30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: In Review

NCAA Football - USC vs Notre Dame - October 15, 2005
Getty Images
5 Comments

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.

So ends our trip through 30 years of “Notre Dame on NBC.” It took longer than expected, concluded with the No. 3 moment instead of the No. 1 and somehow missed the only tie in 196 games broadcast by the Peacock.

But all in all, hopefully it fit the bill initially promised, if on a delayed timeline: “The intent is to add some variety to the next seven months, walk you down memory lane a few times and maybe even laugh once or twice.”

There certainly was variety, perhaps even instructive variety. College football has hardly changed since Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles described the “ND on NBC” contract as “greed, and ultimate greed.” Former Irish star Paul Hornung’s response to that sentiment also remains just as true now as it did 30 years ago.

“Money is the name of the game, and people want to see Notre Dame,” Hornung said. “That’s the bottom line.

“But there’s plenty of room out there for football on TV, and I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.”

If only Hornung knew the Irish would someday appear not only on something called “NBC Sports Network” — and not just in broadcasts of iconic games during a pandemic, a thought that may or may not have been partially inspired by this very series — but also on the USA Network during the president-elect’s acceptance speech.

The walk down memory lane included a reminder of Ian Book’s silencing, Jarious Jackson’s costly safety and Gary Godsey’s cameo, not to mention a bevy of Michigan appearances, two strikes of lightning and a few snowballs. There was a four-overtime embarrassment, a three-overtime shock and a two-overtime tenure-ender. Notre Dame has gone 6-7 in overtime on NBC these last 30 years, lowlighted by the 44-41 loss to Michigan State in 2005 and Bob Davie’s tepid decision to play for overtime against No. 1 Nebraska in 2000, highlighted by the goal-line stand against Stanford in 2012 and the upset of No. 1 Clemson in 2020.

Four coaches’ endings, four coaches’ beginnings, two coaches reaching 100 wins.
A loss to Michigan State in the return after 9/11, a victory against Duke in the return from the pandemic, a season that somehow included all six scheduled home games.

Of course, winning all six of those, including that double-overtime upset of the Tigers, ran the current Irish home winning streak to 24 games, a modern program record. Of the six years Notre Dame has not lost on NBC, five of them have come during Brian Kelly’s tenure, the other being Davie’s second season, sparked by an upset of No. 5 Michigan in the opener.

The rises and falls of those coaches often elicited the laughs on their own; losing to a coach-less Syracuse will do that, as will the South Florida comedy, Allen Rossum’s tackle at the 1-yard line and intercepting five consecutive Wolverines’ pass attempts.

Lou Holtz won 27 games on NBC, Davie won 24, Ty Willingham won 11, Charlie Weis won 20 and Kelly has 64 victories and counting, all part of a 146-49-1 record since the Indiana broadcast on Sept. 7, 1991.

So that five-month furlough and pandemic-riddled season may have stretched a 30-week project into 54 weeks, but that allowed the dramatics of Nov. 7 to be included in the series. It would have joined the top 3 in hindsight if the games had been rattled off in the planned order, but placing the Game of the Century the week of the 2020 Florida State game made too much sense, as did slotting the Bush Push just before Clemson’s arrival and that 2012 Stanford victory as the anchor to Kelly’s 100 wins.

The order of those four can be debated, yet somehow none of them fit a piece of Notre Dame trivia realized in working through the last few entries. So in the interest of learning something besides the Snow Bowl wasn’t actually very snowy …

30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Extra time, review and crowds make for a very 2020 upset as Notre Dame tops Clemson
Notre Dame’s most unorthodox season opens with conventional win against Duke
The Snow Bowl
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
Honorable Mentions