Thursday, November 13, 2008

Irish Blogger Gathering: Through the Past Darkly Edition

The Irish Blogger Gathering is hosted this week by the Brawling Hibernian. Follow the link to see TBH's original post as well as to find the links to other Irish bloggers' responses. Yes, I've been pretty quiet this week, still left speechless by the "Debacle at Chestnut Hill." I'll probably address that tomorrow. But for now, enjoy this week's 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. Oftentimes, these end up being the best songs on the album. 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.

I don't think I'm going to be answering any of this week's questions in "much detail." I'm just not in the mood.

But for me the answer to this question would have to be the 1982 home game against Michigan. It was my freshman year at Notre Dame, and it was the first Notre Dame football game I had ever attended, anywhere. Adding to the electricity surrounding the game was that it was the first night game ever at Notre Dame Stadium, courtesy of the good folks at MUSCO lighting. The Fighting Irish were ranked #20 in the polls, and the Wolverines came into the game ranked #10.

It was awesome! I actually remember very little about the game itself, except for the taunting chant that the student body had for Michigan star receiver / kick returner Anthony Carter. All together the students chanted "An-tho-ny, come out to pla-ay! An-tho-ny, come out to pla-ay!" Very cool. The Irish scored the upset and beat UM 23-17. The game was voted as the 14th greatest game in the history of Notre Dame Stadium as part of the Stadium's 75th Anniversary celebration in 2005.

2) As much fun as it is rooting for our heroes, it can be just as enjoyable to trash those we consider villains. A few years ago, the great Irish blog, Blue-Gray Sky, wrote a post discussing the biggest villains in Irish 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)

Okay, I can't find the exact person responsible, and I can only spend so much time on Google trying to figure it out. But the answer to this question is: Whoever in the Notre Dame family pressured/allowed Dan Devine to resign as head football coach and then hired Gerry Faust to replace him. Frankly, I trace all of today's sorrows back to that fateful series of events. Dan Devine was the Irish head coach for six seasons, compiling a 53-16-1 record. He was 3-1 in Bowl games (back when going to a Bowl game meant something), and won a National Championship in 1977. In his last season (1980) the Irish went 9-2-1, losing in the 1981 Sugar Bowl to Herschel Walker's Georgia Bulldogs.

But that wasn't good enough. Coach Devine had a hard time stepping out of Ara Parseghian's shadow, and the Notre Dame faithful never let him forget that Ara was better. Much like today's fans compare every coach to Lou Holtz.

Coach Devine was a serious, successful, proven head football coach. But he was forced out and Notre Dame turned to a high school coach from Ohio. Gerry Faust is a saint. You'll never meet a nicer man, or one who loves Our Lady's University more. But he was not qualified to lead the most storied college football program in the country. Frankly, it's a miracle that he did as well as he did (30-26-1) as head coach.

The departure of Devine and the arrival of Faust to me signaled the moment when Notre Dame football jumped the shark. The fans were unreasonable in their expectations that winning a National Championship and going to 3 "BCS" Bowls in 6 six years wasn't good enough. In hiring Faust, the Administration signaled a great deal of hubris and/or disrespect for the game and for the coaching profession. Clearly, the Administration felt that "We Are ND" and that we can/should win games with anybody as coach - even a high school coach. Prior to that time Notre Dame had been most successful hiring proven head coaches - Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine. We were very fortunate with Lou Holtz, but Faust, Bob Davie and Ty Willingham were mistakes borne of that misguided attitude. Right now we have another coach who is not a proven head coach and who is trying like hell to not end up in the corner with Faust, Davie, and Willingham.

3) Falling in love is a wonderful thing. As Lt. Frank Drebin once noted, "you begin to notice things you never knew were there before; birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights." Describe the moment you knew that there would be no other; you were in love with Notre Dame.

Well, it was a pretty gradual process for me as I grew up with the Sunday morning Notre Dame Highlights shows. But if I could point to one game, it would be the 1979 Cotton Bowl game against the Houston Cougars, when Joe Montana, after staying in the locker room at halftime due to a dangerous drop in his body temperature, led a miraculous 4th quarter comeback that overcame a hopeless 34-12 deficit to secure a 35-34 Irish win. That game is now known as the "Chicken Soup Game" and I blogged about it in a lot more detail in July of 2007.

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 torment and why you wish ND could have another crack at it?

The 1974 game against USC. In a previous edition of the IBG, I wrote:

In 1974. Notre Dame was leading the USC Trojans 24-0 as the first half was coming to a close, a great day to be an Irish fan watching the game on TV. USC scored with just seconds remaining in the half, to make it 24-7. USC's Anthony Davis (Booooo! Boooooo!) returned the second half kick-off for a TD, and the Trojans scored a total of 35 points in the 3rd quarter on the way to scoring 55 straight points in less than 17 minutes of playing time. USC beat the Irish that day 55-24, breaking my ten year old Irish heart and making me cry. I know it isn't completely rational, but it's because of that day that I still hate the Trojans. Hate 'em. I should probably get help.
Even now, the name "Anthony Davis" sends shivers up my spine.

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.

I'm going to fudge on this one just a bit. Tim Brown won the Heisman Trophy in 1987 after an amazing year, but it's possible that 1986 was an even better season for him. So I'm going to say that Tim Brown's 1986 and 1987 seasons combined as the most impressive extended performance by a Notre Dame player in my "fandom". According to an article on Brown on the Notre Dame web site:
Utilizing Brown in the backfield, at wideout and as both a kick and punt returner, Holtz maximized Brown's skills and saw him produce, to this day, the two most all-purpose yards gained in a season at Notre Dame - first with 1,937 (1986) and then 1,847 (1987).
(Note that "all-purpose yards" are rushing, receiving, and return yards).

Here's a link to a great 2006 article at Blue & Gold Illustrated surveying Brown's illustrious Irish career. The best bits:

In the spring of 1986, one of Holtz’s first comments was, “the only way our opponents are going to keep the ball out of Tim Brown’s hands is if they intercept the snap from center.” Brown nearly doubled his receiving output and also carried 59 times as a running back to complement his return skills. Despite Notre Dame’s 5-6 mark against a brutal schedule, there was not a better player in the country at the end of the season than Brown.

In the final three games, the Irish played national champ Penn State, SEC champion LSU and at archrival USC. Against the Nittany Lions, Brown snatched a career-high eight passes (two for touchdowns) and returned a kickoff 97 yards before it was called back because of a penalty. The Irish lost that heartbreaker to the Nittany Lions, 24-19. The following week at LSU, Brown tallied on a 96-yard kickoff return, but the Irish lost again, 21-19.

In the finale at USC, Brown put on a scintillating show as the Irish rallied from a 37-20 deficit. In that watershed 38-37 victory for Holtz’s program, Brown returned a kickoff 57 yards to set up one touchdown, caught a 49-yard pass for to propel a second TD march and returned a punt (only the second of his career) 56 yards to position John Carney’s 19-yard field goal as time expired.

As the front-runner for the 1987 Heisman, Brown thrust Notre Dame into college football’s spotlight once again under Holtz, and he virtually clinched the coveted award in the first two weeks during 26-7 and 31-8 victories against Michigan and Michigan State, with the latter going on to become the Rose Bowl champs that season.

Of Brown’s 137 career receptions at Notre Dame, his most spectacular was the 11-yard score at No. 9 Michigan to open his senior year. Quarterback Terry Andrysiak floated a pass deep into the corner of the end zone where the heavily-covered Brown out-leaped two defenders and managed to stay in-bounds while hanging on to the ball and enduring a heavy fall.

The ensuing week saw his signature moment. A Notre Dame player hadn’t returned a punt for a score in 14 years, but in a span of 2:01 against the Spartans, Brown returned consecutive punts 71 and 66 yards for touchdowns to ignite a blowout.

More important was the fact that Brown made Notre Dame relevant again on the national scene with an 8-1 start, the first eight-win campaign for the Irish in seven years. He excelled in a 26-15 victory against Pac 10 champ USC, produced a career high 294 all-purpose yards in a 32-25 comeback win versus Boston College, and added 225 more in a 37-6 drubbing of Top 10-ranked Alabama.

Although the Irish imploded at the end of the year with losses at Penn State (21-20), Miami (24-0) and in the Cotton Bowl to Texas A&M (35-10), Brown was the runaway Heisman pick with 1,442 points, easily out-distancing Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson (831), Holy Cross’ two-way player Gordie Lockbaum (657) and Michigan State running back Lorenzo White (632).

When asked at the ceremony whether Notre Dame’s name helped him win the award, Brown replied: “I’m not going to apologize for going to Notre Dame. I did it to better myself as a person.”

And of course, Tim went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL and is one of the classiest representatives Notre Dame has ever had. Thanks for the memories, Tim!

1 comment:

Jay-A said...

Great post, OC! I completely understand how you feel about this week - tough one to host the IBG. I couldn't bear to contemplate the current state of affairs, ergo the backward glance.