March 1, 2017
By John Heisler
The number-one rated men's lacrosse team in the country comes to South Bend Saturday.
That prospect, from a historical standpoint, generally has prompted University of Notre Dame athletic fans to salivate.
Remember football visits from top-rated Miami in 1988 and unbeaten Florida State in 1993?
How about Muffet McGraw's landmark women's basketball win over Connecticut in 2001?
Attend the 2010 home hockey victory over number-one Boston College?
How about a long list of Irish men's basketball triumphs in that category? Not so long ago before the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences became realities, Digger Phelps built a program around a series of Athletic and Convocation Center victories over top-rated opponents--starting with UCLA and its 88-game winning streak in 1974. Mike Brey has added to the chart with wins over Syracuse in 2012 and North Carolina in 2016.
As strong as Irish sports programs have grown to be, the giant-killer reputation applied in many of those outings, with Notre Dame often cast as the underdog.
So Maryland (the Terps at 4-0 share the top ranking this week with Denver in the Inside Lacrosse media poll) becomes the latest adversary to bring a gaudy rating to town to face Kevin Corrigan's fourth-ranked squad at noon Saturday at Arlotta Stadium.
The lone previous top-rated visiting lacrosse team to play in South Bend was Syracuse in 2015--with the Irish posting a dramatic two-overtime 13-12 victory on a goal by midfielder Jack Near.
In men's lacrosse the only other matchups with number-one rated opponents came away from home--defeats at Loyola in 1999, against Virginia in Alexandria in 2003 and versus Loyola in the 2012 NCAA national semifinals.
One recent obstacle to more lacrosse games against top-rated opponents came in 2016 when the Irish occupied the top spot themselves in the polls on nine different weeks. The 2017 Notre Dame men's lacrosse slate ranks second nationally this week in the NCAA strength-of-schedule standings, so there could be additional top-rated teams facing the Irish this season.
Only one other time in the current athletic year has a top-ranked team played in South Bend--and that was Connecticut in women's basketball back in early December. Both the men's and women's soccer squads played teams rated second and both those came away from home. Go back to April for a men's tennis home-court success against number-one North Carolina.
A few other opportunities could come this spring--with the current women's lacrosse top-rated team (North Carolina) slated to play April 2 in South Bend and the current second-ranked baseball squad (Florida State) headed to Eck Baseball Stadium for games March 24, 25 and 26. Both Wake Forest and Virginia are in the top three in men's tennis and could conceivably be number one when they come to town later this spring. North Carolina currently stands third in women's tennis--and the Tar Heels head to South Bend for an April 9 match.
Check the NCAA football record book and flip the pages to the one that lists victories over teams ranked number one in the Associated Press poll.
Notre Dame is on top of that chart with eight.
Grab the NCAA men's basketball record book and there's a similar list--again with Notre Dame accomplishing that feat eight times.
Remember the sound in the ACC when the Irish students and fans chanted "Twenty-nine and one" from the moment the University of San Francisco basketball team walked into the building in 1977?
Recall the famous photo by Rich Clarkson from Sports Illustrated of quarterback Tom Clements throwing the pass out of the end zone to little-used tight end Robin Weber to cement the Sugar Bowl win over top-rated Alabama and the great Bear Bryant in 1973?
Remember the delirious scene in the Joyce Center in 2001 when McGraw's Irish knocked off Connecticut, setting the scene for their journey to the national title two months later?
Phelps used to call occasions like that Notre Dame "moments."
Corrigan and his 2017 Irish have their own chance to add another moment to that list on Saturday.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on UND.com.