Notebook: Red-letter day at Notre Dame Stadium for showdown with Georgia

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Sea of Red II?

Chants of “U-G-A, U-G-A, U-G-A” preceded the Notre Dame football team’s entrance into Notre Dame Stadium Saturday night from the main tunnel for its showdown with 15th-ranked Georgia.

Boisterous chants. Reverberating chants.

And they weren’t finished.

The Notre Dame fans responded by loudly booing Georgia as it trickled out of the new narrow visitors’ tunnel.

Estimates were that Bulldogs fans were able to expand their allotment of 8,400 tickets into roughly 30,000 in 77,622-seat Notre Dame Stadium through the secondary ticket market.

It was 17 years to the day since Nebraska was able to pull off that kind of red-letter day in Notre Dame Stadium. The top-ranked Cornhuskers had a smaller allotment to start with (4,000) and the stadium capacity was slightly larger in 2000 (80,323).

The Irish almost pulled off the upset that day in 2000, falling 27-24 in overtime.

"We think revoking privileges is unrealistic at this point," then-Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said after the Nebraska game. "However, we were extremely disappointed."

Irish officials were disappointed enough to give the matter some serious study over the balance of that season, but took no action.

"Our hope is that this was a one-time thing," White said

Hunter catching on

A scary helmet-to-helmet hit a year ago coaxed Torii Hunter Jr. off a football trajectory and onto a professional baseball path.

And this baseball thing, despite just 12 official game at-bats spread over a five-year span at Notre Dame, seems to be more than working out for the former Notre Dame wide receiver so far.

Hunter’s first minor-league regular season concluded hours before the Georgia-ND kickoff, and the right-handed hitting outfielder for the Orem (Utah) Owlz finished fourth in the admittedly offense-happy Pioneer League with a .352 batting average.

Hunter hovered around the .300 mark for most of the season for the Owlz, an advanced-Rookie League-level team comprising mostly first- and second-year pros. But he surged late, including a .452 average over the final 10 games of the regular season. Among his splits, Hunter blistered left-handed pitching at a .500 clip.

ND’s second-leading receiver in 2016 also finished in the Pioneer League top 10 in on-base percentage (fifth, .431), stolen bases (7th, 13 in 15 attempts) and runs scored (9th, 48). He had 10 doubles, a triple, one homer and 28 yards over 52 games.

Orem, a short-season team, begins a playoff series with the Ogden Raptors on Sunday.

Hunter, a 23rd-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Angels in June of 2016, began the season in extended spring training before joining Orem in June.

A year ago Hunter was contemplating an NFL career, with a fallback plan of returning to ND in 2017 for a fifth year also an option. A vicious hit in the end zone on Sept. 4, 2016 altered that vision

After the hit, in which targeting was not called, a brief stretch of unconsciousness ensued as did a concussion in ND’s 50-47 double-overtime, season-opening loss at Texas. And a knee injury that essentially lopped off the final three games of the 2016 season sort of sealed the baseball deal.

“My thinking, with the hit in Texas, was that it could happen again,” Hunter told the Tribune last spring “And it was just a scary moment in my career.

“I had to not only think about myself, but my family and my wife-to-be at the time. I wouldn’t want to not be able to function later in life because I continued to play football. That doesn’t mean that would happen for sure, but there’s always that possibility. And in my mind, it was a high possibility.”

Hunter amassed 38 catches for 521 yards and three TDs in 2016. He received his ND degree in IT Management in December.

Squibs

Scouts from five NFL teams took in the game — Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Reps from the Cotton Bowl, TaxSlayer Bowl and the Florida Citrus Sports Association (Camping World Bowl and Citrus Bowl).

• Georgia was the 75th different opponent to visit Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish came into Saturday night’s matchup 59-14-1 (.804) against first-time visitors.

Georgia fans turn the south end zone red during the Notre Dame-Georgia college football game Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)