Editor’s Note: The original intention of the “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC” series was to set the stage for the 30th year of the partnership. But then 2020 intervened with a fury, and the season did not grant the time to publish the last half dozen entries. As 2020’s reach lengthens 2021’s winter doldrums, there is no reason not to walk down those memory lanes now.
By the time Notre Dame took the field in its 1996 home finale, everyone knew the facts of the occasion. For whatever reasons, Rutgers would be the final opponent Irish head coach Lou Holtz would face at Notre Dame Stadium. His defensive coordinator, Bob Davie, would take over as head coach in 1997 in an expanded Stadium.
While those reasons were perhaps rumored, and the 25 years since have led to their growth, twisting and, by now, unnecessary speculation, but at the time, the simple facts made for a moment all on their own.
And then the Irish rose to that moment with a 62-0 thrashing of the overmatched Knights. Ron Powlus threw four touchdown passes, breaking the then-program record. (Passing Rick Mirer to reach 41 now a paltry figure compared to Brady Quinn’s record of 95 or Ian Book’s 72.) The domination went beyond Powlus, though, if that was not made obvious by the score.
His first touchdown pass was set up by an Allen Rossum interception, the second Notre Dame score came on a 33-yard blocked punt return by freshman Joey Goodspeed, and Rutgers completed all of three passes while getting sacked nine times. Powlus’ 42-yard touchdown to Malcolm Johnson less than four minutes into the second half only served to turn the rout into a 42-0 beating, one added onto by veteran Irish reserves. Running back Robert Farmer scored the final tally.
“Thank God that I had a chance to be part of a legend and play for coach Holtz,” Farmer said.
All to hand Holtz his 100th Notre Dame win in style.
“I think today is my favorite memory,” Holtz said. “I’m proud to leave the University and say that I did not embarrass it, at least I think I did not.”
For the sake of that quote, the moment as a whole and the Irish No. 10 ranking both entering and exiting that climactic South Bend weekend, little time is spent remembering the following week’s 27-20 overtime loss at USC and the subsequent decision to skip a bowl game, finishing the season with an 8-3 record.
Instead, the 1996 season and Holtz’s tenure may as well have ended with the conclusion of the sixth year of “ND on NBC,” a few moments of Holtz addressing the Notre Dame student body, surrounded by his team.
“I’m not going to talk very long,” Holtz began, many students holding up “LOU” signs or smaller bumper stickers reading, “Don’t blame me, I voted for LOU.”
“To the students, you are important. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t need a faculty. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t need an administration. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t need this stadium. This University functions because of you, the sole purpose, for you.
“God has blessed me in so many ways, to be here at Notre Dame has been very special, and to have three children graduate from Notre Dame means so much to my wife and I. I know they were in that student body, and I know what this University has done for my children, and I feel blessed.
“You’ll find, we can build a better stadium, and it will be next year. You’ll find we can put a better playing surface than we have now. You can probably find a better social life than we have at Notre Dame. You’ll find better coaches—”
Predictably, the student body objected to the self-deprecating coach with a national title to his name and another near-miss.
“— You’ll find better food, but you will not find anything, no school, that you can improve upon its morals, its purpose and its belief, and that’s why I’ve been blessed to be here. God has been good to me.
“I say this to you, you are Notre Dame. Wherever you go, you are a Golden Domer. We’re going to have a new coach, we’re going to have a great team. I will be with you.
“I can only say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much you meant to me, how you supported me, how you lifted me up when I was down, when I was depressed. I would walk across campus, I’d be going to church and someone would say, ‘Hi coach.’ I just feel like a million dollars.
“To the band, the cheerleaders, the other people, to the Notre Dame family, I can’t say anything but I’ve been blessed. Thank you and God bless you.”
Five coaches later — with Brian Kelly tied with Holtz at 100 wins, only five victories behind the first great Irish coach, Knute Rockne — and a Stadium now twice renovated, many of Holtz’s humble proclamations have borne true.
A better stadium? At the least, one more appropriate for the 21st century.
A better playing surface? Notre Dame’s need for artificial turf traced back decades before its 2014 arrival.
A better social life than South Bend? Reasonable minds can agree.
Better food? With all due respect to South Dining Hall, there are several reasons the Irish now have a training table for student-athletes.
In the moment, those were all deprecating platitudes to serve Holtz’s broader point, an eloquent farewell after his 100th victory, the most lopsided of his 11 years.
30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Syracuse and snowballs, a 2008 comedy with a long-term payoff
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