The seventh-ranked, undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish were heading home, fresh off a thrashing of a supposedly formidable rival. October was in the air, and the Stanford Cardinal were coming to town. Sure, the Cardinal was ranked too, but surely the confident (overconfident?) Fighting Irish were bound to beat them…
Although this appears to be the lead-up to the 2012 Notre Dame and Stanford match-up, it is actually a recap of the 1992 Irish and Cardinal clash, with a little history lesson attached. For the Bill Walsh-coached, 19th-ranked Cardinal stunned the Irish 33-16 that day, but the circumstances leading up to the defeat are all too familiar to this similar-looking season.
After crushing Purdue 48-0, Notre Dame looked primed for another national championship. True, the 1992 squad had already recorded a 17-17 tie with Michigan, but Coach Lou Holtz (after admitting he could have used the clock better in the final Irish drive) promised the team that they would win the title if they won out, and the team believed him.
However, exams grabbed the players’ attention too, and the fact that the Hall of Fame Coach Walsh (who served as NBC’s Notre Dame announcer before taking over as Stanford’s leader) had literally scouted the Irish for years, may not have been overlooked, but was hardly mentioned at the time.
Still, the sense of foreboding was all but forgotten when Notre Dame, led by a strong running game and a stout defense that forced a fumble and recorded a safety, stormed out to an early 16-0 lead. However, Walsh stuck to his game plan. Stanford quarterback Steve Stenstrom kept throwing those safe “West Coast” passes, and the Cardinal defense gradually forced Irish quarterback Rick Mirer, now missing his favorite receiver, Lake Dawson, to throw more than he would have wanted.
The result? Mirer, along with the Irish backs and receivers, all began pressing. Four lost fumbles and a costly Mirer interception later, the Cardinal had scored 33 unanswered points en route to their 33-16 upset.
Notre Dame would not lose another game the rest of the season. They finished ranked fourth with a 10-1-1 record that included a 28-3 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M, the Aggies’ worst bowl defeat ever. However, an overlooked early opponent cost them a chance at another national championship, and as the hype builds and the noise gets louder for this current Irish crew, I leave them with this history lesson from the ghosts of Irish past.
Forget the Ides of March…but beware the Cardinal of October!