One of the best songs of the 1990s is, in both my opinion and in fact, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis. Noel Gallagher’s bittersweet sentiment is one that sports fans might find helpful — we should enjoy the good times, but remember that winning is hard and that mourning years-old losses isn’t clinically healthy behavior. We might also heed his advice to “please don’t put your life in the hands / of a
rock and roll band quarterback / who’ll throw it all away.”
However! Noel has admitted he was so drugged up for the writing sessions he does not even know what the words to the track mean. And he and his brother have been engaged in a meaningless blood feud for who knows how long, so maybe we shouldn’t be taking advice from the dude. Maybe we should look back in anger.
Here are some memories from the most brutal, snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory breakdowns we have endured as Notre Dame football fans over the past decade. Enjoy?
Texas ’16 – Andrew
In retrospect, we didn’t really need to play out the rest of the season after this one. From the outside looking in, it was a thriller, but in my eyes (very objective, smart, true) it was a clear harbinger of things to come (4-8!), and it indeed did end up becoming a perfect representation of the 2016 debacle. We were treated to a classically overmatched Notre Dame-versus-a freshman-QB-defense, referees asleep behind the wheel, and predictably detrimental tinkering by Brian Kelly.
For levity’s sake, here are some ledes that are still embedded in ESPN’s game recap to this day: “the Longhorns hope the victory signals a return to better days.” Texas’ quarterbacks “announce the Longhorns’ reappearance on the national stage.” The game was an “instant classic.” No one can inflate a flailing program’s sense of purpose like an underachieving Notre Dame squad! Sorry, Charlie.
Outside of the miserable gameplay itself, there is one thing I’d like to get off my chest – what is up with Austin’s tailgating scene? Our best bet for a solid chunk of the afternoon was a jam-packed, cash-only bar without a full liquor license, and we spent the rest of the day trying to find a solid parking lot spot where we could drink. You know, like civilized Midwestern folk. (When we eventually did an hour or so before kickoff, the friend-of-a-friend locals were incredibly hospitable, because Austin is great.)
Anyways. This isn’t one of those games where I wonder how differently the rest of the season would have gone if the Irish had pulled out a victory. We were always going to be hamstrung by BVG existing and BK stubbornly insisting on rotating in a new quarterback at the least opportune moments possible. But this one inflicted heartbreak nonetheless. After the final whistle, Liam and I slogged back to our Airbnb, with no cabs in sight and knockoff rideshare apps failing. We looked for a bar, hoping to at least partially submerge the sorrows. But it was a Sunday night, and we had no luck. This one wouldn’t be easily forgotten.
Florida State ’11 – Alex
One of the great mysteries of sports, for me, is their ability to alter the trajectory of my entire emotional universe with truly, deeply inconsequential moments of disappointment and stupidity. The 2011 Champs Sports Bowl is a perfect example — a mediocre 8-4 Notre Dame team pitted against a mediocre 8-4 Florida State in a game that shouldn’t have meant much to anyone. A September Irish win against Michigan State was the sole victory against a ranked team by either squad all season. The Seminoles were ranked — #25, barely — but did anyone really care?
So, really, I shouldn’t have let it get to me when the Irish blew the 11-point lead they carried into the fourth quarter. But after the Seminoles fired off 15 unanswered points and we fell behind 18-14 (what even is that score?) I had worked myself into such a frenzy that I gave myself a legitimate migraine headache. It hurt. I stomped around my parents’ house raging and eventually decided on going for a drive to cool my head. After an hour of laps around my neighborhood, blasting hip-hop, stewing in my anger and taking deep, deep breaths, I cooled off and could finally face my family again.
Looking back on it all, it’s just lame. Tommy Rees finished with a 9.2 QBR — a pretty meaningless stat, but single digits? That’s depressing. In a sure sign of a disastrous game, Andrew Hendrix got some snaps (no hard feelings man, seriously) and only completed 3 passes totaling 24 yards for a QBR of… 24. This was our reality.
The neverending, confounding clusterfuck that was the USF season-opener cast a dark cloud over my first season as a student and Michigan hurt my soul, pushing me to drink like I never had before (see below), but ending things like this really drove the collective disappointment home.
The best part is this game’s misery, perfectly tailored to fit me, didn’t end when the whistle blew and the Irish went home with a fat L. FSU Quarterback EJ Manuel’s performance played a part in my beloved Buffalo Bills — the only team in the world I love as much as the Irish — drafting him in the first round in 2013. With the 16th pick. And he sucked. A lot. Fuck football.
Tulsa ’10 – Thomas
The 2010 season featured early departures to the NFL for Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, leaving Dayne Crist and the Irish to start a dismal 1-3 before successfully navigating a murderers’ row of Boston College, Pittsburgh and Western Michigan, along with getting punched in the mouth by Navy in the New Meadowlands. In ND’s first-ever matchup with a Sun Belt opponent, the mouth-punching would only get worse.
Most of this game was a comedy of errors: more fumbles, interceptions and blocked kicks for both teams than I care to count, Dayne Crist’s essentially career-ending injury, and Tommy Rees somehow throwing for 300+ and 4 TDs. Despite being down 28-27 in the fourth quarter, the Irish found themselves with every opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with 1st and 10 at the Tulsa 24-yard line and 2:13 on the clock. It is essential to note that Tulsa had only one timeout remaining, and Notre Dame had senior kicker David Ruffer, he of the 94.7% FG percentage, standing on the sideline.
Almost anyone in America could have coached Notre Dame to a win in this situation. But instead of handoffs to Cierre Wood or resident beeftank Robert Hughes to deplete the clock and set up a game-winning field goal, Notre Dame called timeout with 0:42 on the clock, and decided the right thing to do was have Tommy throw a corner fade to Michael Floyd.
Which, of course, was picked off.
It remains one of the more insane botched coaching jobs I’ve ever seen, particularly live, and certainly by the Irish. I remain a relatively staunch Brian Kelly apologist, largely on the belief that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, but the coaching at the end of this game remains, to me, his most unforgivable offense. To pay a man an eight-figure salary and have him still be incapable of basic arithmetic is what drives me insane.
Clemson ’15 – Liam
“Clemson 👿👿👿👿👿 promise it’s gonna be #savage.” Will Fuller promptly got the conversation started on social media after the Irish beat UMass to go 4-0 and looked ahead to an epic matchup in Death Valley.
I realized there was no chance I was going to miss the game, despite hurricane warnings (and considerations of cancelling the game) and the fact that Clemson, South Carolina is not easy to get to from Chicago. I flew to Atlanta, rented a car, and drove in pouring rain to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, confused that my GPS said I was arriving on campus.
Despite the weather, the tailgating atmosphere was top-notch and the Clemson fans were hospitable as can be. Sadly, my positivity ended at kickoff.
Although the stakes were enormous and the matchup of two undefeated teams in a rowdy environment figured to be “savage,” the game itself was miserable. It was 14-0 Clemson before the blink of an eye. Once VanGorder’s defense woke up, the Irish offense failed to finish off drives – or even hold on to the ball, for that matter.
Going into the fourth down 21-3, much of the Irish fan section where I sat in the upper deck started heading for the exits – and I let them know how I felt about it. I’m sure I could have been more polite and less blunt to fellow ND fans – not sure I had fully sobered up by this point – but I was right. The game wasn’t over and we didn’t travel there for three quarters.
Sure enough, CJ Prosise caught a lob from Deshone Kizer on the sideline and sprinted to the endzone for the score – and suddenly a comeback seemed doable with 14 minutes still remaining. But at 21-9, the field goal unit was absent as Brian Kelly elected to go for two. I clearly remember asking random Irish fans around me, “Why the fuck are we going for two?” I knew it could come back to bite us like the Northwestern game the previous year.
Sure enough, the Irish continued to rally and made it 24-16 on a Kizer run with nine minutes to go. After the defense got the stops it needed, Chris Brown fumbled five yards from the Clemson endzone with under three minutes left, our fourth turnover of the game. Flawless execution on both sides of the ball in the last couple minutes led to a Torii Hunter touchdown with seven seconds to make it 24-22. Kizer got stuffed on a designed run play, the Clemson fans stormed the field, and it was over.
What if we didn’t spot them 14 points? Why did we go for two before we had to? Why couldn’t we hang on to the ball? I was left alone with my own thoughts as I came dangerously close to falling asleep behind the wheel driving straight to the Atlanta airport, after yet another Kelly-BVG disappointment on the road.
Pittsburgh ’13 – Ted
There’s something about the Pitt Panthers that activates recollections of deep-seated dread and distress. In the last nine meetings dating back to 2004, the Irish have managed a narrow 5-4 advantage. However, 7 of those 9 contests finished as one possession games, including two overtime “thrillers.”
Tuned into a matchup at Heinz Field on a November night in 2013, I vividly remember those pangs steadily intensifying within me as the game progressed. With the Irish sitting at 7-2, they rode a monster game from TJ Jones (190 total yards and two scores) to a steady lead through three quarters. But the lapses piled up:
- Despite his huge game, TJ turned it over with a red zone fumble in the first half.
- Stephon Tuitt was ejected on a targeting foul in the first quarter (controversial, sure, but I won’t excuse it).
- Tommy Rees threw a fourth quarter interception trying to connect with a blanketed Chris Brown in the endzone.
- Tommy threw another pick on his very next pass, which was returned to the Irish 5 yard line and turned into the game-winning TD. These picks nicely padded his 18-38 line on the night.
But each of those errors paled in comparison to the next. On 3rd and 6 with 12:10 remaining and the score knotted at 21, Prince Shembo got to Tom Savage and knocked the ball loose. The ball struck the turf at Sheldon Day’s feet and bounced up into his hands. Instead of securing the ball, Sheldon causally juggled it before knocking it backwards several yards. He turned his back to it, and several other white jerseys followed his lead. Pitt RB Isaac Bennett, however, scooped up the painfully obvious live ball. Pitt punted it away on the very next play, changing what would have been a game-altering turnover to an exponentially less threatening change of possession.
The Rees interceptions were hugely deflating (evergreen sentence), and many other breaks went against ND that night. But the lack of awareness, assertiveness, and experience demonstrated on this one play turned our season from the fringe top-10 type to the Pinstripe Bowl type — and deservedly so.
Florida State ’14 – Andrew
THAT WAS THE WORST CALL IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS. Uhh, sorry, I just don’t know how to talk about this game without shouting those words verbatim. Apologies to anyone who has ever had any kind of discussion with me about Notre Dame football after the fall of 2014. But I just tried to watch a replay and made it about a second and a half before I closed the tab and deleted it from my browsing history.
The timing of this game was perfect, as it fell at the beginning of our senior year fall break. Some friends and I caravanned down to Tallahassee to watch in person before spending a week on the panhandle beaches. I remember the experience in flashes – tailgating in our rented backyard, taking pictures while confidently walking into Doak Campbell Stadium, Corey Robinson crossing the goal line, and what had to look like a tiny blue and gold mosh pit in a sea of maroon. There were lots of perfect moments that only existed in order to be spoiled in the cruelest possible manner.
I don’t even remember the play after the penalty, just the long walk back home. I kept a good 15 yard distance from the group just so my body could remember how to not hyperventilate. Walking out of the stadium in a blur, checking Twitter for explanations of what the hell just happened, and enduring taunts from the horde of Seminole fans really was a nightmare come to life. And yeah, that sounds melodramatic, but the immediate juxtaposition of highest high and lowest low was a bit too much to handle. Who needs sports anyway!!
Well, me. I do. Because maybe next time that feeling might not get snatched away. Maybe the universe isn’t always cruel, maybe one day Notre Dame will stay undefeated, and maybe we are supposed to have nice things. This just was not one of those days.
Michigan ’11 – Alex
The human brain is a powerful muscle. It’s built to protect and sustain itself, to block out the memories that make it too difficult to push on and keep life moving. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to remember your scariest nightmares? It’s your brain protecting you from trauma, even trauma without real-world consequences.
I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to remember the last two minutes of our clash with Michigan under the lights in 2011. That, or the fifth of Jim Beam I started chugging as soon as Denard Robinson tossed a slow-motion lob to Roy Roundtree, who outmuscled Gary Gray (of course) in the corner of the end zone and put Notre Dame to bed with two seconds left on the clock. There was a flag — pass interference on Gray (of course), declined — there was pain in my heart, and there was bourbon flowing irresponsibly down my throat. I was a freshman, I didn’t know any better.
Minutes earlier I was running through the halls of my dorm, jumping, hugging, celebrating as Theo Riddick fell backwards into the end zone, wide open, to score with 30 seconds left. Just 42 seconds of game time had passed since Michigan took their first lead of the game, scoring on a Vincent Smith screen. Riddick and the Irish calmly responded with an efficient scoring drive that should have capped off a glorious win, filling the skies of Ann Arbor with the deliciously anguished wails of heartbroken Wolverines (I’m getting carried away).
But 30 seconds is plenty of time to turn triumph into tragedy. The drive was innocuous at first, but with eight seconds left Robinson connected with Jeremy Gallon on a 64-yard bomb, setting up the Roundtree score. They got us.
67 total points, 315 passing yards from Rees (fifth best of his ND career), and all I can remember is the last two minutes. Maybe it’s for the best, because if you zoom out from that woeful final chapter the picture looks even worse — we dominated most of the game and had a 17 point lead heading into the fourth quarter that we promptly blew.
But what else is new. It’s really a microcosm of the Notre Dame Football experience, tucked neatly into a season full of painful microcosms. Better to forget games like these.
USC ’09 – Thomas
As a relative latecomer to Notre Dame football fandom, the 2009 matchup with #6 USC stands as an early high-water mark in terms of dashed expectations. I began following the Irish during the ponderous 3-9 death march of 2007, so a 4-1 start and a #25 ranking was unprecedented success as far as I knew. I was aware of national championships and Knute Rockne and Lou Holtz, but in much the same way a person might be aware of Charlemagne, or the moon landing.
The two previous meetings with the Trojans were horribly lopsided affairs (combined score: 76-3), so it seemed like a minor miracle the Irish were able to keep the score within a respectable six points at the half. If nothing else, our #25 ranking seemed justified, and embarrassment avoidable.
Despite an absurdly beautiful Clausen-to-Tate 45-yard touchdown into double coverage, the wheels started to come off in the second half, and USC led 34-14 early in the fourth quarter. But further heroics from Golden, Jimmy, and Robby Paris pulled the Irish within 7 and set Notre Dame up with first and goal at the four-yard-line with 0:04 on the clock.
On the final play, Duval Kamara slipped coming out of his break, causing the pass from Clausen to sail harmlessly to the turf. Josh Pinkard, the USC DB charged with covering Kyle Rudolph split out wide, also spent the most of the play picking grass out of his facemask, leaving ND’s tight end completely uncovered. The opportunity was there, in the middle of the south end zone, but ND simply whiffed.
At the time, I had thought I was watching potential revenge for the Bush Push game, a chance for ND to assert itself over a top-flight rival, but the remainder of the season revealed the 2009 vintage to be a fairly middling USC squad. Southern Cal went 3-3 down the stretch, with blowout losses against Oregon and Stanford to finish 9-4 and #20 in the rankings.
It would be four more years before ND notched a win over a double-digit-win USC team, but suffering at Trojan hands clearly was not limited to memorable squads – these Irish were an equal opportunity victim.
Michigan ’13 – Liam
As Irish fans in the Brian Kelly era, we’ve endured plenty of early-season losses to inferior teams. Without fail, they’ve wiped away preseason hype and perceived momentum from the prior year (see 2011 USF and 2016 @ UT). But worst of all was our soul-crushing 2013 week 2 defeat in Ann Arbor, fresh off an undefeated 2012 regular season that yielded sky-high expectations.
There were plenty of bad vibes in the preceding offseason — BK interviewing for NFL jobs, Everett Golson getting suspended, and Tuitt and Nix showing up to summer workouts overweight. But I’ll speak for myself when I say I was confident we could win 10 games with a plethora of returning talent and experience — and our two biggest games (USC and OU) at home. All of my hopes quickly disintegrated at the highest-attended game in college football history (race track games don’t count) with 115,109 fans witnessing Devin Gardner put on a show under the lights in a #98 Michigan “legends” jersey.
Although the Irish never led, they did just enough to remain firmly in the game — Tommy Rees connected with TJ Jones and Troy Niklas for touchdowns and Kyle Brindza made some clutch kicks. Then, when Gardner’s 4th of 5 touchdowns on the day made it 34-20 heading into the 4th and Michigan quickly got the ball back against their own endzone, Stephon Tuitt made a wildly athletic play (even better than his fumble return against Navy the year prior) to dive and intercept an ill-advised Gardner throwaway in the endzone.
Touchdown! 34-27, then 34-30 after another Brindza field goal shortly after. Nightmares of the 2011 UM game faded as I somehow talked myself into ND being able to win on the road in the 4th quarter. It was my first road game working for the team as a student videographer, and after Tuitt scored right in front of the end zone where I was filming, I broke every unwritten rule of team staff conduct and went crazy.
Of course, we all know how it ended — the offense stagnated and the defense failed to stop Gardner from effectively sealing the game with 4 minutes left. 41-30.
Burned in the memory of anyone who was at the Big House that night is the sight and sound of every skunkbear fan in attendance mockingly performing the Chicken Dance as the ND faithful tried to find the nearest exit. I wish it ended there, but I had to pack up 50 pounds of camera equipment and slowly walk down from the highest row in the stadium to join the embattled players and coaches on the 3-hour bus ride back to South Bend. The raw feeling of defeat to a bitter enemy, ending a 13-game regular season winning streak, was absolutely miserable.
Pittsburgh ’12 – Ted
In the thick of the 2012 season, I was the type of fan that thought we were a team fulfilling our destiny. Every game that fall brought some magic with it. I learned a lot about what fanhood in sports can and should be, and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. That Notre Dame football team could do no wrong, until…
…until that painful collapse at Notre Dame Stadium in early November. We lost. We lost with our horrendous start to the game, falling behind 10-6 at halftime. We lost when Brian Kelly pulled a struggling Everett Golson for an inept Tommy Rees. We lost when Pitt went up 20-6 at the end of the 3rd with a field goal. We lost when Golson returned and drove us down to the Pitt goal line with four minutes left, only to throw a pick in the endzone. We lost again in overtime when Cierre Wood fumbled it into the endzone and Pitt recovered.
And, finally, we lost when Kevin Harper lined up his 33 yard FG attempt on the right hash and kicked it through the uprights.
Seriously. I watched it happen. I was there. That was it. Before any disappointment could hit me, I felt confusion. Because there appeared to be a large group of Pitt fans behind the uprights in the North endzone celebrating their victory. How were there so many Pitt fans there?
Later, my friends explained that those were Notre Dame fans, and the ball actually went to the right of the goal posts. They even showed me video to validate their claims. That would explain why the ND players celebrated and the game continued on to a third overtime. But I know what I saw.
Whatever the outcome, it was a true Notre Dame classic in every sense. It had everything we have come to hate and expect… and somehow still eventually love.