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.
Reggie Brooks was never supposed to be near the action, never supposed to be considered by Rick Mirer, never supposed to be the target of a game-winning pass.
Maybe the knocks on Brooks’ catching abilities in the post-game of Notre Dame’s win against Penn State in 1992 were tongue-in-cheek — the applicable evidence would certainly indicate as much — but the play design was indeed designed to go away from him. The senior running back was nothing but a decoy, in theory.
The Irish had just marched 64 yards in 12 plays and a shade less than four minutes to give themselves a chance to tie the Nittany Lions. After second-and-goal and third-and-goal netted all of one yard, senior quarterback Mirer had found junior running back Jerome Bettis underneath the coverage for a three-yard touchdown to come within 16-15 of Penn State in a turnover-marred afternoon. That touchdown had, in fact, been Notre Dame’s best two-point conversion play.
So kick the PAT and go to overtime, right? The home team should have the momentum in overtime.
Except overtime did not yet exist in college football in 1992.
So kick the PAT and take the tie, right? A come-from-behind, last-minute tie would have some narrative value for the then 7-1-1, No. 8 Irish.
Not as much as a win against the No. 22 Lions, and not after Notre Dame already suffered a tie against Michigan in September. Also not in a game in which Penn State’s only touchdowns came off Irish turnovers, the kind of self-imposed tie that tastes more like a loss.
And not when this would be the last game (for 14 years) against what was then a rival. The two independents met every year from 1981 to 1992, Penn State winning 8 of the first 11 games including the last two, and now the Lions were ending the rivalry to join the Big Ten.
Irish head coach Lou Holtz had no intentions of kicking for a tie, even if Craig Hentrich had knocked in three field goals already.
Instead, he called an offensive standby. Apocryphally, Holtz drew up the two-point conversion on the sideline, but the reality is Mirer knew the play well. Three receivers to his left, Brooks coming across left-to-right, the idea was for Brooks to bring one safety with him, leaving someone on the left open. Of course, that idea depends on pressure not forcing Mirer quickly out of the pocket and to his right.
“The conversion play is one we have run 100 times,” Mirer said. “But it never went far enough to get to Reggie all the way in the corner. Reggie sometimes does not catch well on weekdays.”
Harsh, though supported by Holtz.
“I’m going to tell you what, you won’t believe this, Reggie Brooks has bad hands,” Holtz said. “Reggie Brooks is not the first guy I’d throw it to.”
Those barbs were only fair after Brooks had indeed caught Mirer’s heave in the corner of the end zone, a fully-extended dive for the ball that holds up now as both a clear catch and a highlight-worthy one. With the dive, Brooks also seemingly increased the snowfall on the occasion, somehow a light dusting giving the day the “Snow Bowl” moniker. (The iconic image of Penn State running back Richie Anderson meeting a Notre Dame linebacker at the goal line, both leaping above the line of scrimmage, helps that misnomer, as the snowflakes stand out throughout the image, albeit the grass is also visibly green.)
“I just eased out and put on a burst to get by everybody else and Rick saw me,” Brooks said. “… I’m like this, I’m going to catch it when it counts.”
30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
No. 1 Nebraska’s “Sea of Red” in 2000
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