Notre Dame-Tennessee: incredibly even gridiron history together

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Notre Dame baseball is getting set to attempt to shock the college baseball world as they prep for the nation’s top-ranked team in Tennessee with a trip to Omaha and the College World Series on the line.

As good as both baseball teams have been we all know that the first sport each school is thought of for is women’s basketball.  After that is then college football.

The two are rich in football tradition and shared an on-again, off-again series from the late seventies through the early part of the 2000’s.  A series that was played about as closely as one could be.  Here is a look back at those eight games.

Related: Photos – Notre Dame-Tennessee meetings through the years


Photo by Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Long before the NFL made the uniform color rush a thing, Notre Dame and Tennessee kicked off their series by practicing the same as the Irish wore green in ’78 while the Vols wore their signature orange jerseys for their first trip to Notre Dame Stadium.

Joe Montana threw for one touchdown and ran for another in Notre Dame’s 31-14 victory.

Notre Dame 31, Tennessee 14


Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame’s first trip to Knoxville wasn’t meant with much southern hospitality as the host Volunteers dismantled the 14th ranked Irish.

Tennessee 40, Notre Dame 18


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It would be a dozen more years before Notre Dame and Tennessee would meet again, this time again in Knoxville.  Rocket Ismail put the Irish ahead 34-23 with just 3:23 to play but a late Tennessee comeback made things incredibly uneasy for the Irish as Rod Smith intercepted a Tennessee pass at the Notre Dame three yard line with just under 50 seconds left to escape with a victory.

Notre Dame 34, Tennessee 29



This time Tennessee was able to complete a comeback which to this day remains the biggest in the history of Notre Dame Stadium.  The Irish led 31-7 in the first half but were unable to keep their foot on the gas in the second half, allowing Tennessee to go on a 28-3 run to take the lead.  Still, with time running out, Notre Dame was able to attempt a short field but it was partially blocked as time expired to crush No. 5 Notre Dame’s championship dreams.

Tennessee 35, Notre Dame 34


Brian Bahr /Allsport

Notre Dame struggled in much of 1999 but rallied in October to start the final month of the year just inside the top 25.  As a result, ESPN’s “College Gameday” was on site for the third trip the Irish took to Knoxville but quarterback Tee Martin threw three touchdown passes while Travis Henry ran for 132 yards in a rout of Notre Dame.

Tennessee 38, Notre Dame 14


Jonathan Daniel/Allsport

Unranked and disappointing Notre Dame trailed No. 7 Tennessee by just three with 2:41 left in the game but a Carlyle Holiday misfire cost the Irish the ball as it set Casey Clausen and the Vols up for a late score to clinch the game.

Tennessee 28, Notre Dame 18


AP Photo/Wade Payne

2004 is perhaps the strangest year I can ever recall for Notre Dame football.  An opening season loss at BYU, a home win over top-10 and eventual Big Ten champion Michigan, and losses to unranked Boston College, and Pitt along the way.

The final win of that year and of Tyrone Willingham’s era at Notre Dame came as the unranked Irish shocked No. 9 Tennessee in Knoxville, 17-13 as a third-quarter pick-six by linebacker Mike Goolsby helped the Irish to an improbable victory.

Notre Dame 17, Tennessee 13


Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Notre Dame jumped out to a 21-3 lead but as was normal in this series, a comeback rally was staged as Tennessee evened things up in the third quarter.  Tom Zbikowski, who returned a punt for a touchdown earlier in the contest, returned an interception for a score with 3:17 left to put the finishing touches on Tennessee.

Notre Dame 41, Tennessee 21

The Future:

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There is currently nothing planned between the two programs to meet in the future which leaves a bowl meeting as the only potential way the programs cross paths.  Notre Dame has clearly never viewed Tennessee like a rival and I’m guessing Tennessee followers have never looked at Notre Dame like one of theirs.

Notre Dame’s friends with benefits deal with the ACC makes scheduling more difficult.  Tennessee currently has eight set SEC games but much belief is that the conference will change that to nine before long which would make this matchup that much more difficult to happen.

I like when teams that were great when I was a kid are good again.  That applies to the Notre Dame-Tennessee series and I can only hope we get the two meeting again before too long.