Notre Dame Football: Reliving the Most Painful Losses of the Post-Lou Holtz Era
Late Saturday night the Irish faithful were dealt another devastating loss with a 34-31 loss to Michigan State in overtime. The Spartans' gutsy fake field goal call to win the game was one of the most shocking and heartbreaking losses imaginable, but where does it rank on the scale of misery compared with some of the other Notre Dame defeats in recent years?
Today we tear open old wounds and rank the ten worst, most painful losses Notre Dame has suffered since Lou Holtz left town. You don't have to think hard to figure out what #1 is...
#10: Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34 (2009)
The Game: Notre Dame - Michigan 2009
The Setup: Notre Dame was back in the top 20 after whipping Nevada in their opening contest. Michigan was coming off a nightmarish 3-9 season and coach Rich Rodriguez was under NCAA investigation because his players ratted him out for going overtime with practice. Notre Dame seemed poised to take a huge step forward and perhaps deal a death blow to Rich Rod's tenure.
The Haunting Memory: Tate Forcier breaking Darius Fleming's ankles on a 31-yard 4th down run for a touchdown.
The Goat/Villain: Forcier/The Officials...Forcier was a thorn in Notre Dame's side all game long, but there was a plethora of absolutely terrible calls that went against the Irish in this game. Points were taken off the board due to a replay that was inconclusive at best, Armando Allen was given a questionable taunting penalty, and Sam Young was called for a very questionable hold on a huge play to Rudolph just to name a few bad calls.
Why It Lands Here on the List: Just when it felt like Charlie Weis had turned the ship around the Irish slip up in Ann Arbor thanks to a freshman quarterback who defines the word "smug" and a homer job from the refs. Somehow the Irish found a way to lose even though the Wolverines had no answer for the Irish passing attack.
On the Scale of Devastation: Absolutely Infuriating. The referee aspect of the loss adds a certain venomous dimension to it.
#9: Navy 46, Notre Dame 44 (2007)
The Game: Notre Dame - Navy 2007
The Setup: Notre Dame in the midst of its worst season in 44 years, but it hadn't lost to the Naval Academy since Roger Staubach was quarterback in 1963. The Irish season had been lost since week one, but finding a way to continue the 43-game winning streak against the Mids was one of the few things ND could still achieve.
The Haunting Memory: Navy defensive end Ram Vela flying over Armando Allen to sack Evan Sharpley on 4th down from the 25 yard line.
The Goat/Villain: Charlie Weis...With under a minute left the Irish had an opportunity to attempt a field goal on 4th and 8 from the 25 yard line. Weis decided to go for it instead, which led to a drive-ending sack. Notre Dame's placekicker Brandon Walker had been terrible all season long, but the majority of fans/analysts/humans walking earth/extra-terrestrials thought Weis should've given Walker a chance. After all, Harry Oliver wasn't a particularly good kicker and he's etched in Irish lore because he was presented with an opportunity.
Why It Lands Here on the List: This is the only game on the list that doesn't ruin a season or at least deliver a devastating blow to it--that opportunity doesn't exist when you enter the game 1-8--but this was rock bottom of the worst season since JFK was in office.
On the Scale of Devastation: Sickening. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse it did.
#8: Michigan State 44, Notre Dame 41 (2005)
The Game: Notre Dame - Michigan State 2005
The Setup: The Charlie Weis Era was off to a flying start with road victories over two ranked opponents in the first two weeks of the season--including #3 Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Irish were soaring up the polls and looking to end an embarrassing four-game home losing streak to the Spartans in Weis' first home contest.
The Haunting Memory: Michigan State players planting the Spartan flag at midfield after winning in OT.
The Goat/Villain: Every player that ran out and planted that flag.
Why It Lands Here on the List: The Irish dug themselves a deep hole early in the second half--falling behind by three scores--but stormed back to send it to overtime. After kicking a field goal to go up 41-38 in overtime, the Spartans' running back George Teague fielded a tough pitch and found his way to the endzone for a game-winning touchdown.
On the Scale of Devastation: Blood boiling. The loss was bad enough, but the flag incident after the game is what will forever stick out in minds' of Irish fans.
#7: Southern Cal 34, Notre Dame 27 (2009)
The Game: Notre Dame - Southern Cal 2009
The Setup: Charlie Weis was still searching for his "signature win" as Notre Dame head coach. After two years of being throttled by the Trojans it appeared he finally had the firepower to matchup and compete with Southern Cal.
The Haunting Memory: The slant pass to Duval Kamara falling incomplete in the endzone as time expired.
The Goat/Villain: The Notre Dame Secondary...Freshman Matt Barkley shredded the defense for 383 yards, the best game of his career.
Why It Lands Here on the List: This was truly Charlie's last stand. Once again Jimmy Clausen led the Irish back from the brink. Trailing by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, he led a furious comeback to cut the Southern Cal lead to 7 and then marched Notre Dame down inside the Trojan 10 with a chance to tie the game with less than a minute to play. Due to spotty time management Notre Dame only got to run three plays, all falling incomplete. Once again the Irish fell just short.
On the Scale of Devastation: Depressing. It was one of those moments where fans just went "will we ever turn the corner?" The student body began to turn on Weis and other fans were breaking limbs jumping off the Charlie Bandwagon.
#6: Michigan 26, Notre Dame 22 (1999)
The Game: Notre Dame - Michigan in 1999
The Setup: Coming off a nice 9-3 sophomore campaign in 1998, it appeared that Bob Davie was coming into his own as head coach of the Fighting Irish. He had a senior-laden squad led by quarterback Jarious Jackson that had high expectations of building on the previous year's success. After whipping Kansas in the season opener the Irish headed to Ann Arbor for a showdown with the Wolverines.
The Haunting Memory: Jarious Jackson trying to rush his team up to the line to spike the ball inside the 20 as time expired.
The Goat/Villain: Bob Davie...His timeout management is so bad it transcends football--he was the worst in the history of sports. He used more timeouts in the 1st and 3rd quarters than any coach in history, which led to Notre Dame having none left to call when Jackson drove them into the red zone with time running out.
Why It Lands Here on the List: Expectations were high going into the season and it seemed as if Notre Dame had chosen the right guy with its selection of Bob Davie as head coach. It came down to the wire and the Irish were outcoached. Running out of time in the redzone as you're driving for the winning score just makes you want to scream.
On the Scale of Devastation: Infuriating...To lose to a bitter rival is brutally tough; to lose in part because the head coach totally mismanaged the timeouts pushes it to another level. Just to prove he hadn't learned his lesson Davie ran out of time inside the 10 the very next game against Purdue.
#5: Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 21 (2000)
The Game: Notre Dame - Michigan State in 2000
The Setup: The Irish entered the game 2-1 and were forced to start former tight end Gary Godsey at quarterback because the regular starter Arnaz Battle was knocked out for the year in Notre Dame's heartbreaking home loss to Nebraska. Notre Dame had gained a lot of national respect thanks to the Nebraska battle and was beginning a slow ascent up the polls when it arrived in East Lansing.
The Haunting Memory: Herb Haygood catching a ball from Jeff Smoker on 4th and 10 and racing for a game-winning 69-yard touchdown on 4th down.
The Goat/Villain: Ron Isreal...He slipped on the Michigan State logo at midfield during the deciding play, giving Haygood his ally to the endzone.
Why It Lands Here on the List: All the Irish had to do was stop the Spartans for one play on 4th and 10. Allowing a conversion wouldn't have been a shock--allowing a touchdown was.
On the Scale of Devastation: Stomach punch. Just when you thought the Irish were going to squeeze out a victory, a young, inexperienced quarterback delivers a dart in the face of a heavy Notre Dame blitz, an Irish defender falls down, and the entire game does a 180 in Sparty's favor. One of my best friend's aunts had a heart attack thanks to this play.
#4: Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 (2010)
The Game: Notre Dame - Michigan State in 2010
The Setup: Notre Dame was fresh off a heartbreaking home defeat at the hands of Denard Robinson and his Michigan Wolverines. Michigan State was the first road test of the Brian Kelly Era and presented a huge opportunity to get momentum headed back in the right direction for the Irish.
The Haunting Memory: The holder dropping back to pass (after the playclock expired) and finding a wide open receiver on a fake field goal to win the game.
The Goat/Villain: Aaron Bates, the holder who completed the pass to Charlie Gantt for the game-winning touchdown.
Why It Lands Here on the List: Of all the ways to lose a game...a fake field goal in overtime.
On the Scale of Devastation: Complete and utter shock and disbelief. This was one of those rare moments where Irish fans let their guards down, thinking that the worst case scenario was another overtime where Notre Dame would have the chance to go on offense second. The gutsy call by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio left the entire Notre Dame Nation speechless.
#3: Boston College 14, Notre Dame 7 (2002)
The Game: Notre Dame - Boston College in 2002
The Setup: Notre Dame in the midst of its "Return to Glory" under Ty Willingham. The Irish were 9-0 and ranked in the top five for the first time since Lou Holtz left town. In an attempt to unify the team and student body, Willingham decided to break out hideously ugly lime green jerseys that were supposed to match the "Sea of Green" in the stands.
The Haunting Memory: Pat Dillingham handing the ball to a Boston College defensive lineman and watching him ramble for a touchdown before the half.
The Goat/Villain: Pat Dillingham...That fumble/interception/abomination is unforgivable.
Why It Lands Here on the List: Notre Dame seemed destined to land in the national championship game, pulling rabbit after rabbit out of its hat en route to its magical 9-0 start. Then they broke out the green jerseys and promptly fumbled its title hopes away. Literally. Notre Dame put the ball on the turf seven times over the course of the game. This was a classic "there is no way this is happening" game. The fact that it was at the hands of the Fredo to Notre Dame's Michael Corleone made it that much worse.
On the Scale of Devastation: Tearing open of old wounds. At that point the majority of fans thought that Tyrone Willingham walked on water. But Notre Dame did every little thing wrong--from the psychological ploy that backfired to constantly turning the ball over five times to the ultimately game-deciding touchdown that Dillingham gift-wrapped. Flashbacks to 1993 were enough to make you nauseous.
#2: Nebraska 27, Notre Dame 24 (2000)
The Game: Notre Dame - Nebraska in 2000
The Setup: Nebraska entered Notre Dame Stadium ranked #1 in the country and a huge favorite. Many Irish fans sold their tickets because they thought it'd be a blowout--so many that when kickoff rolled around there was almost as much Nebraska red as there was Irish green in the stands.
The Haunting Memory: Nebraska tight end Tracey Wistrom catching a pass on third down in overtime to move the chains and set up the winning score.
The Goat/Villain: Carlos Polk...his late hit on starting Irish quarterback Arnaz Battle broke his hand. Battle played the rest of the game and completed only 3 of 15 passes for 40 yards. He'd have season-ending surgery the next week.
Why It Lands Here on the List: This was one of those games where it seemed the magic of Notre Dame would carry the day. Nebraska took a two touchdown in lead in the second half, but the Irish responded with back-to-back special teams touchdowns. Against all odds Notre Dame had placed itself in a position to pull the upset...and then in the blink of an eye it was gone.
On the Scale of Devastation: Absolutely devastating. Bad enough that I thought about this game at least once a week until #1 happened...
#1: Southern Cal 34, Notre Dame 31 (2005)
The Game: Notre Dame - Southern Cal in 2005
The Setup: #1 Southern Cal rolled into South Bend for a showdown with Charlie Weis' 9th ranked Irish. The brash Trojans were the defending champions and riding a 27-game winning streak. Notre Dame was in the middle of a resurgence in Charlie Weis' first year, starting the season unranked and soaring all the way into the top 10 after victories over Pitt, Michigan, Washington, and Purdue. Before the game the Irish changed into green jerseys, sending the stadium into a frenzy.
The Haunting Memory: Reggie Bush pushing Matt Leinart into the endzone after he was initially stonewalled at the line on a quarterback sneak.
The Goat/Villain: Reggie Bush. If I have to vacate his villain title then I'll plug Dwayne Jarrett in here.
Why It Lands Here on the List: This game was the definition of a Notre Dame Moment for the first 59:57. The Irish fought and clawed and took a late lead against what was thought to be one of the best teams in modern college football history. The Irish faithful thought they'd won after the clock hit zero and the fans stormed the field, but time was put back on the clock and Matt Leinart weaseled his way into the endzone to break the hearts of Notre Dame Nation.
On the Scale of Devastation: Unparalleled. There's simply nothing that can top it.
HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR THE LIST: ND-Pitt '04, ND-Purdue '99, ND-Navy '07, ND-Michigan '10, ND-Syracuse '08