100 days until Notre Dame-Navy in Ireland
Today is the last day that you’ll have woken up and there will be triple digits days left until college football fully returns. Week Zero is highlighted by Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin, Ireland this year and it’s now just 100 days away.
We’ll be counting down the days until kickoff all summer long sometimes various and entirely random number connections throughout.
In honor of it being 100 days we thought a good way to mark the occasion would be to look back at Lou Holtz’s time at Notre Dame.
Why? Well he did have 100 career wins as Notre Dame’s head football coach which trailed only Knute Rockne when he left the program following the 1996 season.
Holtz of course guided Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship and hopefully before too much longer he’ll not be the last coach to lead the Irish to a title. We all know about the title but here are a handful of other notes from Holtz’s time at Notre Dame to look back on as we countdown the days to the season opener.
Best 5-6 team ever?
Lou Holtz’s first game as Notre Dame’s head coach was a thriller at Notre Dame Stadium in which the Irish gave No. 3 Michigan everything they wanted and more in a 24-23 Wolverines victory. Notre Dame would finish just 5-6 that year but five of those losses were by a combined 14 points. A season ending upset at USC after trailing by three possessions helped set the tone for a return to prominence a year later.
1987 Turnaround and Tim Brown's Heisman
Thanks to the electric Tim Brown, Notre Dame started the 1987 season with a bang by winning at Michigan and starting the year 8-1. Brown ran away with the Heisman Trophy but the Irish faded down the stretch dropping their final two regular season games at Penn State and Miami before falling to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
1988 National Champions
The 1988 Notre Dame football team remains the last to win a national championship (even if I lay claim to 1993). Reggie Ho‘s heroics in the season opening win over Michigan, the Catholics vs. Convicts thriller in mid-October, and a win at No. 2 USC in November all set the stage for the memorable Fiesta Bowl victory and title win that year.
Was 1989 team better?
Was the 1989 team actually better than the 1988 champs? Notre Dame started the year 11-0 before falling 27-10 at Miami to close the regular season. The Irish bested No. 1 Colorado 21-6 in the Orange Bowl to finish the year 12-1 with six wins coming against ranked opponents, four of which were ranked in the top ten.
The 1990 season is remembered for two things by Notre Dame fans:
The Stanford upset when the 1-2 Cardinal marched into Notre Dame Stadium and upset No. 1 Notre Dame
Rocket Ismail’s punt return against Colorado that was called back for a clip that didn’t actually occur.
However, another not-so-fun fact from that 1990 campaign is that in the late season collapse against No. 18 Penn State, now Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden scored what was the final touchdown in Notre Dame Stadium before NBC started airing all Fighting Irish home games.
Lou Holtz, a master motivator, claimed that during his time in Louisiana prepping for the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1991 season that a waiter approached him and asked the difference between Notre Dame and Cheerios. The waiter then added that Cheerios belonged in a bowl.
Whether that actually happened or not who knows but Holtz used it as a motivational tactic in Notre Dame upsetting No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl behind an incredible performance by Jerome Bettis.
It was the kind of game that went down in Notre Dame history despite it having no impact on the national championship race. On a snowy, miserable November day in South Bend, Rick Mirer rallied Notre Dame for a last minute touchdown and two-point conversion to beat Penn State on what was the final home game for offensive stars Mirer, Bettis, and Reggie Brooks.
1993 national championship
In 1989 Notre Dame was denied a national championship despite going 12-1. It makes sense seeing as their one loss was to Miami who finished with just one loss as well, and the fact that the Hurricanes beat Notre Dame.
I will forever claim that Notre Dame was the national champion in 1993 seeing as they handled Florida State in the epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in November, even if the voters claimed Florida State’s one loss being stronger than Notre Dame’s was reason to rank them ahead of the Irish to close the year.
Beginning of the end
1994 saw a major overhaul for Notre Dame as some all-time greats departed for the NFL after epic college careers. However, mega-recruit Ron Powlus was healthy and stepping in to play quarterback so expectations were still sky-high for the Domers.
However, after a last-minute rally by Michigan to beat the Irish in the home opener, Notre Dame stumbled to a 6-4-1 regular season and somehow earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl where they were run out of the building by a far superior Colorado squad.
1995 starts with epic upset
1995 could be remembered for Notre Dame’s huge wins over an undefeated USC squad or for a 55-27 victory over a top 15 Texas team, but I’ll always remember 1995 for being the year that started with Northwestern walking into Notre Dame Stadium as a sizeable underdog who hadn’t been to a bowl game in 45 years, and walking out with a victory. Sure, the Wildcats went onto win the Big Ten and appear in that season’s Rose Bowl but that was an all-time upset that will forever be remembered.
One last go
Holtz’s final campaign at Notre Dame started strong as the Irish began 1996 3-0 before falling in a top-five matchup to Ohio State. An upset loss to Air Force in the middle of the year did the Irish no favors before they rallied to an 8-2 mark headed to USC for the finale. Notre Dame coughed up a late lead in that contest and fell to the Trojans, the only loss Holtz ever suffered to the hated rival.
Notre Dame declined a bowl game invitation that year as the transition took place to Bob Davie as head coach and a decade-and-a-half of mediocrity nobody saw coming.
"Save Jimmy Johnson's ass for me!"
No game during Holtz’s tenure at Notre Dame is more remembered than the epic Catholics vs. Convicts clash with Miami in 1988. As we discussed above, Holtz was a master motivator. That October 15, 1988 afternoon he had an all-time message for his team after a pregame fight broke out between the rivals before kickoff.
“You have an afternoon to play, a lifetime to remember,” Holtz said. “But I want you to do one thing: You save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me!”
Now in Statue Form
In 2008, Holtz was honored by Notre Dame with a statue outside of Notre Dame Stadium as the program does to celebrate all national championship head football coaches.