Oct. 17, 2014
As the fifth-ranked University of Notre Dame football squad heads to Tallahassee this weekend to confront second-rated Florida State in a midseason battle of unbeatens, it’s worth recalling some of the memories from the two previous Irish victories over the Seminoles.
In 2002, like this year, the Irish were unbeaten (6-0) in Tyrone Willingham’s first season as head coach in South Bend. Notre Dame already had proven itself via three wins over ranked opponents—versus #21 Maryland in the Kickoff Classic, #7 Michigan and #18 Air Force on the road. Florida State stood 5-2, with losses at Louisville (in overtime) and by one point at #1 Miami.
This marked Notre Dame’s only other visit to Tallahassee until 2014—and it featured a noon kickoff on ABC and a visit from the ESPN College GameDay crew.
The Irish shocked the home crowd when—after the Seminoles went three and out on the game’s first possession—Carlyle Holiday threw a 65-yard scoring pass to Arnaz Battle on Notre Dame’s first offensive play from scrimmage.
From a 10-10 halftime tie, Notre Dame scored twice on short touchdown drives late in the third period, both times after forcing Florida State fumbles. The Seminoles outgained the Irish by 117 total yards, but four turnovers (compared to none for the Irish) undid the home team. Ryan Grant ran for 94 yards and two scores and Holiday threw a pair of TD passes.
The victory put Notre Dame at #3 in the Bowl Championship Series standings the next week—and that celebrated the high-water mark of the Willingham era in South Bend. The Irish lost at home to Boston College the following Saturday, fell at #6 USC in the regular-season finale and dropped a decision to #17 North Carolina State and quarterback Philip Rivers in the Gator Bowl. Willingham’s next two seasons produced 5-7 and 6-6 records.
Florida State’s 1993 visit to Notre Dame Stadium goes down as one of the more remarkable home weekends in Irish history, as much for all the events surrounding the contest as for the game itself. With both teams 9-0, the Seminoles #1 and the Irish #2, the game itself hardly needed hype. Never had Notre Dame played host to a late-season game in Notre Dame Stadium with so much on the line.
“There may never again be a regular-season game of that magnitude,” said Irish coach Lou Holtz.
The Irish benefitted from a week off coming into the Nov. 13 matchup. The media interest was such that the Notre Dame media relations office took over one of the auxiliary gyms in the Joyce Center and turned it into a week-long home for visiting press. The area served as partly an interview location, partly a media workroom and partly a cafeteria. Irish players and assistant coaches were available throughout the week in that spot.
Demand for seats in the Notre Dame Stadium press box far outstripped the space available. So Notre Dame made use of folding chairs at the very top of each seating section in Notre Dame Stadium and assigned more than 40 media members to those outdoor locations. In the pre-Internet days, virtually every major newspaper that cared about college football sent a writer to South Bend.
That weekend also marked the first time the ESPN College GameDay show left the studio and went on the road. The production then was a far cry from today’s version, as the ’93 show set up at one end of Heritage Hall on the second floor of the Joyce Center—with only a handful of spectators and little fanfare involved. After the game Holtz wandered unannounced up the stairs from his first-floor office to the ESPN set, the crew put a microphone on him and Chris Fowler did the interview.
Maybe the most remarkable event came Thursday morning when Holtz wondered what all the out-of-town media were doing for meals during the week. He then proposed inviting all the press to his Granger home for a barbeque dinner that night. (We may never know what his wife Beth’s reaction was when she heard her husband’s plan.) Well-known local caterer Port-A-Pit quickly jumped on board—and more than 100 media members came to the Holtz home for dinner and drinks and to watch the Thursday night ESPN game with Lou in his basement.
No one was more taken by that scene than Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe. He wrote an entire column about breaking bread with Lou. It was a relaxing evening—and not exactly what the media expected a college head coach would be doing two days before arguably one of the biggest games of his career.
There are interesting postscripts to both Irish wins over Florida State. The 1993 meeting (and the one that followed in 1994 in Orlando) came about in great part because the Irish needed to fill some late-season slots after Penn State opted out of some scheduled games with Notre Dame to join the Big Ten Conference. In a strange coincidence, after the wins over Florida State both the 1993 Irish and the 2002 Irish lost home games the next Saturday against Boston College.
-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director