The last time a No. 1-ranked dynasty riding a winning streak stretching across three regular seasons arrived at Notre Dame Stadium, the drama could not contain itself. The unveiling of green jerseys before kickoff, prompting Irish panic across the country, would have warranted a “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC” moment all on its own, not to mention Tom Zbikowski’s 60-yard punt return just before halftime to stake the Irish to a 21-14 lead against USC.
Matt Leinart’s dramatic 4th-and-9 completion for 61 yards in the final minute could have stood as the iconic play in the sport’s greatest intersectional rivalry, but even that would be overshadowed by …
The Bush Push.
Nothing else needs to be said and any Notre Dame fan can tell you where they were and what they broke. Many of the students in the Stadium in 2005 will tell you they were in the corner of the end zone, having rushed the field a play earlier when the clock operator let seven seconds tick off the clock, bringing it to zero, though Leinart had fumbled out of bounds.
Those students celebrated the win, and then …
The Bush Push.
Before the ball was snapped, the play’s namesake knew the stakes and the inevitable history about to be made.
“Either this is going to be one of the greatest plays ever, or we’re walking out of this Stadium with a loss,” Trojans running back Reggie Bush said last year of his controversial, instinctual shove, thinking back on his response when Leinart told him he would run a goal-line sneak. “Alright, I’ve got you.”
This might not be a usual recommendation, but this is well done and a unique perspective, particularly Reggie Bush admitting doubt when Matt Leinart told him about the coming QB sneak. https://t.co/VTq0Ov7UND
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 11, 2019
The emotions of Zbikowski’s bull-headed return can still be conjured up for a moment by many fans, though the terror at the thought of the green jerseys tends to linger just as strongly. But the play that earned a two-word moniker remains the greatest aggravation at all. By the letter of the law, Bush plowing into Leinart, stonewalled at the goal line, to propel him into the end zone was illegal in 2005. It happened plenty and was an understandable instinct, but it should have been a penalty all the same.
“All I could think about was helping my teammate get into that end zone,” Bush said. “I didn’t even think. I just reacted. I ran up to him, gave him everything I had.”
Leinart had no idea Bush had been the catalyst until discussing it in the postgame chaos, erupting once again in more a shocked scrum than a jubilant celebration after the remaining three seconds had expired. Leinart with tears in his eyes, Bush his trademark smile, the second thing to come to mind when hearing his name, after, well, you knew the phrase long before you opened this column. The picture at the top brought it to your lips …
The Bush Push.
Nowadays, the play would be legal, arguably underscoring how reasonable an action it was from Bush, but 15 years ago, it only served as the last resort for the vanquished as far as anyone in South Bend was concerned.
To his credit, Irish head coach Charlie Weis never relied on that technicality.
“If you’re waiting for me to say it’s a good loss, you won’t hear that here,” he said after the 34-31 defeat.
Of course, Weis had the comfort of knowing he had begun negotiating a contract extension the week before, eventually adding five more years to his initial five-year contract, all because of the headlines of his 5-2 start.
“The week of the first bye, [athletics director Kevin White] and I sat down and I said there would be a possibility that people would start talking about things like (the NFL),” Weis said on Oct. 30, two weeks after falling to the Trojans. “I wanted to confirm to him that he never had to worry about there being any interest on my part.
“The problem with that is, as the season goes on, it becomes more problematic the more it is brought up. It can have a negative effect on recruiting. It has a negative effect on the people you are around. We wanted to nip that in the bud.”
That contract extension has earned as much criticism as Bush’s instincts have praise, but both miss the point.
When No. 1 USC visited No. 9 Notre Dame, no one was cheated. In 30 years of NBC broadcasting the Irish, the moment stands atop the greatest moments. It is simply the Bush Push.
If tomorrow night can bring such luxuries, when No. 1 Clemson visits No. 4 Notre Dame, once again on NBC (7:30 ET), if the ending can be summarized in three rhythmic syllables, all of college football can only hope to be so lucky.
30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Offensive high against Pittsburgh brings ironic end to Willingham’s tenure
Darius Walker’s 2004 debut powers upset of No. 8 Michigan
The Game of the Century: No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
Irish timeout gifts Michigan a last-second field goal in 1994
Irish wave goodbye to Michigan, 31-0, in 2014
Lightning strikes twice in South Florida’s first visit
Three overtimes, two No. 2s, one goal-line fumble
Te’o’s emotions & interceptions overwhelm No. 18 Michigan
Night games return, ‘Crazy Train’ debuts
Blowing out USC completes Irish return
Tommy Rees’ first career start, an upset exaggerated
The Irish fell, but more importantly, football returned after 9/11
Godsey heroics provide Davie hope
Last-minute Golson-to-Koyack TD beats No. 14 Stanford in the rain
A dramatic, Pyrrhic victory over LSU in 1998
Beginning with ‘ultimate greed’ in 1990 and Indiana in 1991