Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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52 NOV. 9, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T hirty years ago this month, on Nov. 11, 1989, the University of Notre Dame football program achieved a school record that, with the passage of time, appears more unbreakable than ever. By defeating a ravaged SMU team that was fresh off the NCAA's first and lone "death penalty" administered for the 1987 and 1988 seasons, the Fighting Irish won a school-record 22 consecu- tive games. The streak would extend to 23 before finally getting snapped. Particularly amazing was until 1988, the 1980s were destined to be remem- bered as the worst decade of football in Notre Dame history. From 1980-87, Notre Dame was 52- 38-2 for a .576 winning percentage, far and away the worst during any previ- ous decade. In each of the seven seasons from 1981-87, Notre Dame finished with a minimum of four losses, eclipsing the school record of six straight years with four or more defeats from 1958-63. It went seven straight years without a top-10 finish, again surpassing the pre- vious six-year mark from 1958-63. (The new record is now 11 from 1994-2004.) Furthermore, three times in the 1980s — 1981, 1985 and 1986 — Notre Dame finished under .500, a first in any de- cade for the program. Skepticism was in full force. "Notre Dame can't win big ever again because its schedules are too dif- ficult." (Indeed, the 1985, 1987 and 1989 schedules were ranked No. 1 in dif- ficulty by the NCAA, while the 1986 slate was No. 3.) "The academic standards are too high to compete in the big time." "You can't win a national title with that outdated option offense." The 1980s symbolized the demise of Notre Dame football until … RENAISSANCE! Hired in November 1985, head coach Lou Holtz had established a reputation as college football's premier "quick-fix" specialist. At William & Mary, he took the Tribe to the Southern Conference title in 1970, his second season. At North Carolina State, the Wolf- pack went from three straight three- win seasons prior to Holtz's arrival to 8-3-1 his first year (1972) and three straight finishes from Nos. 11-17 in the Associated Press poll. In his first year at Arkansas (1977), Holtz's Razorbacks finished 11-1 and No. 3 in the country after posting a 5-5-1 ledger the season prior. At Minnesota, he inher- ited a 1-10 operation and had a winning season and bowl bid by year two in 1985. His masterpiece work, though, would occur at Notre Dame following a 5-6 debut in 1986 and 8-4 improvement in 1987. Out of nowhere, in 1988 he followed the third- year magic of predeces- sors Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine — all of whom either finished unbeaten or won the national title in their third seasons, if not both — while posting the first 12-0 mark in school history. Furthermore, at the time Notre Dame became only the fourth national cham- pion to defeat four teams that finished in the AP top 10: No. 2 Miami, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 West Virginia and No. 7 USC. In 1989, the Irish were even more im- pressive, finishing with victories over seven teams that finished in the top 18 of the AP poll (see more later in story). No other pro- gram had as many victories against ranked teams over a two-year period — yet it never really dawned on the Notre Dame players what kind of unprecedented his- tory they had achieved. "Holtz kept us so grounded … he had us worrying so much about the basics that we couldn't even think about No. 1," reflected Chris Zorich, a two-time consensus All-American nose guard and the 1990 Lombardi Award winner. "We didn't know how good we were at the time, and part of it was it seemed like we were always playing another ranked team, many times in the top 10. "But now, when members of our teams from those years come back to campus for reunions, we just kind of smile and say, 'Man, we were really freakin' good.'" UNBREAKABLE? Thirty years later, Notre Dame's record 23-game winning streak looks more daunting than ever NOTRE DAME'S LONGEST WINNING STREAKS Streak Years 23 1988-89 21 1946-48 20 1929-31 20 1919-21 17 1992-93 16 1923-25 16 1912-14 14 1921-22 13 2017-18 13 1973-74 13 1908-09 After going 12-0 and winning the national championship in 1988, head coach Lou Holtz and the Irish won their first 11 games in 1989 despite playing a schedule that featured four league champs and four other top-18 squads. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS

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