College football home finales (Senior Day) are usually a downer for everyone with the exception of, well, most of the seniors.
It often marks the end of organized football for some; the beginning of the end for many coaches (and sometimes an entire staff).
From both a player and fan perspective, it lacks the hope and promise of the home opener played just three months prior, as the now over-used phrase “you are what you are” applies to most teams after 10 contests are in the books.
Home finales have produced a mixed bag for the Irish in the BGI era. Notre Dame is 18-9 since 1981 with about a 95 percent chance of producing a 19th victory this Saturday vs. rudderless Syracuse.
Charlie Weis has contributed a 3-0 mark, as his squads have buried three of the country’s worst programs (Syracuse, Army, and Duke, with another hapless Syracuse team on the horizon).
Former coach Tyrone Willingham was 2-1 in finales, guiding the 9-1 and eighth-ranked Irish over Rutgers 42-0 in 2002; beating an unusually poor BYU team in 2003, 33-14; and then losing a sloppy heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Panthers and the potty-mouthed, unorthodox QB Tyler Palko, 41-38 in 2004.
ABC’s Bob Davie fared well vs. solid opponents in home finales, first besting a West Virginia squad led by future pro RB Amos Zereoue and future pro QB Marc Bulger, (but not yet under the guidance of future ex-Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez) in 1997.
The following season, Davie guided the 8-1 and 10th ranked Irish to a wild 39-36 win over a poorly coached but extremely talented LSU squad led by one of the nation’s best players, future New England Patriots RB Kevin Faulk (for more on the unfortunate ending in this contest, click here).
Davie split the ’99 and ’00 home finales with Boston College (the former being the infamous “torn turf” game involving the always classy Eagles) and then finished the 2001 home slate on a high note, downing Navy 34-16, just two weeks prior to his dismissal.
Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz faced the most difficult slate, finishing 7-4 vs. this gauntlet of opponents:
1986: A 24-19 defeat to No. 3 and eventual National Champion Penn State
1987: Ranked No. 7, the 7-1 Irish handed No. 10 Alabama a 37-6 Midwest beat down
1988: Ranked No. 1, a 21-3 win over a scrappy, but depleted Penn State team
1989: Ranked No. 1, the Irish won their 22nd in a row with a 59-6 destruction of death-penalty ravaged SMU
1990: Ranked No. 1 for the second time that season, the Irish lost a 14-0 first quarter lead, falling to unranked Penn State, 24-21
1991: Ranked No. 5, the Irish blew a 31-7 lead to No. 13 Tennessee. I covered this debacle in a pre-season blog, but if you still yearn for more about the game Volunteer fans refer to as The Miracle in South Bend, click here. Actually, even if you don’t want to know more about that game, it is WELL WORTH your time to click that link and scroll down.
1992: The Snow Bowl. No. 8 Notre Dame 17, #22 Penn State 16. More on that game in a forthcoming highlight video.
1993: No. 1 ND suffered the most crushing defeat in the history of organized sports. No data available.
1994: The unranked Irish outlasted Air Force, 42-30.
1995: No. 8 ND 35, Navy 17.
1996: Holtz, who announced his retirement earlier that week, guided the 10th-ranked Irish to a 62-0 victory over Rutgers and was carried off the field.
Gerry Faust finished with a 2-3 mark, beating unranked Georgia Tech 35-3 in 1981 and unranked Penn State 44-7 in 1984.
Faust dropped decisions to No. 5 Penn State, 24-14 in 1982 (the Irish were ranked No. 13 at the time); to unranked Air Force 23-22; and to No. 17 LSU in 1985, 10-7, as part of his final three-game losing streak.
Random Senior Day Observations
2. 1990 #18 PSU 24, #1 Notre Dame 21
3. 1986 #3 Penn State (and eventual National Champion) 24, Notre Dame 19
4. 1991 and the aforementioned Miracle. Hey look, the same link!
5. 2004 Pitt, Palko, jump balls, non-calls, and “FUDGE” (only he didn’t say “fudge”) exclaimed loudly on NBC.
Most Exciting Victories:
1. 1992 Snow Bowl, Notre Dame 17, Penn State 16
2. 1998 #10 Notre Dame 39, LSU 36
3. 1987 #7 Notre Dame 37, #10 Alabama 6 (ND then lost its last three games to finish the season…but won 23 straight over the next two)
4. 1997 vs. West Virginia and an inexplicable frenzied storming of the field with a win over the 7-4 Mountaineers.
5. Hopefully not Saturday
1986 vs. #3-ranked Penn State
The Day the Music Died:
And as you might expect, I have video of the best moments and plays to be posted tonight. No tears included...