the goal line with a helpful push from Bush with three seconds to go.
The Star of the Show: Take your pick — Leinart, Bush and Jarrett all could make a claim.
* 6. #10 Notre Dame 20, UCLA 17: October 21, 2006
Quinn to Samardzija Puts End to Bruin Upset Hope (Recap)
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 5-1 and rated 10th in the AP poll. UCLA came in 4-2 off a key win versus Oregon the week before. It marked the first Irish-Bruin meeting in 42 years.
The Pertinent Details: Pay no attention to the first 58 minutes and 58 seconds if you’re a Notre Dame fan. There was nothing there you cared about.
Actually, it looked like the Irish had missed their big chance when Brady Quinn came up short on a fourth-and-one run attempt with the Bruins hanging on to a 17-13 advantage. But UCLA had to punt it back to Notre Dame, and the Irish took over 80 yards from the end zone with 1:02 on the clock.
First, Quinn (with no timeouts left) found Jeff Samardzija in front of the Irish bench for 21 yards. Next, Quinn zeroed in on David Grimes for a 14-yard gain to the UCLA 45. On the next play, Quinn rolled right, found Samardzija crossing over the middle, and Samardzija broke a handful of tackles on his way to the end zone. Irish radio play-by-play man Don Criqui’s excited call of the play could be found everywhere by day’s end.
This One Was Determined When: Samardzija weaved his way through the UCLA defense to turn a toss from Quinn into a 45-yard TD play to bring the Irish from behind with 27 seconds left.
The Star of the Show: Forget the first 59 minutes. Quinn and Samardzija made the play when it counted.
* 7. #7 Notre Dame 20, #17 Stanford 13 (OT): October 13, 2012
Classic Goal-line Stand Makes the Difference (Recap)
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 5-0 and rated seventh in the AP poll. Stanford came in 4-1 — its lone loss coming 17-13 at Washington in the only previous road outing for the Cardinal.
The Pertinent Details: The Irish kept their title hopes alive in rainy South Bend in great part because their defense did the job when it counted.
Everett Golson threw 24 yards to tight end Tyler Eifert less than a minute into the final period for a 10-10 tie — but a hit to Golson’s head brought Tommy Rees in at quarterback late in the contest. Rees led the Irish to a tying 22-yard Kyle Brindza field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation — then he completed three in a row in overtime, the last to TJ Jones for seven yards and the lead.
Stanford’s overtime possession was all running back Stepfan Taylor. His 13-yard gain gave the Cardinal a first down at the Irish four. He then carried four straight times — gaining one, two and then nothing on both third and fourth down. Credit linebacker Carlo Calabrese (among others) for the stops on the last two plays.
This One Was Determined When: The replay review confirmed that Taylor finished short of the goal line on fourth down.
The Star of the Show: Rees came off the bench cold to complete all four of his throws and run once for seven yards — but give the gold star to the Irish defense for holding after a Stanford first down at the Irish four in overtime.
* 8. #9 Notre Dame 17, #14 Stanford 14: October 4, 2014
Golson Scramble, Koyack Footwork Doom Cardinal (Recap)
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 4-0 and rated ninth in the AP poll. Stanford came in 3-1 and ranked 14th — its lone defeat coming at the hands of USC (13-10).
The Pertinent Details: Notre Dame’s defense generally was fabulous, as the Irish limited Stanford to 47 net rushing yards and held a future pro quarterback — Kevin Hogan — to 158 passing yards while intercepting him twice. Only three times all day did Stanford drive for 37 or more yards — including eight three-and-outs.
Still, Everett Golson’s 241 passing yards had translated only into one 62-yard scoring drive that ended in a 17-yard Golson-to-Chris Brown finish. Kyle Brindza added a 45-yard field goal midway through the final period. When Stanford responded to that with a 58-yard scoring drive of its own, the visitors led 14-10 with 3:01 to go. Golson and the Irish took over at their own 35 — and he threw the ball eight straight times (twice completed to Will Fuller and one of those eight turning into a pass interference call against the Cardinal). After a first down at the Stanford 22, the Irish came out of a timeout facing fourth and 11.
This One Was Determined When: Golson, with lots of time, scrambled to his left and finally found tight end Ben Koyack wide open and tip-toeing the sideline for a 23-yard TD play that held up under review with 1:01 on the clock.
The Star of the Show: Koyack caught only one other pass all day (for five yards), and this easily qualified as the most important of his career.
Three Games That Featured Amazing Individual Performances
* 1. #4 Notre Dame 17, Iowa 14: November 19, 1955
Hornung Does It All to Beat Hawkeyes
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 7-1 and rated fourth (AP), its lone loss on the road at #13 Michigan State. Iowa came in 3-4-1, including a loss to eventual Big Ten champ Ohio State the previous week.
The Pertinent Details: Paul Hornung’s signature game featured a 28-yard field goal by the junior with 2:15 on the clock in front of the largest crowd to come to Notre Dame Stadium (59,955). After three inches of snow fell the night before, fans saw a brutally physical game in which the Irish used only 19 players, with Hornung among four who played without relief.
The Irish scored first, but Iowa responded with TDs in the third and fourth periods to leave the Irish on the short end of a 14-7 count with about 10 minutes remaining. That’s when Hornung went to work, returning the kickoff and then leading Notre Dame on a 62-yard scoring drive — with Jim Morse on the receiving end of the TD play in a drive that lasted all of two and a half minutes.
Notre Dame downed the kickoff on the two, and Iowa ultimately had to punt out to its own 43. On third and 11, Hornung hit Morse who made a huge grab at the Hawkeye nine. The Irish ran three times and reached the three. A Notre Dame player tossed a kicking tee onto the field and the Irish were penalized 15 yards for “coaching from the sideline,” but Hornung booted the winning three-pointer anyway.
This One Was Determined When: Hornung’s field goal flew through the uprights.
The Star of the Show: Hornung, with Morse not far behind after catching three of Hornung’s throws for 63 yards and also rushing 10 times for 26 yards.
* 2. #6 Notre Dame 26, #8 Purdue 14: September 24, 1966
A Record-Setting Opening Act for ‘Fling and Cling’ Passing Duo
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came into Ara Parseghian’s third season rated sixth, after the Irish were 7-2-1 in ’65. Eighth-ranked Purdue had beaten Ohio University 42-3 the previous Saturday to start 1-0 (the Boilers also were 7-2-1 in ’65).
The Pertinent Details: Terry Hanratty and Jim Seymour made their debuts as sophomores, with Seymour catching 13 of Hanratty’s throws for 276 yards (both still record figures) as the Irish defeated eighth-rated Purdue 26-14. At the time, only one player in NCAA history had more receiving yards in a game than did Seymour. For his part, Hanratty connected on 16 of 24 passes for 304 yards — with three TD passes going to Seymour worth 84, 39 and seven yards. The rest of the team accounted for three catches for 28 yards.
The game began in slam-bam fashion, with Purdue’s Leroy Keyes going 94 yards with a fumble to score, followed by a 97-yard kickoff return by Notre Dame’s Nick Eddy.
This One Was Determined When: The Hanratty-Seymour combo hooked up for two long scoring plays.
The Star of the Show: The Irish sophomore duo lit it up in their opening act in front of the home fans. They overshadowed Purdue standout Bob Griese, who managed 14 completions in 26 attempts for 178 yards.
* 3. #9 Notre Dame 31, #17 Michigan State 8: September 19, 1987
Brown’s Punt Returns Make Heisman His to Lose
The Run-Up: The Irish came in 1-0, having knocked off #9 Michigan on the road the previous Saturday. Notre Dame came in ranked ninth (AP). Michigan State was rated 17th (AP) after defeating USC 27-13 the previous Saturday.
The Pertinent Details: In a prime-time matchup on ESPN, Tim Brown returned two punts for touchdowns versus Michigan State to make him the leader in the clubhouse in the Heisman Trophy race.
Tom Schoen held the Irish single-game record for punt-return yardage with 167 (versus Pittsburgh in ’67) — and Brown had 150 by halftime alone. Brown finished with 275 all-purpose yards — 150 on punt returns, 57 on kickoff returns and 72 on receptions.
The Irish actually scored before they ran a play — when the Spartans’ Blake Ezor took the opening kickoff on the one, stepped back into the end zone to down the ball and was hit with a safety. Ted Gradel added a field goal later in the period after a 75-yard drive — then Brown brought the first punt back 71 yards at the 2:14 mark and added a 66-yarder two minutes and a second later.
For all practical purposes the game was over. Michigan State’s only points came with 66 seconds left in the game — as two interceptions and two lost fumbles thwarted Spartan offensive hopes. Lorenzo White, who later finished fourth behind Brown in the Heisman voting, managed only 51 yards on 19 carries.
This One Was Determined: Before the first period was done when Brown brought back back-to-back Spartan punts for TDs, making it 19-0 for the Irish before the opening quarter was concluded.
The Star of the Show: Brown, who tied an NCAA record with his two returns and became the first Notre Dame player to accomplish the feat since 1926. It had been 14 years since an Irish player had even returned one for a score.
One Game That Helped Cement Joe Montana’s Reputation as a Notre Dame Football Idol
1. Notre Dame 26, #9 Pittsburgh 17: October 14, 1978
Yet Another Magic Fourth Period Ends Well for Irish
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 2-2 and unranked after the defending national champion lost home games to Missouri and Michigan to open the season. Ninth-ranked Pittsburgh came in 4-0.
The Pertinent Details: So what else is new? Notre Dame was down 17-7 in the fourth period. Those were hardly unusual circumstance for Joe Montana and the Irish. All it took was an early fourth-quarter touchdown by Pittsburgh to jumpstart Notre Dame’s offense.
First Montana headlined an 86-yard scoring march that cut the deficit to four points after a missed two-point conversion throw. After Pitt managed only a single first down and punted, Montana found Kris Haines for 30 yards and Dean Masztak for 22. Montana ran it in himself for the 19-17 lead. When the Panthers fumbled the ball back at the Irish 29, Montana converted a fourth-and-two challenge with a 13-yard toss to Dennis Grindinger. On fourth and goal from the three, Montana rolled right and found Vagas Ferguson for the TD. Any chance Pitt could rebound ended when Dave Waymer intercepted for Notre Dame on the last of five Panther turnovers.
This One Was Determined When: Montana cinched the verdict with his fourth-down TD pass from the three with 2:04 on the clock.
The Star of the Show: Montana (he completed seven straight passes over one stretch of the fourth period for 110 yards), who was 11 for 15 in the second half, finishing with 218 yards overall. He also ran for a score. And veteran halfback Jerome Heavens, who ran 30 times for 120 yards, enabling him to pass the great George Gipp and become Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher (Gipp held the mark at 2,341 yards).
Eleven Other Random Games That Deserve Mention
* 1. Notre Dame 26, Navy 2: October 11, 1930
Irish Baptize New Home With Win Over Navy
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 1-0, having beaten SMU 20-14 the previous Saturday in the first actual game played at the new Notre Dame Stadium. Navy opened its season the previous week with a 19-6 home win against William & Mary.
The Pertinent Details: This was the contest in which spanking new Notre Dame Stadium was dedicated, a major improvement over a Cartier Field facility that listed 27,000 as capacity.
Notre Dame’s ground game overwhelmed the Midshipmen, compiling a 352-64 edge in total yards. Even third-team right halfback Clarence Kaplan made his mark, gaining 96 yards on six attempts.
* 2. #11 Notre Dame 26, #1 Northwestern 6: November 21, 1936
First Time (But Not Last) Irish Beat a #1 Opponent The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 5-2 and ranked #11, having beaten Army at Yankee Stadium the previous Saturday. Northwestern stood #1 in the country (the first year of the AP poll) with a 7-0 record.
The Pertinent Details: After a tough midseason stretch in which Note Dame scored just one combined touchdown, the Irish revamped their offense to feature agile backs Bob Wilke and Bunny McCormick. Just two weeks after being shut out by Navy in Baltimore, Notre Dame rebounded on the shoulders of Wilke’s 30- and 34-yard TD runs.
* 3. Notre Dame 28, Iowa Pre-Flight 0: October 17, 1942
Bertelli Does It All in Stunning Shutout of Seahawks
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 1-1-1, beating Stanford, losing to Georgia Tech and tying Wisconsin, in Frank Leahy’s second season as the Notre Dame head coach (though Leahy missed this game while ill at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota). Iowa Pre-Flight came in at 4-0 following successive wins over Kansas (61-0), Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan.
The Pertinent Details: Angelo Bertelli intercepted an early pass deep in his own territory — then he went on to help dispatch the Seahawks, regarded as one of the best teams in the country at the time with its combination of college and professional standouts who were in flight training for World War II. The win ended the personal 21-game win streak of Iowa coach Lt. Col. Bernie Bierman, who previously had been the Minnesota head coach.
* 4. #10 Notre Dame 27, #4 Oklahoma 21: November 8, 1952
Start of Notre Dame-Oklahoma Series is a Keeper
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 4-1-1 and rated 10th (AP), after beating #9 Purdue, North Carolina and Navy the previous three Saturdays. Oklahoma was 5-0-1 (and rated #4) after a 21-21 tie with Colorado to start the season. This was the first meeting between these two traditional college powers. The Sooners boasted a 13-game unbeaten streak and averaged 42 points a game.
The Pertinent Details: This contest doesn’t always rate mention with the greatest of Irish wins, but Dave Metz, a member of the Notre Dame class of ’55, felt so strongly about its noteworthiness that he produced an entire highlight tape about it, including interviews with the pertinent players, plus recreated audio voiceover of the game films.
Billy Vessels (he won the Heisman Trophy that year) finished with 195 rushing yards on 17 carries for the Sooners, while John Lattner (he won the Heisman the next year) had 98 and Neil Worden 75 for Notre Dame.
Oklahoma had only two pass completions all day, as Notre Dame recorded a 23-13 edge in first downs. There were 10 turnovers in the first half alone — with Vessels scoring on a 27-yard reception and again on a 62-yard run. He added a second-half scoring run from 44 yards out for the other Oklahoma points.
* 5. #7 Notre Dame 9, #2 USC 0: November 29, 1952
Irish Defense Squashes Trojan Title Bid
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 6-2-1 and ranked seventh (AP). USC was 9-0 and #2 to unbeaten and (eventual national champion) Michigan State. The Trojans allowed seven or fewer points in all of their first eight wins.
The Pertinent Details: An amazing Irish defensive effort limited unbeaten USC to five first downs, 67 rushing yards and 149 total yards — and intercepted five Trojan passes and recovered three fumbles. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s ground attack featured 73 yards from Neil Worden and 66 from John Lattner — with the Irish only one for 15 throwing the football.
Notre Dame’s TD came after the Irish (Menil Mavraides) recovered a Trojan fumble at the USC 19. Fourth down from the one saw Lattner cross the goal line. The Irish field goal came early in the third period after a Trojan kick returner slipped at his own five — and USC ultimately punted out to its own 46. From there the Irish drove to the 10 where Bob Arrix converted the three-pointer.
* 6. #4 Notre Dame 23, #17 USC 17: November 27, 1954
Morse Helps Irish Ground Forces Derail Trojans
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 7-1 and rated fourth (AP), its only loss to #19 Purdue in the second game of the season after the Irish ranked #1 in the AP preseason poll. USC stood 8-2 (rated 17th) after being beaten 34-0 by UCLA the previous Saturday. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was in town to scout the Trojans in advance of the upcoming Rose Bowl.
The Pertinent Details: The Irish came from behind three different times to win this one. Notre Dame scored twice in the final period to hold off USC, thanks to a monster rushing effort by the Irish. As part of a 373-yard ground attack by Notre Dame, Jim Morse put up 179 yards, Joe Heap 110 and Don Schaefer 87. That made up for six fumbles (four lost), two thrown interceptions and eight penalties, plus only two pass completions in nine attempts.
* 7. #7 Notre Dame 28, #4 USC 7: October 23, 1965
Conjar Overshadows Garrett as Irish Roll Trojans
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 3-1 (a loss to #6 Purdue) and rated seventh (AP). USC came in 4-0-1 (and rated fourth) with four straight wins after a 20-20 tie with Minnesota.
The Pertinent Details: Irish students and fans hadn’t forgotten the crushing defeat the year before in 1964 that ended the season and squashed Notre Dame’s national title hopes. In fact, the ’65 game became something of an obsession.
The focus by the Irish team was so great that by halftime Notre Dame had a 226-23 in total yards, a 13-1 advantage in first downs and a 21-0 lead on the scoreboard. Much of the obsession was with Trojan tailback Mike Garrett, who came in averaging close to 170 rushing yards a game and went on to win the Heisman Trophy that year. The Irish held him to 16 carries and 43 yards (his career low), only seven in the first half. Meanwhile Notre Dame halfback Larry Conjar responded with 25 carries of his own for 116 yards and all four Notre Dame touchdowns (all of them on runs of one or two yards). No one had run for four TDs for the Irish since John Lattner did it 12 years earlier (also versus USC).
Notre Dame’s defense limited the Trojans to 74 rushing yards and 10 first downs, while the Irish running game racked up 308 net yards despite only two pass completions by Ara Parseghian’s unit.
* 8. #8 Notre Dame 23, #6 USC 14: October 27, 1973
Penick’s Sweep Left is Tonic for Irish
The Run-Up: Notre Dame came in 5-0 and ranked eighth (AP), outscoring those five opponents 168-20. USC came in rated sixth (AP) with a 5-0-1 mark (7-7 tie with #8 Oklahoma when the Trojans were #1). The Trojans had not been beaten in their last 23 games, with the streak beginning at Notre Dame Stadium with a 28-14 win in ’71 that came after three straight USC defeats.
The Pertinent Details: In any national championship season, there generally are one or more signature victories. For Notre Dame in 1973, this marked one of them.
Victories over the vaunted Trojans had not come easily of late. In fact, since the 51-0 whitewashing of USC in ’66, the Irish were 0-4-2 against the men of Troy. The ’73 clash against the unbeaten USC clan would be a different story.
Eric Penick provided the Kodak moment for the afternoon. With the Irish clinging to a 13-7 lead, he took a third-period pitch on the first play from scrimmage of the half, swept around the left side, in front of the Notre Dame bench, and rumbled 85 yards for a score (with big blocks from Frank Pomarico and Gerry DiNardo)
The Irish finished with 318 rushing yards and made use of three Bob Thomas field goals to hold off John McKay’s club. After scoring six TDs against the Irish the year before in ’72 (and four more the next year in ’74), Anthony Davis this time managed 55 rushing yards (and a fourth-period fumble) and a one-yard scoring run that gave the Trojans an early 7-3 advantage.
The Irish forced three final-period turnovers, with Davis fumbling at the Notre Dame 16, J.K. McKay losing the ball after a 23-yard reception (his only catch of the day) and finally Luther Bradley intercepting a Pat Haden pass (his second interception of the day).
Irish kicker Bob Thomas connected three times for field goals — after having missed eight straight attempts coming into the game.
As it turned out, Notre Dame wouldn’t beat USC again until its next national title season in 1977. Still, this win was deemed noteworthy enough to prompt students and fans to pull down the north goalposts.
* 9. #11 Notre Dame 17, Georgia Tech 13: September 6, 1997
After 67 Years, Irish Rededicate Expanded Notre Dame Stadium (Recap)
The Run-Up: Notre Dame was opening the 1997 season under first-year head coach Bob Davie, with a #11 preseason ranking in the AP poll. Georgia Tech was opening its season in the fourth year of the George O’Leary era, coming off a 5-6 mark the previous year.
The Pertinent Details: It was the opening day for a new Notre Dame coach (former defensive coordinator Davie) and an updated home facility (Notre Dame Stadium, now with capacity for more than 80,000 fans).
It wasn’t always pretty — as the Irish survived two fourth-period interceptions (both of which turned into missed Georgia Tech field goals from 43 and 47 yards). But Notre Dame’s defense stoned the Yellow Jackets late, holding the visitors without a first down (and to minus-eight total yards) in the final quarter.
Meanwhile, the Irish finally found their running game, with 52 of the yards on the game-winning march (31 by Autry Denson) coming via the ground. Denson finished with 71 rushing yards, Joey Goodspeed added 57 — and Ron Powlus completed 18 of 29 for 217, including seven for 64 yards to Bobby Brown.
* 10. #22 Notre Dame 36, #5 Michigan 20: September 5, 1998
Rousing Second Half Bounces Defending Champ Wolverines (Recap)
The Run-Up: Notre Dame was opening the ’98 season (Bob Davie’s second as head coach), with a #22 AP rating coming off a 7-6 season in ’97. Michigan was opening its season as the defending national champion, with a #5 AP preseason rating and an overall 12-game win skein.
The Pertinent Details: Notre Dame outscored the ’97 national champs 30-7 in the second half, thanks to 262 second-half yards. Meanwhile, Michigan squandered a dominating opening two periods by missing four field goals and losing a pair of fumbles (Wolverines ran 31 plays in the first period — to six by Irish). “We have no excuses. We had a lot of opportunities we didn’t take advantage of,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
The Irish took the lead for good on third-period drives of 34 and 35 yards, both after Wolverine lost fumbles. The second of those that made it 23-13 for the Irish came on a single play — Jarious Jackson to Raki Nelson for 35 yards. Jackson completed only four passes all afternoon — but he also ran for 62 yards.
* 11. Notre Dame 49, Temple 16: September 2, 2017
Irish Look as Impressive on Field as New Stadium Amenities (Recap)
The Run-Up: Notre Dame was opening the 2017 season coming off a 4-8 campaign in ’16. Temple began its year after a 10-4 record and American Athletic Conference title the previous fall.
The Pertinent Details: This marked the first game in a fresh-look Notre Dame Stadium that featured new buildings on the east, west and south side, premium seating, a video board and various other improvements for both fans and participants.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly and new offensive coordinator Chip Long talked about their plan to run the football more in 2017, and Temple saw the plan firsthand.
The Irish ran for 422 ground yards on their way to a 606-yard total offense effort. Three Notre Dame backs hit the 100-yard mark in rushing — 161 by Josh Adams, 124 by Dexter Williams and 106 more from quarterback Brandon Wimbush (his first career start produced 184 passing yards and a pair of scoring throws).