Notre Dame Football

Best College Football Moments in Notre Dame History

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2013

Best College Football Moments in Notre Dame History

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Notre Dame and college football are synonymous.

    The Fighting Irish have had one of the sport's predominant programs since early in the 20th century. Notre Dame has won 11 consensus national championships and has had legendary coaches like Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz and a plethora of Heisman Trophy winners.

    Notre Dame has been involved in some of the most legendary games in college football history and the school boasts a legion of supporters and detractors.

    There's often similarities between those that love Notre Dame and their counterparts that despise it—neither side will ever miss a game.

    Notre Dame football has been compelling.

    The school with the gold helmets and the memorable fight song continues to play a prominent role in college football as the Irish played for the national championship last year in a loss to Alabama.

    Here's a look at 10 of the greatest moments, players and coaches associated with Notre Dame football.

Knute Rockne: The Man, Myth and Legend

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Knute Rockne coached football at Notre Dame from 1918 through 1930 and compiled a stellar 105-12-5 record. He led the Fighting Irish to three national championships.

    Rockne was well-known for his inspirational ability and regularly finding a way to rally his team with his pregame and halftime speeches.

    Perhaps the most famous of those came in 1928, when Notre Dame was about to play undefeated Army. At the time, Notre Dame was struggling with a 4-2 record and enduring its worst season under Rockne. However, Rockne brought up Notre Dame All-America player George Gipp, who had died in 1920.

    According to the famous legend, Gipp called Rockne into his hospital room and told his old coach to ask the players "to win one for the Gipper," if the team was ever up against a wall when playing a superior opponent.

    Rockne broke out his famous speech at halftime of that Army game, with the score tied 0-0 at the time. Notre Dame responded to the inspirational words and emerged with a 12-6 victory.

    Rockne died in a March 1931 plane clash.

Paul Hornung Wins Heisman for Losing Team

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    Paul Hornung was the fifth Notre Dame football player to win the Heisman Trophy when he took home the award following the 1956 season.

    He was one of the most versatile college football players of his era, and that's why he was able to capture the award in a year in which his competition included Jim Brown, John Brodie, Tommy McDonald and Johnny Majors.

    Hornung, who would go on to become a star with Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, threw for 917 yards and ran for 420 yards. He returned kickoffs, kicked extra points and also intercepted two passes. He was second in the nation in total yardage and scored more than half of Notre Dame's points.

    The Irish were just 2-8 that season and Hornung remains the only player from a losing team to win the Heisman Trophy.

Notre Dame Ends Oklahoma Winning Streak

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    Notre Dame has had many famous victories in its history. Perhaps the most surprising of those came in 1957 when the Fighting Irish defeated Oklahoma, 7-0.

    The Sooners were coached by the brilliant Bud Wilkinson and were college football's best team by a significant margin. Oklahoma had won 47 straight games, and Notre Dame did not appear to be in Oklahoma's class as it went to Norman, Okla., for its seventh game of the season.

    The Irish had won their first four games that season, but lost the next two to Navy and Michigan State.

    Head coach Terry Brennan's team put it together that day, stopping Wilkinson's offense in the first half, which seemed to drain the Sooners. The game was scoreless into the fourth quarter until Notre Dame's Dick Lynch scored the lone touchdown of the game.

    No team has ever challenged Oklahoma's record winning streak and it was the Fighting Irish who put an end to it.

1966: Game of the Century

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    Every few seasons, a college football game gets hyped as the "Game of the Century." 

    It's clearly impossible to identify one particular game as meaning more than any other, but the meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan State in 1966 was one of the most worthy of that title.

    Notre Dame and Michigan State were both 9-0 when they met in mid-November.

    Notre Dame had Terry Hanratty at quarterback and was known for its offense. Michigan State had Bubba Smith at defensive end and was known for its bone-crushing defense.

    Michigan State appeared to have a slight edge because the game was played at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. 

    The Spartans took a 10-0 lead, but Notre Dame came back on a TD pass from backup quarterback Coley O'Brien to Jim Seymour and a field goal by Joe Azzaro.

    With the score tied at 10-10 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Notre Dame had the ball in its own territory with a chance to drive for the win. However, Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian did not want to risk a turnover and he called for nothing but running plays. 

    The game of the century ended in a 10-10 tie.

Notre Dame Trounces USC and Wins National Championship

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    Ara Parseghian received a slew of criticism when he allowed his team to take the air out of the ball against Michigan State in 1966 and settle for a 10-10 tie.

    Critics argued that Parseghian could not have believed his team was that good or he would have allowed his players to go for the victory.

    Parseghian had the last laugh. The following week, the Fighting Irish played traditional rival USC in Los Angeles. The Irish rolled to a 51-0 victory.

    It was the worst defeat ever suffered by USC and it earned the Fighting Irish the 1966 national championship. 

    Notre Dame would not win another road game against USC until 1984.

Joe Theisman's 1970 Heisman Run

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    Joe Theismann was a brash New Jersey kid who wanted to win the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame.

    When he arrived at Notre Dame, the quarterback's last name was pronounced "THEES-man." However, the Fighing Irish created a clever Heisman public-relations campaign by altering the way the quarterback's name was pronounced. 

    Instead of saying it the original way, it became "Theisman, as in Heisman."

    The campaign nearly worked. Theismann had a brilliant career at South Bend, leading Notre Dame to a 20-3-2 record, while throwing for 4,411 yards and 31 touchdowns.

    Theismann finished second in the 1970 Heisman voting to Stanford's Jim Plunkett. Both players would go on to win the Super Bowl in their NFL careers.

The Legendary Coaching Career of Ara Parseghian

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    Ara Parseghian was perhaps Notre Dame's greatest football coach.

    He had done a solid coaching job at Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern before he came to South Bend for the 1964 season. Notre Dame had been 2-7 in 1963.

    He had an immediate impact as the Fighting Irish were 9-1 and one of the top teams in the nation in 1964. 

    Parseghian did not just win football games. He brought Notre Dame into the modern era. He organized his practices in a way that his predecessors hadn't. He emphasized the passing game and recruited smaller, quicker and more athletic players.

    He also listened to his players when they had concerns. His communication ability is one of the reasons he was so successful in his tenure at South Bend.

    Parseghian coached at Notre Dame through the 1974 season. He had a 95-17-4 record and won national champions in 1966 and 1973.

    He retired at age 51 and never took another coaching job.

Montana's Chicken Soup Cotton Bowl Miracle

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    Notre Dame's football history features a plethora of remarkable comeback victories, but nothing has ever topped Joe Montana's performance in the 1979 Cotton Bowl against Houston.

    In that game, Montana was fighting the flu in frozen conditions at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Notre Dame built an early lead against the Houston Cougars, but Houston roared back to take a 34-12 lead into the fourth quarter.

    Montana had been given chicken soup in the locker room and other intravenous fluids to help him recuperate, but few though the Fighting Irish had a chance to win the game. But Montana got himself in a zone and led Notre Dame to 23 fourth-quarter points and a 35-34 victory.

    Montana would become one of the greatest quarterbacks in football history, and this legendary game laid the groundwork for his exceptional professional career with the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Tim Brown Takes the 1987 Heisman

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    Notre Dame football players have earned seven Heisman Trophies.

    The last came when Tim Brown brought the trophy back to South Bend following the 1987 season.

    Brown beat out a compelling list of competitors including Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Don McPherson, Chris Spielman and Bobby Humphrey.

    Brown had a sensational year, catching 39 passes for 846 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown, returning 23 kickoffs for 456 yards and bringing back 34 punt for 403 yards and three touchdowns.

    Brown was a threat to score every time he got his hands on the football. Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz lauded Brown as "the most intelligent player I've ever been around."

Notre Dame Beats West Virginia, Wins 11th National Championship

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    Notre Dame had been brilliant in the 1988 season, reeling off 11 straight victories and earning a spot in the Fiesta Bowl against undefeated West Virginia for the national championship.

    The Fighting Irish were favored in the game against their worthy opponents, but head coach Lou Holtz would not allow his players to get overconfident as they prepared for the New Year's Day game.

    Holtz prepared them perfectly as they roared out to a 23-3 lead and were never threatened in a 34-21 victory. Quarterback Tony Rice threw two TD passes while running backs Rodney Culver and Anthony Johnson each ran for touchdowns.

    Notre Dame has not won another national championship in the ensuing 24 years.

     

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