Salud! While my name is Italian, I swear there is at least a little Irish running through my blood (thanks, maternal Grandpa). I must admit, my love for Notre Dame far outweighs the actual percentage of Irish blood in my system. I thought I would introduce you to me through my top 10 of Notre Dame sports (I will only be picking from games that I witnessed either in person or on TV). The first football game I remember watching was a Notre Dame vs. Michigan game when I was 5 or 6. I was visiting my cousin and his dad had graduated from ND law school. Coming from Michigan, I think I was expected to root for U of M. Instead, I rooted for Notre Dame that day and have ever since. Here we go...
Notre Dame @ Ferris State. Hockey, 1998.
This was the first Notre Dame game I was in attendance for. Unfortunately they lost, 4-2 - to the school that I was attending. This was the worst game I attended. Ever. I wanted both teams to win; I spent the whole game hating myself. I only went to Ferris State for my freshman year and this was one of the few standout moments of attending a school with a 3-1 guy/girl ratio (seeing Notre Dame in person).
#10. Notre Dame vs. Michigan. Frozen Four, 2008.
Yes, another hockey game. We will get to balls very soon, I promise. Notre Dame wins in Overtime, 5-4. The Irish raced to a 3-0 lead only to see Michigan come back with a freshman goalie and force OT. While Calle Ridderwall has not exactly become a known name in Irish lore, his goal will live on forever. Notre Dame would go on to lose in controversial fashion to another hated rival in the final. Boston College escaped when the referee ruled that a goal by Notre Dame had been kicked in. That goal would have cut the BC lead to 3-2. Instead, BC scored seconds later and would win, 4-1. Yes, it still hurts that ND lost to BC because of a kicked object.
#9. Notre Dame vs. UCLA. Basketball, 1994.
Not the last time that UCLA makes this list, but the only basketball game that affected me greatly. This is one of the first ND basketball games I remember watching. Before this game I was a Notre Dame football fan and Michigan State basketball fan. Ever since, Michigan State moved to number two in basketball and it's not very close to number 1. Notre Dame routed the #2 Bruins, 79-63, while I was putting together a wardrobe with my dad. This was my introduction to Monty Williams and the over-rated chant. UCLA missed all 16 of their three point shots and Notre Dame ran away and hid.
#8 Notre Dame vs UCLA. Football, 2006.
Welcome back, Bruins. The day of Game 1 of the 2006 World Series. My hometown Detroit Tigers would play in their first World Series game since 1984, all well and good, but first the Irish had a home game against UCLA. The second year of Charlie had seen some chinks in the armor, most of them dealing with the state of Michigan. I finally showed up with friends at B-Dubs, for the 4th quarter of this terrible football game. While rooting for Iowa to upset the Wolverines, I was also watching ND on the smallest screen possible.
The Irish got the ball back down 17-13 with 1:02 left in the game and 80 yards to go. Out routes to Samardzija and Grimes for first downs took 25 seconds off the clock. Then came THE PLAY. Ball on the UCLA 45, Samardzija lines up in the wide slot and runs across the field. Brady Quinn gives the pump fake and then hits Samardzija perfectly and he does the rest. One cutback and he's into the end zone. I explode while sitting on my stool and heard one other person in the bar who enjoyed the ND comeback as much as I did. I ended up disappointed in the day overall because the Tigers lost, but Notre Dame kept me from freaking out, with the comeback.
#7 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State. Football, 2006.
The MSU game is always interesting for me. Most of my close friends graduated from East Lansing, as well as both of my sisters. Plus, the Spartans are the not-so-close second team I root for. The Irish played terrible for more then half of this game and I was slowly drifting away from the game and more towards alcohol. My roommate had a lot of friends in town to attend a wedding the next day and the booze was flowing. There were multiple drinking games going on and I was half-heartedly watching the debacle unfolding on the TV. At some point during the MSU scoring bonanza, I received a text message from one of my friends that didn't attend MSU, ripping Notre Dame. My MSU friends would not appreciate this later.
As for the actual game, it had a lot of trash talk heading into the game, due to MSU planting the flag at Notre Dame Stadium the previous year. Notre Dame was coming off an ass-kicking the week before by Michigan that I barely remember. The score was MSU 31, Notre Dame 14 at halftime. Then the comeback happened. I was running around the condo losing my mind. Delaying my group leaving for the bar as long as possible, once the final INT happened I was able to leave and have a good evening. I didn't know it got reviewed until the next day. I sent a text message to every MSU fan in my phone that said how much I didn't care for State when the game ended. One of my State friends thought I was just mad about ND losing as he had stopped watching at halftime. And, of course, this rant from a State fan on local radio.
#6 Notre Dame vs. Boston College. Football 1993.
I don't remember all of this game, but I remember the important things. I was watching the comeback happen in my bedroom on a tiny TV. A 4th quarter from Kevin McDougal, a great two point conversion to take the lead. Then it was dinner time and I had to switch from watching the game alone in my room (LL Cool J) to the family room on a bigger TV. Gross. Penalties and a lucky field goal later, Notre Dame had been eliminated from the National Championship conversation. This play is on par with the Bird steal from Isaiah as plays I hate watching. Another reason for my hatred of all things Boston.
#5 Notre Dame vs. Michigan. Basketball 2002.
The only sporting event I've ever attended by myself, and the only time I've given the University of Arrogance money. I bought a ticket behind the basket opposite the tunnel. Notre Dame ended up shooting at my end in the second half. I sat next to good Michigan fans, the only ones ever. As I remember it, Notre Dame played terrible basketball was lucky to be close and blew a lead in the final minute. Chris Thomas had a shot to win it at the buzzer and had it blocked. I responded to the older couple next to me that the better team lost in football and in basketball. ND had won the football game that year thanks to Darius Walker.
#4 Notre Dame vs. West Virginia. National Championship. Fiesta Bowl 1989.
I don't remember a lot of watching this game when I was younger, but I do remember my parents making a big deal about it. Making nachos (Fiesta) and letting me enjoy Notre Dame win their last National Championship. This is one of the greatest teams ever, not just ND teams. They won 10 of 12 games by double digits and only the Miami and Michigan games were close. A complete domination of a season in which they beat the number 1, 2 and 3 team. The “Rocket” put the Irish up 23-3 to pretty much end the game in the first half. Lou Holtz won his National Championship and got himself locked into Irish lore with this win.
#3 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State. Football 2002.
This was the first time I saw Notre Dame football in person. I was visiting friends that were attending State and staying with my sister that night. It was a great time, tailgating before the game, a random State fan asking me how many Heisman's Ron Powlus was supposed to win. He had mistaken my #33 Courtney Watson jersey for a #3 jersey, typical State fan, drunk by 1:30 (tongue in cheek). Michigan State had dominated the Irish since Lou Holtz left and won 5 games in a row. The Irish took over the game in the first half, leading 14-3 at the half. Michigan State came charging back, or should I say Charles Rogers took over the game, using insane athleticism to catch a touchdown pass with less then two minutes left in the game that gave MSU a 17-14 lead. I had to deal with an old man sitting right in front of me yelling, “Six in a row, six in a row.” He was using his thumb to signify the sixth win, which is obviously not very cool.
The Notre Dame offense had stalled out in the second half, which was due in part to Carlyle Holiday getting hurt (how bad was the QB situation in 2002 that Carlyle was missed? No offense CH). The Irish got the ball back and needed little time to take it to the house. 2nd down with 1:26 left Pat Dillingham, a walk-on that followed Ty from Stanford, threw a perfect slant pass to former QB Arnaz Battle who took it 60 yards for a touchdown. I got a hug from a random ND who was behind me, but I knew that Charles Rogers and Jeff Smoker could get high (pun intended) for another touchdown at almost any moment. For some reason, State showed little to no urgency when they got the ball back, and in the final 20 seconds got just one play off, a Hail Mary the Notre Dame intercepted to end the game. I left Spartan Stadium the happiest I've ever left a Notre Dame football game (1-3 record when I'm in attendance).
#2 Notre Dame vs Michigan. Football 2008.
The last win over Michigan is always my favorite, and this was a game that was a domination. From Michigan struggling to catch kicks and committing penalty after penalty, Notre Dame was able to jump to an early lead and continue to build on it. Golden Tate (for Heisman) exploded onto the scene this day and dominated the Wolvey defensive backs. The offensive explosion that was shown in this game led to expectations growing for the 2008 season, even though everyone knew that U of M was going to be terrible (now no one knew that they would lose to Toledo, NICK MOORE, but still). This is how the offense has to look in 2009 or Charlie will have been doing something wrong. After the San Diego State debacle of opening week, we saw glimpses of an offense that could dominate. The second half got bogged down due to a rainfall that meant no one could pass and just made the game ugly. A great half of football that showed how much promise a very young team had. This game shows that there is a lot of Gold to come.
#1 Notre Dame vs Florida State. Football 1993.
The Game of the Century. One of the greatest programs of all-time versus a great program that was new on the scene. Number One versus Number Two. Heisman Favorite versus Back-up Quarterback. Even Florida State's kicker had been recruited heavily by both schools. One of the great openings to a football game, that is sorely missed now a days. A game that, even as a eighth grader, I knew everyone would be watching.
The game lived up to it's billing with Charlie Ward cementing his Heisman Trophy even in a losing performance. Just a great game, that Notre Dame led 31-17 in the fourth quarter, which led to Ward throwing a TD pas to Kez McCorvey, FSU forcing a three and out and getting the ball back with limited time for their final drive. A Shawn Wooden knock down of a pass as time expired, knocked the number one team out and made Notre Dame number one for the last time as we speak. FSU only dropped to number two and a re-match in the Orange Bowl was expected. Somehow Notre Dame lost to BC and dropped past Nebraska and out of title consideration. But for at least one day Notre Dame was the NUMBER ONE TEAM IN THE NATION.
That's my top ten list and says a lot about who I am as an Irish fan. Follow me on twitter @dascenzo. Lot's of sports talk and pop culture references. I try to be funny, let me know if I am or not. Hopefully you'll see more of me on here.