Heartbreaking Defeats: Notre Dame Losses That Stung the Most

Nick SheSenior Analyst IAugust 20, 2008

Close calls and what might have been is a good way to put what Notre Dame has gone through since its last National Championship title in 1988. Sure there were close calls along the way—plenty of them. They could have played for a title a year later had they won in the Orange Bowl. Who can forget, a week after beating No. 1 FSU, the loss that occurred at home against Tom Coughlin and Boston College?

Notre Dame vaulted itself back onto the map (albeit a short time) in the college football ranks in 2000. An overtime loss against Nebraska then kept the Irish from chasing what could have been a national title game appearance. Sad, but actually true if you go back and look at that season.

Let's take a look back at heartbreaking Notre Dame losses over the past 20 years and see which ones really were the worst.


1989 vs. Miami

Many expected Notre Dame to repeat as National Champions in 1989 as they entered the season ranked second in the nation, behind only the Michigan Wolverines. After defeating UM in the "Big House," 24-19, the Irish soared up to No. 1 in the nation. What stood between them and another national title, though, were the Miami Hurricanes, the defending champs the Irish had to knock off in South Bend the year before.

Although this game did not come down to a last-second play, it showed the Irish they were not the best team in the nation that year. Miami cruised to a 27-10 win in the Orange Bowl and finished the year as National Champs. Although it was not as heartbreaking as other Irish losses, it was still a day that Irish fans can look back at and just wonder.


1991 Orange Bowl vs. Colorado

This season woefully provided two offerings on this list for the Irish, this one coming on the first day of the year in the Orange Bowl against Colorado. Although Notre Dame entered the game incapable of winning a national championship themselves in all likelihood, they still had the opportunity to defeat the Buffs and keep them from being the champs.

Well, long story short, the Irish were held in check by the Colorado defense throughout. Trailing late in the game, 10-9, there was no way Colorado would kick to the Rocket...right? This pains me to post, but why not? It's still a hell of a run back, clipping call or no.


1991 vs. Tennessee

In 1991, the Irish seemed primed for another title run before the Tennessee Volunteers came to South Bend and started off the game down by a 14-0 score before most fans in the stands even blinked. The Irish continued to pile on, gaining a 31-7 advantage at one point in the matchup. However, the Vols came storming back and defeated the Irish, 35-34, as Reggie Ho missed a last-second field goal that would have won the Irish the game.

The Irish needed to have other things work out which did not in order to gain a trip to the title game in 1991, but this loss still pains Irish fans to think about to this day. The loss sent the Irish in a downward spiral that set up the dramatic Sugar/Cheerios Bowl game against Florida.


1993 vs. Boston College

The Irish were championship-chasers once again in 1993 and gained the No. 1 ranking after defeating previous No. 1 Florida State in South Bend. All Notre Dame had to do was beat Boston College and it was headed to Miami to face Nebraska and play for the national title. That's all they had to do, and what happens?

A defense that held Heisman Trophy quarterback Tommy Ward in check for the most part a week before went out and gave up 41 points to BC. The Irish lost, 41-39, and settled for a date in the Cotton Bowl where, in turn, they beat Texas A&M for a second straight year.

This is the first Irish heartbreak I remember watching first-hand. I was seven years old, and still can't describe what happened that day. Notre Dame had no answers defensively for most of the afternoon, while Tom Coughlin and Glenn Foley had all of them. Thinking of this kick will prevent me from being able to sleep tonight.

Since that day, one can argue the Irish have not made a serious run at a national championship. Although it is safe to say they were not the best team in the nation any of the years since then, it is fair to say they have had their title opportunities, if one thing or another went just slightly different.


2000 vs. Nebraska

Not a whole lot was expected of the Irish in 2000, but, after beating Texas A&M convincingly, they found themselves in the top 25 with No. 1 coming to town. In a game the Irish cashed in on special teams, they found themselves tied late with a chance to win the game.

Instead, Bob Davie and company decided not to risk anything and play for overtime. Nick Setta stepped up and gave the Irish the lead once again, sure. However, Eric Crouch led the Huskers right down field and into the end zone.

I was not watching this game at the time—instead I was in a car headed home listening to the whole thing. As a freshman in high school, I knew Davie was wrong for sitting on the ball and, to this day, I feel the same way.


2000 vs. Michigan State

Two weeks later, the Irish traveled to East Lansing looking to move to 3-1 and improve their ranking. A game that was back-and-forth until the end, Notre Dame lost on a touchdown pass over the middle that went for big yards.

I may be wrong, but I remember this play occurring on a fourth down. At the end of the year, this loss did not matter—it didn't prevent Notre Dame from a BCS game or a national title—but it was an extremely tough pill to swallow nonetheless.


2005 vs. USC

Oct. 15, 2005 will be a day I will never forget. The atmosphere of Notre Dame that day was unmatched and there was just the feeling in the air something was different on that afternoon. The teams traded a few scores early in the game before Tom Zbikowski brought the house down with a punt return for a touchdown to put the Irish ahead (I specifically remember nearly passing out during this play).

The game went on, both teams converting fourth downs in their own territory. Late in the game, with the Irish trailing, Brady Quinn scored on a keeper and the Irish moved within one stop away from the upset of the century.

First two downs are an incomplete pass and a one-yard gain. Fourth and nine, no timeouts for USC, which is trailing, 31-28, at the time. That's when Matt Leinart and Dwayne Jarrett hook up on a perfectly thrown ball to keep hope alive for the Trojans.

Shortly after, the Irish hold USC and time winds out on the scoreboard with ND winning, 31-28. After order is restored on the field, Pete Carroll is seen signaling to his team to get to the line and spike the ball. Instead, Leinart takes the ball on a sneak and gets some extra help from Reggie Bush to find the end zone.

Final score: 34-31, USC. As mentioned earlier in this article, I am still pained by this loss, and it was the toughest pill to swallow of any that I have ever had to when it comes to my team and losing.


So that's that for that. What do you think?: Which one of these losses was the worst for you since the Irish last won a title? Do you have a loss not mentioned that you feel is deserving? Go ahead, Irish fans, let me know how you feel.


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