Notre Dame Football: Last 5 Major Postseason Showdowns of the Fighting Irish
January 7th, 2013 will mark Notre Dame's first appearance in the BCS National Championship Game since its inception, but the storied Irish football program has had its share of historic games. They have participated in four games dubbed the "game of the century" by various press outlets and have earned the title of national champion 11 times.
Although they are one of the most prolific teams in the history of college football, Notre Dame has not always preformed well in the postseason, and high-profile championships with the likes of Alabama have presented the Irish with fierce battles.
As the Notre Dame Fighting Irish poise themselves to make history, let's take a look back at the last five bowl games where Notre Dame was either ranked No. 1, or played the No. 1 team.
1973 Sugar Bowl
Postseason Rank: No. 3
Opponent: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Final Score: 24-23 W
The 1973 Sugar Bowl saw undefeated No. 1-ranked Alabama take on the also undefeated, No. 3-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, in what is considered by many sportswriters to be among the best bowl games ever played.
In the first quarter, the Irish drove 58 yards down the field and set up Wayne Bullock for his six-yard flying leap to the end zone. The extra kick was no good, but the Irish were up 6-0.
The second quarter saw Alabama answer with a touchdown of its own, with Randy Billingsley running it in from six yards. Tide kicker Bill Davis made the extra point, putting Alabama up by one.
Notre Dame rallied back near the end of the half with Al Hunter returning a 93-yard kickoff for a touchdown, sending the team pouring onto the field in celebration. The Irish then made the two-point conversion, putting them ahead 14-7. Alabama then answered back with a field goal with 39 seconds left in the first half.
Both teams made a single touchdown in the third quarter, bringing the score to 21-17 with Notre Dame on top.
With 9:33 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Richard Todd caught a 25-yard pass from Tide quarterback Mike Stock for a touchdown. The extra point kick was no good, but Alabama was up 23-21.
Starting their final drive of the game at their 1-yard line, Notre Dame fought its way back to make a 19-yard field goal with 4:26 of play left in the game. The Irish defense held out and Notre Dame won 24-23, making them the 1973 national champions.
You can watch the highlight reel here.
1978 Cotton Bowl
Postseason Rank: No. 5
Opponent: No. 1 Texas Longhorns
Final Score: 38-10 W
The 1978 Cotton Bowl saw a record 76,701 fans converge on Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas to watch the No. 1-ranked Texas Longhorns take on the No. 5 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Just two minutes into the game, Texas fumbled, setting the Irish up for a 47-yard field goal by kicker Dave Reeve. The Longhorns answered back with a field goal of their own, tying the score at 3-3 by the end of the first quarter.
Texas fumbled the ball again, setting Notre Dame up for its first touchdown of the night, when Terry Eurick ran into the end zone from six yards out. Two minutes later, the Longhorns fumbled again deep in their own territory, and Irish quarterback Joe Montana lead his team on another successful drive.
By the time the game entered its 23rd minute of play, Notre Dame was up 24-3 and were never to be caught. The final score was 38-10.
The unpredictable postseason also saw second-ranked Oklahoma fall to Arkansas in the Orange Bowl and fourth-ranked Michigan succumb to Washington in the Rose Bowl. This chain of events led pollsters to vault Notre Dame past third-ranked Alabama into the No. 1 slot to become the 1977 national champions.
1981 Sugar Bowl
Postseason Rank: No. 7 (AP) No. 8 (Coaches)
Opponent: No. 1 Georgia
Final Score: 17-10 L
The 1980 season would be Dan Devine's final year as Notre Dame head coach. Unfortunately for him, his last game with the Irish would pit him against the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the 1981 Sugar Bowl.
Notre Dame scored first with a 50-yard field goal to put the Irish up early in the first quarter. However, momentum was lost when Terry Hoage blocked Notre Dame's second field-goal attempt and the Bulldogs answered back with a 46-yard field goal of their own, tying the game at 3-3.
The ensuing kickoff saw Georgia drive 98 yards in two plays. Bulldog Herschel Walker ran one yard to give Georgia the lead, 10-3.
During the second quarter, Walker scored again on a three-yard run. The Irish answered with a touchdown in the third quarter, but Georgia held on to win 17-10, making the Bulldogs the 1980 national champion.
Reflecting on the game, freshman Herschel Walker said (via Jordan Burchette, ABCSports.com), "During our stay in New Orleans, the only people there who thought we could win were the Georgia fans ... Playing Notre Dame, everyone thought we were going to get killed."
One enthusiastic Georgia fan even made a song about the game, entitled "The Irish Went Down to Georgia." You can watch it here.
1989 Fiesta Bowl
Postseason Rank: No. 1
Opponent: No. 3 West Virginia
Final Score: 21-34 W
1988 was the last season (until now) the Fighting Irish went undefeated. Keeping with tradition, it was also head coach Lou Holtz' third season with the storied football program at Notre Dame.
Their perfect season landed them the No. 1 ranking in both the coaches' and AP polls leading into the postseason. This gave the Irish a berth in the 1989 Sunkist Fiesta Bowl opposing the also undefeated, No. 3-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers.
It wasn't exactly a nail-biter. The Irish came up early, leading 23-6 at halftime. The Mountaineers were not able to make a touchdown until the fourth quarter, when Reggie Rembert made a three-yard rush to the end zone.
The final score was 21-34, and Notre Dame became the 1988 national champions. The MVP of the game was Irish quarterback Tony Rice, who had also been critical in heated matchups earlier that year against No. 1 (at the time of the game) Miami and No. 2 USC.
1991 Orange Bowl
Postseason Rank: No. 5 (AP) No. 6 (Coaches)
Opponent: No. 1 Colorado
Final Score: 9-10 L
The 1991 Orange Bowl got off to a slow start, with neither team scoring in the first quarter. Colorado would score first, with Jim Harper kicking a 22-yard field goal. The Irish answered back on 2nd-and-goal, when tailback Ricky Watters pounced into the end zone.
The subsequent kick for the extra point was blocked. This ended Irish kicker Craig Hentrich's streak of 72 consecutive PATs (point after touchdown), a school record.
The game's conclusion is mired in controversy to this day. With 43 seconds left on the clock, Raghib Ismail returned a punt 92 yards for what seemed to be the winning touchdown. This would have sealed the victory for Notre Dame. However, the touchdown was called back on a clipping penalty, and the Buffaloes held on for the 10-9 victory.