30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: No. 1 Nebraska’s “Sea of Red” in 2000

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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.

It takes luck to go on the road to beat the country’s No. 1 team and eventual Heisman winner, and while Notre Dame may not have been on the road when it faced Nebraska in 2000, it may as well have been. Radio and television broadcasts opened in South Bend declaring there was “more red than green” in the stands — an exaggeration, but not by much.

Of the 80,000 in attendance, the Irish knew 4,000 would be ‘Huskers fans, given Nebraska was allotted that many tickets as part of the home-and-home agreement. Somehow, the “Sea of Red” grew to be about six times that size.

“When I was on the field before the game I wish I was color blind,” Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said. “Disappointing, very disappointing.”

In the retellings of that September afternoon, this invasion was not widely expected, not like it was in 2017 when Georgia fans created a similar color effect at Notre Dame Stadium. This was a shock to the Irish and a delight to the ‘Huskers.

“It looked like they stole tickets or beat people up outside to get in,” Nebraska quarterback and eventual Heisman-winner Eric Crouch said. “There was way more people than I anticipated being here.”

Thus, the two-touchdown underdog No. 23 Notre Dame needed some luck, and it got it in the form of a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Julius Jones and an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown from Joey Getherall, rocketing the Irish from a 21-7 third-quarter deficit to a tie game.

“Obviously, Julius Jones, with his hands on the football, is a difference-maker,” Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie said. “Upside? Julius Jones’ (potential) is as high as any player we’ve had here since I’ve been at Notre Dame.”

The Irish even had a chance to win, getting the ball with 1:07 seconds left, but instead, Davie called two runs from quarterback Arnaz Battle, sending the Irish to overtime.

“I would do the same thing 10 out of 10 times again,” Davie said afterward. “I wanted to get that game into overtime and give our team a chance to win.”

Second-guessing that decision is fair and understandable, but Davie’s point made some sense: When at home, you force overtime and hope the crowd proves to be the difference.

Oh, wait.

Notre Dame settled for a 29-yard Nick Setta field goal. The ‘Huskers responded with Crouch’s third rushing touchdown of the day. In a sign of how times have changed in the last two decades, his running 7-yard score included no option whatsoever, no opportunity to pitch forward or backward, no consideration of altering the play call pre-snap.

“That play is our bread and butter,” Crouch said. “We use it on the goal line and use it for big plays. There’s no other option on that play but for me to run.”

He finished with 80 rushing yards on 16 carries, highlighted by his 62-yard run to open the day’s scoring, and 103 passing yards on 7-of-15. Battle held his own with 107 rushing yards on 14 attempts, but he completed only 3 of 15 passes for 40 yards, done in by a wrist broken on the game’s first play. He had no idea during the game it was more than a nuisance, and afterward, the wrist seemed to be only a sprain.

“When I left the locker room Saturday night, I had no idea it was any more than a sprain,” Battle said the days after the thriller. “When they told me it was fractured, it was a shocker. It is a tough deal.”

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An easy argument can be made the Irish never should have even forced overtime. When trailing 14-7 at halftime, they had been outgained 218 yards to 112. That disparity ended at 377 to 224. Nebraska averaged more than a yard more per play, 5.09 to 4.07. Notre Dame was playing with a hampered quarterback in front of a hostile crowd, no matter the game’s location.

“I’m not big on that moral victory stuff. We’re Notre Dame,” linebacker Rocky Boiman said. “We played hard. We poured out our hearts and souls into this game, and my guts are torn up inside.”

The 27-24 overtime loss was not and is not remembered for being just that, an overtime thriller against the No. 1 team in the country, the Heisman winner against a dynamic quarterback playing one-handed, a legendary program yet to fall to its current depths against another about to churn through four coaches in 10 years.

It was instead immediately remembered for that Sea of Red, White’s disappointment.

“This will be remembered as the Saturday when the only green that mattered to many Notre Dame ticket-holders was the color of money,” Skip Bayless wrote in the Chicago Tribune. “On Sept. 9, 2000, a priceless tradition finally had a price — up to 500 bucks a ticket.”

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Jeff Samardzija’s iconic stagger to the end zone against UCLA
Ian Book’s last-minute scamper ‘silences’ critics, sparks 16-game winning streak
The 1997 Navy save and the triple-overtime debacle a decade later
Lou Holtz’s farewell
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
Honorable Mentions