James: What's your favorite Notre Dame football play? These are 10 to remember.
There were two specific places on the internet Notre Dame football fans didn’t want to visit last Thursday night: the Twitter feed of Boston College’s football program (@BCFootball) and a YouTube replay of the 1993 Boston College-Notre Dame game with an accompanying live chat.
In a world stripped of sports during the coronavirus pandemic, Boston College decided to have a little bit of fun at Notre Dame’s expense. The @BCFootball account tweeted highlights and created stat graphics to relive No. 17 Boston College’s 41-39 victory over No. 1 Notre Dame while the broadcast streamed on YouTube.
I shared the YouTube video on my own Twitter account in case any Notre Dame fans wanted to torture themselves and remember the moment that national championship dreams were squashed. The suggestion alone drew plenty of anger — as if I wanted to hold open the eyelids of Notre Dame fans and force them to watch it.
But apparently Notre Dame fans weren’t the only ones bothered by Boston College’s shenanigans last Thursday. On Monday, the YouTube video that @BCFootball shared no longer existed. Instead, the following message appeared: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by University of Notre Dame.”
Now that is some rivalry pettiness we can get behind.
As a way to make amends for suggesting that Notre Dame fans could rewatch David Gordon hit the 41-yard field goal as time expired for a Boston College victory, I decided to ask Irish fans for their favorite Notre Dame football play of all time.
The responses came flooding into my mentions. For more than 24 hours fans suggested their favorite plays. Many of the answers were predictable. Others were surprising. Some even mentioned plays that I had no knowledge of previously.
After all the nominations subsided, I decided to put together an unscientific estimation of the plays that received the most support. I tried to put them in relative order that reflected the Twitter response to form a top 10 that follows below. Thankfully, Notre Dame has a very accessible collection of videos on YouTube to pair with this story.
Which play was your favorite? You can vote for any of these 10 plays at the end of this story.
Did your favorite play not make the list? Leave a comment and make your case.
Pat Terrell’s pass breakup vs. No. 1 Miami: Terrell already made his mark in trying to end Miami’s 36-game regular season winning streak when the Irish safety intercepted a Steve Walsh pass and returned it for a 60-yard touchdown in the second quarter. But Miami still had a chance to win the game on a two-point attempt with 45 seconds remaining in Notre Dame Stadium.
Walsh, who threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions and two fumbles, completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Andre Brown on fourth down to cut the deficit to 31-30. Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson opted for a shot at the win rather than settling for a tie.
When Walsh lofted a pass to Leonard Conley in the end zone, Terrell leaped in front of Conley to knock the ball down. In a game filled with memorable moments, Terrell’s game-saving play became the lasting image of Notre Dame finally toppling Miami, 31-30, after four straight losses to the Hurricanes.
Notre Dame finished the 1988 season as national champions.
The Stanford goal-line stand: Stepfan Taylor rushed for 102 yards, but he couldn’t get the last yard he needed to keep No. 17 Stanford alive in overtime. Trailing 21-14 following a seven-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to TJ Jones, the Cardinal needed to match with a touchdown of its own in the north end of Notre Dame Stadium.
A Taylor touchdown seemed inevitable after the Stanford running back’s 13-yard run set up his team with a first-and-goal from the four-yard line. But after gaining three yards on the first two rushes, Taylor couldn’t push through. Linebacker Manti Te’o helped push Taylor back from reaching over the pile on third-and-goal.
On fourth-and-goal from the one, the Notre Dame defense put a dent in the right side of Stanford’s offensive line to block Taylor’s path. Linebacker Carlo Calabrese met Taylor in the mass of humanity and cornerback Bennett Jackson helped drag him down from the backside of the play.
Notre Dame managed to survive close calls throughout an undefeated regular season in 2012 before losing 42-14 to Alabama in the BCS National Championship.
Tom Zbikowski’s punt return vs. No. 1 USC: It’s the only play on this list that came in a Notre Dame loss. But Zbikowski’s 60-yard punt return for a touchdown remains a fan favorite despite the “Bush Push” ending to the 34-31 loss for No. 9 Notre Dame.
Zbikowski gave the Irish a 21-14 lead in the second quarter by navigating through the USC punt coverage and breaking through three tackle attempts in the final 25 yards. When Zbikowski extended the ball with his right hand as he crossed the goal line, Notre Dame Stadium erupted.
But USC managed to extend its winning streak to 28 games when quarterback Matt Leinart scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak aided by a shove from running back Reggie Bush with three seconds left in the game.
• Rick Mirer to Reggie Brooks to beat No. 22 Penn State: This game probably doesn’t get remembered as the Snow Bowl if not for No. 8 Notre Dame’s dramatic victory. Without the two-point conversion catch by Brooks, it might just be a classic game that included snow. But Brooks catching the ball — not far from the spot Terrell deflected the Miami two-point conversion four years earlier in the south end zone — made the game nickname worthy.
Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz went for the win after Mirer hit running back Jerome Bettis for a three-yard touchdown on fourth down with 20 seconds remaining in the game. Mirer dropped back on the two-point conversion scanning for an open target again. He retreated back to the 15-yard line before rolling to his right with pressure in his face to heave the ball toward Brooks.
Brooks, a running back who started lined up in the left slot, made the leaping catch after running across the field to secure a 17-16 victory in the final game in Notre Dame Stadium for both Mirer and Brooks.
• Brady Quinn to Jeff Samardzija to beat UCLA: No. 10 Notre Dame needed only 35 seconds to put together a three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to beat the Bruins 20-17 in Notre Dame Stadium. After the Irish defense came up with a crucial three-and-out, Quinn led his offense onto the field with 1:02 remaining.
The senior quarterback hit senior wide receiver Samardzija for a 21-yard completion on the first snap. Then he found wide receiver David Grimes for 14 yards on the second play.
Lastly came the 45-yard winner to Samardzija. Quinn pump-faked in the pocket, rolled to his right and threw a strike to an improvising Samardzija near the 30-yard line. Samardzija did the rest by running away from the nearest defender, barely keeping his balance after side-stepping another one and then leaping into the end zone with two more Bruins chasing him.
• Shawn Wooden’s pass breakup vs. Florida State: The play on its own is the most routine on this list. Shawn Wooden, in the game as Notre Dame’s sixth defensive back, knocked down a pass that Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward threw right at him. With no time left on the clock, Ward tried to throw the ball into the end zone rolling to his left, but Wooden had his eyes locked on Ward just in front of the goal line.
The play meant much more than a simple pass breakup. It marked the end of a 31-24 victory for No. 2 Notre Dame over No. 1 Florida State in a November matchup at Notre Dame Stadium of two 9-0 teams dubbed the Game of the Century.
Ward, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, gave Florida State a chance to win despite trailing 31-17 late in the fourth quarter. He threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Kez McCorvey with 2:26 remaining and drove Florida State to Notre Dame’s 14-yard line with three seconds left. But the Irish crowd could exhale when Wooden swatted the final pass to the ground.
A path to a 12th national championship for Notre Dame became clear after the win over Florida State, but the Irish lost the next week to Boston College.
• Tom Clements to Robin Weber vs. No. 1 Alabama in the 1973 Sugar Bowl: The thought of throwing a pass from your own end zone with a one-point lead and a national championship on the line late in the fourth quarter could be described as foolish. But when you’re a legendary coach like Ara Parseghian and the play works, it’s called brilliant.
The Notre Dame head coach relied on quarterback Clements and backup tight end Weber to put together the game-clinching completion on third-and-8. With the No. 3 Irish backed up to their own three-yard line, Clements took the snap from under center, faked a handoff and fired to Weber running open near the left sideline. Weber tracked the ball over his shoulder and secured the ball for a 35-yard gain.
The play was designed with tight end Dave Casper as the first option in the middle of the field, but Clements saw he was well-covered. Instead he threw to the tight end known more for run blocking than pass catching. The decision worked, and the Irish were able to run out the final two minutes to win Parseghian’s second national championship.
• Eric Penick’s touchdown run vs. No. 6 USC: No. 8 Notre Dame became national championship contenders in 1973 following its 23-14 victory over USC. A dominant Notre Dame defense kept the Trojans in check all afternoon, so when Penick, a junior, took a handoff for an 85-yard touchdown in the third quarter, it put the Irish comfortably in front with a 20-7 lead.
Penick came in motion from the right side of the offense before the snap to take the handoff from Clements and followed pulling guards Gerry DiNardo and Frank Pomarico around the left end. As they secured blocks for him, Penick sprinted upfield and outran all the remaining USC defenders.
Fans embraced Penick on the field as he ran through the end zone. Then he was mobbed by his teammates and hugged by Parseghian when he returned to the sideline.
• DeShone Kizer to Will Fuller to beat Virginia: The image that followed Fuller’s 39-yard touchdown catch may be more indelible than the play itself. ESPN cameras caught a Virginia fan slumped over the edge of the brick wall separating the crowd from the field seconds after Fuller scored.
The setup made the loss so crushing for Virginia fans. The Cavaliers took a 27-26 lead over the No. 9 Irish with 1:54 remaining on a one-yard Albert Reid touchdown run. Then Kizer, who replaced starting quarterback Malik Zaire when he fractured his ankle late in the third quarter, provided the late-game heroics in his first meaningful moments as a college quarterback.
Kizer led an eight-play, 80-yard drive capped by the dart to Fuller with 12 seconds remaining. The clock ticked down to 19 seconds before Kizer received the snap as tight end Tyler Luatua ran onto the field late to replace a limping Durham Smythe. Kizer kept his eyes on Fuller the entire time as he dropped back near midfield. Fuller ran past his defender and hauled in the pass just before reaching the end zone.
• Rocket Ismail’s second kickoff return touchdown vs. No. 2 Michigan: For whatever reason, Michigan chose to kick to Ismail again. Ismail started the second half by returning Michigan’s kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to give the Irish a 14-6 lead in Michigan Stadium. It was the first kickoff return touchdown Michigan allowed in 32 years.
Couldn’t happen again, right? Wrong. Ismail returned the next Michigan kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown after the Wolverines cut the Irish lead to 5. Ismail bounced off a tackle attempt before he reached his own 30-yard line, but he shifted into his blazing speed quickly and ran away down the left sideline. The score gave No. 1 Notre Dame a cushion to hold onto a 24-19 win.
Tony Roberts said it best on the Notre Dame radio broadcast, “Bye-bye, Rocket!”
Which one is your favorite? Cast your vote below.