30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Syracuse and snowballs, a 2008 comedy with a long-term payoff

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For all anyone knows, Notre Dame would not have made the 2012 BCS title game if it did not flail in the snow against Syracuse in 2008.

The 24-23 loss on a 28-degree afternoon to a team led by an already-fired head coach was nothing but embarrassing. The Irish student body took out its frustrations on each other, turning a 13-point fourth-quarter collapse into nothing but the background of a snowball fight, continuing the annual halftime marshmallow fight on Senior Day.

A few ambitious throws may have approached the Notre Dame sideline, but they were nothing more than the byproduct of young bravado, “I bet I can throw this one onto the field!” Those heaves primarily came from splotches of shirtless souls, confirming the lack of malice in the moment.

The Irish fans turned away from the debacle and made an afternoon of it. Of course, Notre Dame and sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen did not have that luxury.

“I don’t really know what happened,” Clausen said after throwing for 291 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-39 passing.

What happened was the Irish repeatedly failed to capitalize on field position, beginning a first-quarter drive on the plus 25-yard line and gaining only eight yards before kicking a field goal, and later failing to convert again when starting on the plus 29-yard line, not to mention a slightly more productive field-goal drive originating at midfield. Worse than all those three-point successes, kicker Brandon Walker went only 3-of-6 on field goals.

What happened was the Irish took a 23-10 lead into the fourth quarter and then failed to respond when Syracuse scored a touchdown with 12:30 left on the clock. Rather than Clausen find star receiver Golden Tate for a third touchdown, Notre Dame turned to Walker and his 49-yarder fell short.

What happened was after fired-but-still-coaching Orange head coach Greg Robinson decided to key on Tate, who caught seven passes for 146 yards and that pair of scores, the Irish offense had nowhere else to turn, gaining only 41 yards on 28 rushes. Tate did catch a Clausen heave in the closing seconds to set up Walker for another field-goal attempt, but given it was four yards longer than his miss earlier in the quarter, the result felt known before his toe ever reached the football.

What happened was Syracuse’s last-minute, game-winning touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Cameron Dantley — the son of legendary Irish basketball guard Adrian Dantley — turned Senior Day into yet another indictment of a Notre Dame coaching tenure on the verge of following Robinson’s lead.

“I feel sick to my stomach,” Irish head coach Charlie Weis said. “Everyone at Notre Dame takes these losses personally, just like they feel good when they win. But right now I feel absolutely miserable for the seniors.”

Weis lasted another year, which meant he was the head coach to receive Hawaiian linebacker Manti Te’o’s signature on the bottom of a National Letter of Intent that February. Te’o watched that snafu against Syracuse from the sidelines, well, until the cold and snow drove the visiting recruits into an inside lounge.

Legend has it Te’o arrived in South Bend in shorts and flip-flops. Everything about the weekend went poorly for Notre Dame, quite literally everything.

So maybe, just maybe, the ability of the student body to find reason to stick around and have fun during a comedy on the field made an impression on Te’o about their lasting loyalty and passion. Even in bad times, there was some good to be found.

In time, Te’o brought much more good.

Do not read this and begin to fear the weekend, Irish fans. The 2008 team was riddled with flaws, hence its 6-6 regular season and Hawaii Bowl bid. (But oh, what a Christmas Eve.) The Orange had literally fired its coach, letting him coach out the season out of indifference and apathy as much as competitive desire and sympathy, yet Notre Dame was still only a 19.5-point favorite.

This version of Syracuse is worse than even that one. These Irish are better than they have been in 30 years. Hence, a 33.5-point spread.

Do not read this comedy of a memory and fret about Saturday (2:30 ET; NBC).

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Kelly’s 100 Notre Dame wins, marked by 2012 Stanford & 2020 Clemson
100 wins later, Brian Kelly’s debut following Charlie Weis’ end
The Bush Push
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
Honorable Mentions