Tonight, Notre Dame begins its 2019 season at Louisville against the Cardinals. On one hand, I’m excited. I would be more happy if they played this Saturday afternoon, but they’re back. But I also know, much like a tweet from the President, the season can go sideways quickly.
I was born into a family that loves Notre Dame football. I didn’t start watching Pitt one day and decide to jump ship and root for Bob Davie’s Irish teams (could you imagine?!). I was, at an early age, surrounded by relatives in Champion brand Notre Dame t-shirts and sweatshirts, some of which are still worn on gamedays and out to South Bend.
I’ve been lucky enough to have gone to many Notre Dame games, most of which were Im South Bend and a few in my hometown of Pittsburgh. Some have been good, others you’d like science to develop a pill to give you amnesia.
Tonight is only the second meeting between Notre Dame and Louisville.
Do you remember the first time they met?
I do! I do!
It was a cold November night in 2014. Louisville was ranked 24th in the nation and for Notre Dame, the first half of the season was pretty good. They were undefeated and 5th in the nation going into their game at Florida State when quarterback, Publix fan and man who dreams of eating W’s, Jameis Winston, was still there.
It appeared Notre Dame was going to win in the final minute, but an offensive pass interference call on C.J. Procise washed it out, leading to a 4th down attempt that failed, leaving me to question if life was fair.
Turns out it wasn’t.
Notre Dame would lose four of its last five games, including that Louisville game where Kyle Brindza missed a 32-yard field goal to force a possible overtime as it happened in the south endzone, the one I was sitting in, along the the top row of the stadium.
Once he missed, I immediately made my way to the exit, about 10 steps ahead of the rest of my family.
But believe it or not, that 2014 collapse wasn’t the worst I’ve seen in that stadium.
Let’s go back to 2009.
For Notre Dame fans who know where I’m going with this, hold on tight.
Connecticut’s football program is a shell of its former self who won’t have a conference to play in when the school moves to the Big East to keep the basketball program relevant.
Notre Dame was 6-2 entering November, and then fell apart under Charlie Weis, who started wearing hooded sweatshirts like he was Bill Belichick a few season before.
The Irish lost this game in overtime. We were sitting near the section where the visiting fans are placed at Notre Dame Stadium. The UConn fans couldn’t believe what they were watching. Some guys from Hartford decide to go see their alma mater play at Notre Dame, a once in a lifetime opportunity, see the campus and stadium and hope its not a blowout. Instead, they got more bang for their buck and saw the Huskies humiliate a program who gave Weis a huge contract, only to fire him that offseason and still have to pay him for years.
An all-time low in my time watching Notre Dame.
Here’s a few other clunkers I saw in person in South Bend
2008: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (24-23)
-The Irish were 6-4 and already bowl eligible. Lake effect snow had fallen in South Bend days before and with nobody shoveling out the stands, snowballs were thrown by the student section on Senior Day throughout, with one nailing an Indiana State trooper on the field.
What started a trend for me as a fan, the Irish missed a field goal to win in the final seconds, resulting in a loss against a Syracuse team that canned their coach leading up to the game, but let him finish the season. Ugh.
2007: Notre Dame vs. Duke (28-7)
I know what you’re thinking: “Sean, they won this game!”
Yes, they did. But if you were in the crowd for that game, it didn’t feel like it.
Notre Dame was TERRIBLE in 2007. They lost the first five games and were 1-9 entering this game. They somehow beat UCLA on the road, which the Bruins should be ashamed of, and it was a season where they lost to Navy for the first time since 1944 and gave the Midshipmen the belief they could actually beat Notre Dame, which they have done three times since then. In the end, they were 3-9 (chokes back vomit).
Former player and ESPN personality Mike Golic spoke to a pep rally crowd in the Joyce Center (now Purcell Pavilion), which had the enthusiasm of everyone who attended Princess Diana’s funeral, and tried to put lipstick on a pig.
The campus had an eerie feeling that weekend. It’s one I never, ever want to experience again.
Allowing a game featuring two 1-9 teams to air on a major network should be made a federal offense punishable by watching it on replay for a year in a room locked from the outside.
2004: Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh (41-38)
This was the first loss I ever experienced while attending a game in South Bend, but this one really sucked. It’s like going to Disney World and Space Mountain was closed the whole time you were there.
Also, it’s the game where Tyler Palko dropped two f-bombs on NBC.
That win the next year in Pittsburgh, which I attended, was sweet.
You wanna hear the good times I’ve had? Yeah, me too!”
2006: Notre Dame vs. Army (41-9)
The Irish were expected to win and did, but this was a game where Notre Dame warmed up in blue and came out of the tunnel in green to everyone’s surprise for Senior Day. It’s one thing Charlie Weis did right.
2012: Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest (38-0)
Another Senior Day game Notre Dame was expected to win. What made this so memorable was that Notre Dame, ranked 3rd in the BCS, was 11-0 after that. Hours later, we watched in a Mishawaka restaurant as Oregon and Kansas State, both 1 and 2, lose, making Notre Dame the new No. 1 going into the final game against USC and then…well, you know what happened next.
I’ve seen more wins than losses going out to Notre Dame, and I always enjoy making the trip. It’s one every college football fan should make. Even if you don’t like the program. But those losses, especially those that should have been guaranteed wins, sting the most and made that Sunday drive back to Pittsburgh longer and slightly more miserable.
But I expect Notre Dame to be ready tonight. Red might be a very visible color to the human eye (Georgia in 2017), but I expect a good amount of blue and green in Cardinal Stadium tonight.
As for this season’s schedule, if they go 12-0, they’re getting a playoff spot again.
How many teams go to Athens and Ann Arbor in the same season? Not many.