With a program with as much as history as Notre Dame, choosing the top athletics moments in school history can be rather difficult. Nevertheless, we've pared the list down to 15 moments, spanning 100 years of Fighting Irish lore.
From national titles to major upsets to legends that transcend the bounds of sports, the history of collegiate athletics cannot be told without Notre Dame. Here are the top 15 moments in the storied history of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The passing game is all the craze right now in football, but there was a time, almost exactly a century ago, when the forward pass was seen as nothing but a gimmick. That began to change when the legendary Knute Rockne arrived at Notre Dame
In 1913, Notre Dame, little more than a small Catholic university with little national prominence, visited West Point to take on Army. Rockne and classmate Gus Dorais had spent the previous summer practicing the forward pass, and coach Jesse Harper's Irish unleashed their secret weapon against the Cadets.
The Irish, despite having to overcome a size disadvantage, rolled to a 35-13 win over Army, revolutionizing offensive philosophy. Notre Dame and Army would go on to establish arguably the most storied rivalry of the first half of the 20th century, which all began on that November day in West Point in 1913.
Head coach Geno Auriemma and forward Maya Moore brought UConn women's basketball back to the top of the sport after some struggles in the mid-2000s. The Huskies did not lose for over two years, winning consecutive national titles in 2009 and 2010.
Notre Dame returned to the Final Four for the first time in 10 years in 2011 with an Elite Eight upset of Tennessee. Awaiting them was UConn, who had knocked off the Irish three times already that season.
Despite trailing by eight early in the second half, the Fighting Irish rallied behind sophomore point guard Skylar Diggins, who finished with 28 points in a stunning 72-63 upset, denying UConn a third straight national title. Notre Dame fell to Texas A&M two nights later in the national championship game.
The win sparked a shift in the balance of the rivalry, as Notre Dame has since won seven of eight meetings against the Huskies, including a second straight meeting at the Final Four in 2012.
Joe Montana's final game in a Notre Dame uniform may have been his most memorable. 1978 wasn't a great season for the Irish, as they entered the 1979 Cotton Bowl with an 8-3 record. Their opponents were the Houston Cougars, champions of the Southwest Conference.
On a bitterly cold day at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Houston raced to a 34-12 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Montana, who was treated for hypothermia during the third quarter with chicken soup in the locker room, returned to try and rally the Irish.
The first of many "Montana Magic" moments was about to unfold. Notre Dame scored 23 points in the final eight minutes, capped by a touchdown pass from Montana to Kris Haines on the game's final play. The Irish's 35-34 win would go down in college football history as "The Chicken Soup Game."
With ESPN's College Gameday on hand for an early February showdown with No. 11 Louisville, Notre Dame rose to the occasion like it has so often done at home under coach Mike Brey. It took five overtimes, but the Irish outlasted the Cardinals, 104-101.
Trailing 56-48, Irish guard Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the final minute to tie the game at 60-60 and force overtime. Louisville's Russ Smith had multiple chances to win the game for the Cardinals, but last-second shots in the first and second overtime periods missed.
The hero for the Irish was seldom-used Garrick Sherman, who did not play in regulation, but amassed 17 points in the five overtime periods, including a game-tying putback in the final seconds of the fourth overtime. Smith got off a desperation shot to try and send the game to a sixth overtime, but it too missed, sparking post-midnight pandemonium at Purcell Pavilion.
While the history of Notre Dame basketball pales in comparison to that of football, the Fighting Irish had come close to ultimate glory on the hardwood prior to the 2001 Women's Final Four in St. Louis. The 1978 men's team and 1997 women's team had both reached the Final Four but could not bring home a title.
It looked as if history would repeat itself in 2001, as Notre Dame spotted defending national champion UConn (sound familiar?) a 17-point lead late in the first half. Behind All-American center Ruth Riley, the Irish would rally, erasing the seemingly insurmountable lead just over seven minutes into the second half.
Notre Dame would cruise from that point on, handing the Huskies their only NCAA Tournament blemish between 2000 and 2004 with a 90-75 victory. Two nights later, Notre Dame had to rally again, outlasting Purdue, 66-64, to win the school's first basketball national title.
The third year has seemed to be the magic year for Notre Dame coaches. Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine had won national titles in their third seasons in South Bend, and Lou Holtz was attempting to do the same as he led the top-ranked Fighting Irish against No. 2 West Virginia in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl.
The battle between two mobile quarterbacks, Notre Dame's Tony Rice and West Virginia's Major Harris, went the Irish's way after Harris injured his shoulder, severely limiting his ability to throw. Rice's touchdown toss to dynamic freshman Raghib Ismail gave the Irish a 23-3 lead late in the second quarter, one which they would never relinquish.
Notre Dame rolled to a 34-21 victory, in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. The Irish won their 11th national title, capping Holtz's remarkable revitalization of Notre Dame football after five down years under Gerry Faust.
Dan Devine's first two-and-a-half seasons at Notre Dame had been a bit of a struggle following in the sizable footsteps of Ara Parseghian. By the lofty standards of Fighting Irish fans, seven losses in less than three years were deemed to be a major disappointment.
With 5-1 USC coming to South Bend midway through the 1977 season, Devine knew he desperately needed a win over the Trojans. Despite having the team go through warm-ups in traditional blue jerseys, Devine had a surprise for the Irish upon their return to the locker room: green jerseys.
Devine's magic worked to perfection, as the Irish built a commanding 35-7 lead and rolled to a 49-19 victory over USC. Less than three months later, Devine would ensure his place in Notre Dame history by leading Notre Dame to the national title.
The 1993 showdown between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Notre Dame was so big that ESPN's College Gameday took its show on the road for the first time, broadcasting live from inside the Joyce Center. The Seminoles were the preseason No. 1 team and led by Heisman Trophy candidate Charlie Ward, and they were expected to put the upstart Irish in their place.
Tied at 7-7 after one quarter, Notre Dame took command in the second quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns to take a 21-7 halftime lead. An Irish secondary led by future NFL mainstays Bobby Taylor and Jeff Burris held Ward in check for much of the mid-November afternoon.
Ward would fight back, however, pulling the Seminoles within 31-24 late in the fourth quarter. After a Notre Dame punt, Florida State had one final chance from the Irish 14-yard line. Ward targeted Warrick Dunn in the end zone, but Shawn Wooden batted the pass down to seal the victory, Notre Dame's last over a top-ranked team.
There was perhaps no greater dynasty in all of sports than UCLA basketball in the '60s and '70s. The Bruins won seven consecutive national titles from 1967-1973 and won 88 straight games between 1971 and 1974.
That streak came to a halt in January 1974 at Notre Dame's Joyce Center, as Digger Phelps' Fighting Irish stunned All-American center Bill Walton and the Bruins, 71-70. The loss came just two days shy of the three-year anniversary of UCLA's last loss, also to Notre Dame.
Dwight Clay's baseline jumper in the final minute was the difference on that cold January day in South Bend, as the Irish scored the final 12 points to rally from a 70-59 deficit with less than four minutes remaining. UCLA's streak of consecutive national championships would also come to an end that season, as N.C. State took home the title.
Whether or not the story has been embellished over the years, the "Win One for the Gipper" speech has become of those moments in sports that make them more than just games. George Gipp, a halfback at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne, passed away from pneumonia in 1920 at age 25.
As legend has it, Gipp told Rockne on his deathbed that at some point in the future, when Notre Dame was trailing, to tell them that they needed to "win one for The Gipper." Eight years later, with the Irish facing undefeated Army at Yankee Stadium, Rockne felt the time was appropriate to grant Gipp's final request.
The struggling Irish would stun the Cadets that day in the Bronx, 12-6. The speech would make its way to Hollywood just over a decade later, as Pat O'Brien (as Rockne) and future United States president Ronald Reagan (as Gipp) starred in the movie Knute Rockne, All-American.
Texas was undefeated and ranked No. 1 heading into the 1978 Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns were led by Heisman Trophy-winning running back Earl Campbell and were set to square off with No. 5 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
No. 2 Oklahoma, also unbeaten, was playing an undermanned Arkansas team coached by Lou Holtz in the Orange Bowl. Third-ranked Alabama faced Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, while No. 4 Michigan faced future NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon in the Rose Bowl. By day’s end on Jan. 2, 1978, the Longhorns, Sooners and Wolverines had all lost. Notre Dame held Campbell scoreless in a 38-10 rout. Down the road in New Orleans, the Crimson Tide handled Ohio State with ease, 35-6.
With No. 1 and No. 2 losing, the natural progression seemed that No. 3 Alabama would move up to the top spot and claim the national title. The poll voters thought otherwise, however, vaulting the Irish from No. 5 to No. 1 on the strength of their 28-point win over the top-ranked and seemingly unstoppable Longhorns, giving coach Dan Devine his first and only national title.
The quote rolls off the tongues of Notre Dame fans just as easily as do please and thank you. "Outlined against a blue, gray October sky, the four horsemen rode again."
Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice coined the phrase to describe Notre Dame's Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Don Miller and Elmer Layden. The Irish had just defeated Army at the Polo Grounds in New York, 13-7, in 1924.
Notre Dame publicity aide George Strickler ran with the "Four Horsemen" moniker, having the players pose for a picture back in South Bend while each was straddling a horse. The quartet would go on to lead Notre Dame to the national title, capped by a 27-10 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, the program's last bowl appearance for 45 years
There was perhaps no more dominant team in modern college football than Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma Sooners of the '50s. Oklahoma won three national titles under Wilkinson, including consecutive championships in 1955 and 1956.
The freshman class of 1953 (who had to sit out their freshman season under NCAA rules), did not lose a game in their entire playing careers from 1954-1956. The Sooners amassed 47 consecutive victories during that time and were looking to make it 48 when Notre Dame came to Norman in November of 1957.
The Irish found the end zone just once in front of 62,000 fans at Owen Field, but their defense held mighty Oklahoma scoreless, ending the longest winning streak in college football history with a 7-0 shutout. Another streak fell as well that day, as the Sooners failed to score for the first time in 23 games.
Notre Dame was history's team. Miami was the nouveau riche of college football. Naturally, the two teams and the two fanbases were not best of friends, never more so than in the late '80s, when their rivalry became so big that the schools agreed that the series had to end following the 1990 season.
The 1988 meeting was the pinnacle of the rivalry. No. 1 Miami, who hadn’t lost a regular-season game in over three years, rolled into South Bend to face fellow unbeaten and fourth-ranked Notre Dame. A pregame fight, the origin of which is still debated to this day between the participants, spawned the famous Holtz quote “Save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me” in his pregame speech.
As for the game itself, it was a back-and-forth game, highlighted by a controversial call that took away a Miami touchdown as well as a failed two-point conversion that stamped safety Pat Terrell’s name in Fighting Irish lore. The Irish won, 31-30, en route to the national title.
For all of Paul "Bear" Bryant's accomplishments during his 25-year reign over the Alabama football program, the Bear never was able to take down Notre Dame. His best chance came in the 1973 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, with the winner to be crowned national champion (although both teams claim the 1973 national title).
Trailing 24-23 late in the game, Bryant chose to punt the football and pin the Irish deep in their own territory, hoping to quickly regain possession and attempt a game-winning field goal. The plan seemed to be working, as Notre Dame faced a third down and nine yards to go from the shadows of its own goalposts.
Quarterback Tom Clements bought just enough time to allow reserve tight end Robin Weber to break open down the field and completed a beautiful pass for a first down, allowing the Irish to run out the clock and claim coach Ara Parseghian's second national title. Alabama never saw it coming. In fact, Bryant never even saw the play. He was expecting a run and was busy preparing his punt return team for the ensuing play.