Saturday’s look at Notre Dame’s win over Indiana way back in 1991 was intended as the subtle start to an offseason-long series covering all three decades of the relationship with NBC. In those 29 years, NBC has broadcast an unofficial total of 192 games, a number that will fall one short of 200 at the end of 2020.
If the plan is to touch on 30 different games/moments/highlights in the 30 weekends leading up to the home opener against Arkansas on Sept. 12, then obviously a good number of notable memories will not make the cut. To be completely honest, the intended list of 30 is not yet finalized — beginning with the signing of the contract and the first game was not only natural but also gave a week’s leeway to nail down the other 29 — but it has been whittled to 34 or 35. Even with that cushion, some of the honorable mentions stand out.
That first year on the network was highlighted by a 42-7 blowout of No. 12 Pittsburgh, raising the Irish to No. 5 in both the Coaches’ and the AP polls, but then the season fell apart with back-to-back losses to No. 13 Tennessee and No. 8 Penn State in November, rendering the early success largely an afterthought all these years later.
It is a bit baffling the 17-17 tie against No. 6 Michigan a season later is not better remembered. The draw dropped Notre Dame to No. 7 in both polls, from No. 3, and just a few weeks later the Irish lost 33-16, at home, to No. 19 Stanford. Those were the only blemishes on a year that finished with Notre Dame at No. 4. It would have needed to be undefeated to top Alabama in the polls, but one can be forgiven for wondering if the tie’s deflation lingered into October and cost the Irish twice.
On an entirely separate note, doesn’t the current narrative insist Lou Holtz never lost to ranked opponents? Imagine if Brian Kelly lost as a heavy favorite at home in his seventh season at Notre Dame. (Admittedly, Kelly’s seventh season was the 2016 debacle, but aside from that, he has not lost as a hefty home favorite since 2014, so a logical mind should see the point at hand.) (In fact, if excluding 2016, the last four years have seen only one loss, to title runner-up Georgia in 2017.)
Neither the 1995 nor the 2014 losses to Northwestern crack the coming 30, although as a tandem they do make for a version of a moment. Duval Kamara’s fateful fourth-down slip against No. 6 USC in 2009 does not make the cut, though if he had kept his footing and caught Jimmy Clausen’s pass, it likely would have.
The considered honorable mentions go on: Tyrone Willingham’s debut season including a 25-23 win against No. 7 Michigan; the 2008 win against the Wolverines in a downpour so heavy it forced future student-ticket booklets to be made of laminate rather than mere cardboard; that same season’s four-overtime loss to Pittsburgh was momentarily delayed when the sprinklers began watering the field in an overtime because no one thought to check their timers as the game stretched into the night.
There’s a problem Notre Dame Stadium no longer needs to worry about.
And, of course, who could ever forget the historic moment of a squirrel scoring a touchdown against Boston College in 1999? It was more exciting in person than it sounds.
A few more will yet fall by the wayside from the summer’s schedule: What warrants more inclusion, Charlie Weis’ last game at Notre Dame or Brian Kelly’s first? Does including Ian Book’s seven-yard touchdown scramble against Virginia Tech this past November reek of recency bias, or does the six-game winning streak it sparked give it enough merit? If neither beating No. 5 Michigan in 1998 nor shutting out the Wolverines in 2014 led to greater things, is it understandable to feature only the latter, known as it is for Brian VanGorder’s gif-able fist pump and Elijah Shumate’s interception return for a touchdown that wasn’t?
The intent is to add some variety to the next seven months, walk you down memory lane a few times and maybe even laugh once or twice. (If you don’t think the 2011 comedy known as the South Florida game will make the list, you take all this too seriously. That’s one to forever remember.)
From SI's letters to the editor a month after the "We're Notre Dame – And You're Not" issue, in the category of *the more things change, the more they stay the same*, I give you Fran from Connecticut. pic.twitter.com/DrRKqmajf0
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) February 15, 2020
INSIDE THE IRISH READING
— Notre Dame’s 2020 home kickoffs feature prime time
— Things Not To Learn: Some Notre Dame questions will last well past spring
— Reports: Former Cincinnati star Mike Mickens fills out Irish coaching staff
— 30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Beginning with ‘ultimate greed’ in 1990 and Indiana in 1991
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) February 16, 2020