Following a particular college or university is a pastime for all sports fans as they go through their stages of adolescence. Whether it be where their parents went, where they live or just an obsession with a particular team for no apparent reason, all fans share random, common bonds with people who may be miles away.
As a child I grew up watching the 'Old Ball Coach' roam the sidelines for the Florida Gators (dad's alma mater), Tom Coverdale run the point for the Indiana Hoosiers (childhood team) and Autry Denson and Jarious Jackson run the option for the Irish (location). As I got older, the times and games I remembered turned in to moments in which to this day I have not forgotten.
Moments are what make us as sports fans keep coming back for more, albeit there were just over 28,000 paying customers in attendance at Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle's perfect game in 2009, as time goes by there will be 100,000 people claiming they were at Comiskey Park (I have and always will call it by this name) that day. I am not a fan of this particular Chicago area sports team, yet I will always remember where I was and whom I was with when this great moment took place.
I have many great and historic moments that I remember from the past 20-some years I have been a fan of Notre Dame. I have recollections that I would rather forget (Jackson's safety against LSU in 1998 in which he hurt his ankle and was out the following week) and those in which I wish I could relive over and over (Notre Dame women's basketball team taking down #1 UConn in 2001 at the Joyce en route to the program's first NCAA title). For both of those games, I remember where I was (Jackson's injury - celebrating Thanksgiving in Indianapolis, women's basketball vs. UConn - at game behind basket in first row).
This past athletic season had a fair share of 'Notre Dame Moments' in which I was able to witness; here are my top five ...
5. Frank Dyer, The All-American Guy
NCAA Men's Swimming Championships
March 24, 2012
In the 53 years of men's swimming at Notre Dame, the Irish have accomplished a lot - five BIG EAST Championships, five BIG EAST Coach of the Year honors and over 50 all-BIG EAST honorees - yet they had never had any swimmer garner national All-American recognition, until Frank Dyer's swim in Federal Way, Wash., this past season.
Dyer had been training all year long for the opportunity to make his mark in Notre Dame swimming lore. On a Friday evening in late March, he got his opportunity. As he stepped upon the blocks in the 200 freestyle finals, Dyer had the weight of the entire program on his back and he didn't disappoint.
The gun went off and just one minute and 34 seconds later, Notre Dame had its first All-American, Frank Dyer.
4. Freeby Calls Bull's Shot
Baseball vs. Pittsburgh
March 23, 2012
It may not have been George Herman Ruth calling his shot or even Jake Taylor, but Notre Dame baseball radio announcer Chuck Freeby opined between innings on the broadcast that the Irish would defeat the Panthers in the bottom half of the ninth inning on a home run from freshman Ryan Bull.
What happened next was truly amazing as Bull hit his first career home run at the exact time in which Freeby 'called it.'
3. Squeezing The Orange
Men's Basketball vs. #1 Syracuse
January 21, 2012
On a cold January day, the Irish, with a record of 11-8, welcomed the undefeated Syracuse Orange into Purcell Pavilion for a BIG EAST conference clash.
As the game wore on, Notre Dame played more like the Harlem Globetrotters to Syracuse's Washington Generals.
Building a lead as big as 18 points, the Irish went on to win 67-58 in front of a sold-out crowd. This was the eighth time that the men's basketball program had knocked off the top-ranked team in the AP poll in its history.
2. Big Shot Britt
Women's Basketball vs. Connecticut
April 1, 2012
In the fourth meeting on the season between the two squads, the teams went back and forth throughout much of the game.
The Irish squandered a five-point lead late to find themselves down two with just under-10 seconds to play when Skylar Diggins drove the length of the court and put up a runner in the lane, the attempt would miss and fall in the hands of senior Natalie Novosel. After gathering the rebound, Novosel put the ball up on a reverse lay-up, to see the ball drop with just a few seconds left on the clock to send the game to overtime.
The Irish found themselves down, three, early in overtime. That's when senior Brittany Mallory, who was shooting 1-11 in NCAA Championship play prior, was found in the corner for an open three, which she calmly drained.
After a rebound on the defensive end, Diggins quickly pushed the ball up the court and again found Mallory on the wing for another trey. The clutch play from their scrappy, sharpshooting senior would catapult the Irish to their second NCAA Championship game in as many years.
1. The Dedication Game (Holy War on Ice)
Hockey vs. Boston College
November 18, 2011
Taking part on the Friday night before their respective football teams clashed in the 'Holy War' on the gridiron, the hockey squads took to the ice for the 'Dedication Game' of the 50-million dollar Compton Family Ice Arena.
The sold-out crowd of 5,022 was treated to one of my favorite moments of my time at Notre Dame as the longtime tenor for the Chicago Blackhawks, Jim Cornelison (an Indiana University graduate), bellowed the National Anthem and kicked off a night full of moments.
This 'Notre Dame Moment' looked like something right out of the third Mighty Ducks when Bryan Rust capped off the game with a sudden-death victory goal with just 1.1 seconds left in overtime to give the Irish the 3-2 win.
These are just a few of the great Irish athletics moments from the past year. Every particular moment has its key players - Ryan Bull, Brittany Mallory, Frank Dyer - but the big question in sports has always been, "how will history remember you?" I'm sorry to say to all the athletes out there, it's not always your full athletic body of work that gets you remembered, sometimes it's just that one 'moment' where everything seems to come together and 20 years from now everyone is still talking about it, and all of Irish nation claims to have been there in person.
As the ghost of George Herman (Babe) Ruth told Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, "Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die."
- Aaron Horvath
This afternoon, Notre Dame senior Natalie Novosel and graduate student Devereaux Peters are at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. for the 2012 WNBA Draft. Their Fighting Irish playing days are over, but the all-BIG EAST first team selections were each top-10 draft picks, with Peters being selected third by the Minnesota Lynx and Novosel going eighth to the Washington Mystics.
Novosel was recently featured in an article by Andrew Lovell on ESPNW.com. Here's an excerpt from the nice story:
Natalie Novosel collected the loose ball at the top of the key, drove past the taller defender in front of her and set her sights on the basket.
It wouldn't be that easy. Another taller player stepped up, met Novosel in the air and challenged the layup. "Foul," Novosel said. "All ball," the defender shot back. In a move born of frustration, Novosel picked up the ball and fired it at the player's head.
You see, Novosel doesn't hate losing. She despises it. It's a trait her family realized early in her basketball career.
The perimeter defender? That was older sister Shannon, who stands 6-foot-1. The interior defender? That was 6-foot-5 twin brother Nate. And the above scenario -- with and without the hurling of the basketball -- played out thousands of times in the Novosels' backyard in Lexington, Ky.
Visit ESPNW.com to read the whole article, and get ready to cheer on the former Irish stars when the WNBA season starts in mid-May.
One more. It all comes down to this, the final college basketball game of the season. Notre Dame and Baylor will clash in Denver, in what has all the makings of a memorable finale. Two No. 1 seeds, one looking to close out an undefeated and historic season, the other hoping to take care of some unfinished business, dating back to this time last year. Get excited.
Here are ten things to know before the big game:
Tuesday, April 3. 6:43 pm MT (8:43 ET).
Tale of the Tape
#4 Notre Dame (#1 seed in Raleigh Region) - 35-3 overall, 15-1 BIG EAST
#1 Baylor (#1 seed in Des Moines Region) - 39-0 overall, 18-0 Big 12
TV - ESPN/ESPN3. Dave O'Brien (play-by-play), Doris Burke (color), Holly Rowe (sideline) and Rebecca Lobo (sideline).
Radio - Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) and UND.com. Bob Nagle (play-by-play).
Baylor leads, 2-0. The Lady Bears defeated the Irish in Waco, Tx. back on Nov. 20 in the Preseason WNIT championship game, 94-81.
What's at stake?
Greatness. Glory. A national championship.
The Irish are seeking to avenge last year's title game loss against Texas A&M, and earn their second championship in program history. The first came in 2001, when head coach Muffet McGraw's team defeated Purdue, 68-66 in St. Louis. Baylor, on the other hand, is looking to become the first NCAA team to ever go 40-0. The Lady Bears are also in search of a second national championship (the first came in 2005).
Opposing Players to Watch
Brittany Griner, Jr., F (23.2 PPG, 9.4 RPG), Odyssey Sims, Soph., G (14.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG), Destiny Williams, Jr., F (10.1 PPG)
The early-morning high school practices, the AAU tournaments, the summer camps, the long, late trips back to campus from mid-week away games - all of that preparation and each of those sacrifices was made in the hope of getting to this point where the Notre Dame women's basketball team finds itself this evening - on the verge of an NCAA championship.
The undefeated Lady Bears are the favorite, that is certain. But perhaps that's not a bad thing for the Fighting Irish. To steal a quote from Kansas head coach Bill Self's pre-game speech, "All the pressure is in that locker room."
Sure, the Jayhawks comeback fell short against Kentucky. But Notre Dame has a tremendous opportunity to take a similar approach - to just go out and play its game. If the Irish can do that, Skylar, Nasty, Dev & Co. very well could be the ones cutting down the net at the end of the night.
- Josh Flynt ('11)
As she has done many times before, Skylar Diggins almost broke Twitter last night. @skydigg4 as she is known by her 189,333 followers, is one of the most popular athletes on the ubiquitous social networking website.
But during and after the Final Four game against Connecticut, it was about more than just the Irish point guard. Brittany Mallory was trending, Notre Dame was trending, it seemed everyone was talking about the Fighting Irish.
My feed was full of congratulatory tweets mentioning @NotreDameWBB and post-game reaction from fans, friends, alumni and celebrities. Here are a few (read: many - more like 35, I think) tweets from last night...
Tweeting is a hobby that some people love, while others loathe. There is little doubt in my mind however, that Twitter was invented for nights and games like yesterday's. Where else can you feel like you're watching the tournament with millions of other fans?
- Josh Flynt ('11)
We made it. Again.
Last year, the women's basketball team's spurt to the national championship game was a magical run. It seemed unbelievable, and even though it didn't end quite like we wanted, it seemed like one of those seasons that doesn't come along too often. Who knew when we'd get to see a season like that again?
Luckily, this Fighting Irish team and head coach Muffet McGraw didn't feel like waiting. They've had another spectacular campaign, and have once again gotten the entire campus behind them.
Confession time: I had to watch today's game on ESPN3.com from the basement of Hesburgh Library. (Economics professors don't seem to get that we should keep the Final Four in mind when scheduling tests). But honestly, watching the game from the library was a really cool experience. As the game went on, I noticed that most of the students in the library had their laptops out and were keeping a close eye on the game.
When UConn took a lead late in the second half, we all grimaced.
When Natalie Novosel tied the game on a layup with four seconds left and sent the game into overtime, all of the supposedly studious people fist-pumped and got a huge grin.
And when the clock ran out and gave the Irish an 83-75 victory, all of us got that special feeling of pride that comes from knowing your team will be playing for the championship.
This team has proven time and time again that they're a special group. McGraw knows how to get the most out of her team, and the presence of veteran leaders such as Brittany Mallory, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters keeps this team on an even keel. And with All-American point guard Skylar Diggins running the show, this team is hard to stop. They're an incredibly fun group to watch.
The student body and campus is 110% behind this team, and they keep giving us phenomenal performances to enjoy. This Final Four matchup was an instant classic, a physical matchup where the outcome was in doubt until the very end. It also made the victory that much sweeter to beat UConn, a perennial rival and a team who the Irish have struggled with in the past.
We turned a corner against the Huskies this year (this is the Irish's third victory over UConn this season), and got some revenge tonight for our loss to Geno Auriemma's team in the Big East tournament. I think it's safe to say I'm not the only student who relished getting the chance to knock off the Huskies in the Final Four.
So now we're back in the same situation we were last year: just one team standing between us and the national title. The Irish played tonight like they had unfinished business; as if they weren't satisfied with how their season ended last year. They've earned themselves a chance to end it the right way this time around, and if they play with the same fire and tenacity that they showed tonight, they'll be very hard to beat. There's going to be a game watch in the Purcell Pavilion Tuesday night where students can watch the national title game on the videoboard. I know I'll be there, and I hope that the entire student body will be also.
After all, how many chances do you get to see history in the making?
- Tom McGuire ('14)
It wasn't always a pretty game. The Irish shot 40.3% from the field (Seven points below their season average). The teams combined for 37 turnovers, which at times, felt more like 67.
But style points mean nothing at this point in the season.
With a thrilling 83-75 overtime victory against Connecticut, the Notre Dame women's basketball team is one win away from it second national championship, and it's due in large part to hustle and heart.
A late rebound and putback from Natalie Novosel, a block from Skylar Diggins (yes, a block form the 5'9" Irish point guard) and a pair of key three-pointers in overtime from Brittany Mallory have head coach Muffet McGraw's team right where they wanted (and expected) to be on April 2, 2012 - in position to play for a title.
Watching tonight's game, reading fans' tweets and friends' Facebook statuses, and now, checking out 'One Shining Moment' montages on YouTube as I write this, reminds me there's nothing quite like college basketball.
The emotion and excitement of March Madness is unparalleled. The refuse-to-lose mentality of Diggins, the leadership of Novosel, the clutch shooting of Mallory, and the character of this Fighting Irish team make us proud to say we're all a part of the same Notre Dame family.
March demonstrates how our connection to one another and to Notre Dame is strengthened through sports. At the arena, in a sports bar, or watching from our couch, we develop an emotional attachment to the teams and the games. Alum, student or fan, we feel as though we've been along for the journey.
In this year's tournaments, we have seen both the highest of highs - the triumph of victory (tonight) - and the lowest of lows - the heartbreak of defeat (the men's game vs. Xavier). As the teams fight back tears, we share their sorrow. And as the teams celebrate, we experience the same pure, unadulterated joy.
Tonight was a memorable night for the Fighting Irish, the fans in Denver, and those watching, blogging, tweeting and Facebooking across the world.
There is, however, still work to be done. Notre Dame will return to the court on Tuesday night at 8:30 pm ET when it takes on 39-0 Baylor in the national championship game.
Remember to follow @NotreDameWBB on Twitter and check out the Irish at Facebook.com/ndwbb for all the updates from the Mile High City.
Get some rest over the next 40 hours or so, and clear your schedule for Tuesday night. The table is set for an historic evening in the Rocky Mountains.
Five down, one to go...
- Josh Flynt ('11)
As expected, it's a close one in Denver. And given how the Irish played for much of the first half, head coach Muffet McGraw has got to pleased that it's a one-possession game.
Kayla McBride gave Notre Dame a much needed boost before the break, hitting a tough, tough buzzer-beater from the paint to cut a five-point deficit to three.
Natalie Novosel leads the Irish offense with 11 points, while Devereaux Peters has eight.
If the Irish are to advance to Tuesday's championship game, they will have to do a much better job of defending the backdoor cut and shutting down Connecticut center Stefanie Dolson, who led all scorers with 12 points in the first half.
Back to the action in a few minutes on ESPN. Follow @NotreDameWBB on Twitter for more updates from Denver.
- Josh Flynt ('11)
We are now only one day away from playing and the focus of the Notre Dame women's basketball team is as razor sharp as Ron Popeil's Ronco Showtime knives.
Today was deemed "Final Four Saturday," which included open press availability, a free open practice for fans, an off-site practice, a tour of Sports Authority Field at Mile High and a hop-scotch competition with the locals (whoops, that last one was just me).
After arriving at the Pepsi Center to begin the day's obligations, the team went through the required media availability that all Final Four teams must go through; Skylar, Brittney and Coach McGraw were interview on the dais in the media room while the rest of the team was interviewed in the locker room.
Once the interview periods were over the team was ready to take the Pepsi Center floor for the first time. The hour-long open practice was a free event for all patrons. During the hour, the Irish went through a few drills and were greeted with cheers with every made basket. When practice ended the Irish met their adoring fans in the main concourse for a thirty-minute autograph session, which saw the line wrap halfway around the arena.
Skylar was honored with a WBCA All-American accolade on the Pepsi Center floor along with nine other student-athletes. The team then rushed over to a local gymnasium to have another practice.
While the team was away at practice, myself and a few members of the traveling party, including the voice of the women's basketball squad Bob Nagle, traveled to the southeast side of Denver to a 'Man vs. Food' location, Cherry Cricket Burgers. The constant stories and jokes from Nagle (example: What did the pony say when he had a sore throat? .......Sorry, I'm a little horse), and the incredible food at the establishment, allowed me to deem my first experience at any Man vs. Food restaurant a success.
A few hours later, the entire traveling party boarded their respective buses, the team bus (players, coaches, support staff) and the Magic School Bus (everyone else including yours truly). Once the buses were packed, we headed to Sports Authority Field at Mile High (the home of the Denver Broncos) for dinner and a tour of the facilities.
The dinner spread of BBQ chicken, salmon, turkey, salad and chocolate covered strawberries was amazing once again. The highlight of my day was getting the opportunity to meet and sit at the same table as Coach McGraw and Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame Director of Athletics) and get to know them on a personal level. Their sincere interest in what I had to say and their candor in the responses were greatly appreciated by this Notre Dame employee.
After polishing off yet another chocolate covered strawberry, we left on a tour of the stadium. Our first stop was the players lounge, the place where all Broncos alumni sit and watch the game after they have retired. The walls were adorned with Broncos greats like John Elway, Tom Jackson and Tim Tebow (the latter may just be wishful thinking).
From there we were ushered to the field and into the Broncos locker room. Once inside I had the strong urge to mimic the great Al Pacino "six-inches in front of your face" speech from Any Given Sunday, but held off and instead chose to 'Tebow' at every given opportunity.
The arrival back at the hotel brought a special celebration for team photographer, Mike Bennett, who celebrated his birthday while in Denver. Earlier in the day Mike had mentioned that he may have photographed the Titanic tragedy in 1912 (I later figured out this was in fact, not true).
As the night wound down, the girls once again put in time at the study tables to keep up to date with their studies while in the 'Centennial State.'
Tomorrow is the day this team has been looking forward to since last season, and the moment is almost upon them. When the Irish women's basketball team takes the floor tomorrow they will be 'playing for the love of the game and the glory of Our Lady's University.'
Keep up-to-date with your women's basketball team as they look to bring home their second NCAA Championship and first since 2001, by checking back with us at Irish Underground for daily recaps and following the minute-by-minute happenings via Twitter (@NotreDameWBB).
- Aaron Horvath
UConn leads, 29-7. Irish have won three of the past four. Huskies won the last meeting, 63-54. This will be the teams' fourth head-to-head battle of the season, and eighth in the past two years.
What's at stake?
A spot in Tuesday night's title game against the winner of Stanford and Baylor.
Irish seeking their second straight appearance in the national championship game, and third victory semifinal victory over the Huskies (2001, 2011).
Opposing Players to Watch
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Fr., F (15.0 PPG), Stefanie Dolson, Soph., C (10.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG), Tiffany Hayes, Sr., G (14.8 PPG)
The Road to Denver
Connecticut: No. 16 seed Prairie View A&M (83-47), No. 8 see Kansas State (72-26), No. 4 seed Penn State (77-59), No. 2 seed Kentucky (80-65).
Notre Dame: No. 16 seed Liberty (74-43), No. 8 seed California (73-62), No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure (79-35), No. 2 seed Maryland (80-49).
For All The Marbles (Well, Almost)
It's the fourth meeting of the season, but it might as well be the first. Notre Dame's two regular season wins and Connecticut's BIG EAST championship game victory mean very little at this point. When people look back on the 2011-12 season, the only game between the Fighting Irish and Huskies that will matter is the one in Denver. Whichever squad steps on the big stage earns all the bragging rights, and more importantly, the chance to play for a national championship on Tuesday evening.
- Josh Flynt ('11)