Friday, October 07, 2005

Quantum Leap

My favorite non-St. Patrick's-Day day of the year is fast approaching. On October 9, we celebrate the great tradition known as Scott Bakula's birthday. For those of you unfamiliar with this holiday (damn Canadians), Scott Bakula day is celebrated by engaging in an agonizing thought experiment:

If you could send Dr. Sam Beckett back in time to change any three moments in your football team's history, what would you do?

So fire up the way-back machine, McFly. Ziggy and I (with the assistance of the lads at NDNation) have come up with these five critical moments that we'd love to have back. Keep in mind that the parameters of the experiment stiuplate these can only be on-field events (otherwise it's quite obvious what we'd choose.)

#1: November 28, 1964. Los Angeles, CA.
It's difficult to overstate how significant 1964 was in Irish history. Coming off of a 2-7 record in 1963 and the disastrously embarassing Joe Kuharich era, Notre Dame had all but been written off as a dead program (sound familiar?). But all that changed when a scrappy go-getter named Ara Parseghian left his post at Northwestern and took over a floundering Notre Dame program he had beaten four years in a row.

What happened next is nothing short of miraculous. Parseghians lads won nine consecutive games and stood, on November 28, ranked #1 and one game away from claiming the National Championship. The last game of the year was a road date against 6-3 Southern Cal. The Irish exploded to a 17-0 lead, and in the third quarter, with a 17-7 lead and the ball inside the one yard line, fullback Joe Kantor bulled through the line to seal the game, putting the Irish up 24-7. But inexplicably, the right line judge, Jack Springer, hurled a yellow flag in the air and signalled a holding infraction on left offensive tackle Bob Meeker. Notre Dame failed to score after that and Southern Cal went on to win 20-17, spoiling all National Title hopes.

Subsequent viewings of the play have shown this call to be a fraud, a blatant home-town jobbing. Ara Parseghian even chimed in about it in "Talking Irish"
I was out in Los Angeles ten years later. The TV guy who did their play-by-play was putting together a half hour show of that game. He went through and picked out all the key plays. So this guy says to me, "Boy, you guys were screwed." I said, "It took you ten years to figure that out?"

Brutality Factor: 10 out of 10.
Scott Bakula Takes Over the Body Of: The corrupt referree Jack Springer and makes the correct call (he can go ahead and make the other awful calls in the game, as it wouldn't matter).
Result: Notre Dame finishes 1964 undefeated (no bowl games at the time for ND) and claims the National Title.

#2: November 20, 1993. South Bend, IN

The 1993 season revolved around the story of an unheralded backup quarterback named Kevin McDougal. After Ron "Guaranteed Two Heismans" Powlus ended his season with a broken clavicle, McDougal strapped on a helmet and led the Irish on an incredible run. This stretch culminated in #2 Notre Dame unseating #1 Florida State in South Bend in a 31-24 game that was not nearly as close as the score indicated. Dubbed the "Game of the Century", the Irish claimed the #1 ranking and all but iced down the champaign for National Championship number 12. The last test was a 7-2 Boston College, who came into the game ranked 17th and riding a 7 game winning streak. While much had been made about BC QB Glenn Foley and their coach Tom Coughlin, victory seemed to be all but assured at home with the title on the line.

But Notre Dame came out flat and Foley was playing out of his mind. BC catapulted to a 38-17 lead with 11 minutes left, and the air was sucked out of the House Rock Built. But Kevin McDougal took the ball, and in a whirlwind of Notre Dame magic, rattled off 22 point to reclaim the lead, 39-38. 69 seconds away from the big celebration, Foley rifled a pass across the middle that was targeted for Irish linebacker Pete Bercich. The pass clunked off of Bercich's hands, and 60 seconds later, David Gordon knuckled a career-long 41 yard field goal through the uprights as time expired.

A lot has been said about where blame belongs on this loss. Some say the football gods were angered in the matchup with BC the previous year, which included a fake punt while up 37-0 as well as Sean Astin being carried off the field at halftime. But the one moment that would have changed it all was Bercich's drop. Grab the ball, fall on the ground, and kneel it down, and we're not even having this discussion.

Brutality Factor: 10 out of 10.
Scott Bakula Would Take over the Body of: Pete Bercich and grab that ball.
Result: Romp over whoever was picked #2 by the Bowl Coalition and hoist the trophy.

#3: January 1, 1991. Miami, FL

There's your run-of-the-mill agonizing loss, and then there's the bag-over-the-head, suckerpunch-in-the-groin, puke-in-your-mouth heartbreaker. This was the latter. Squaring off against co-owner of the #1 ranking Colorado, the 1991 Orange Bowl turned out to be a real taffy pull. Nursing a 9-3 lead (as a result of a blocked PAT early in the game), the Irish were struck with a plague of turnovers, eventually leading to Eric Bienemy's one yard touchdown ramble to put CU up 10-9. With 65 ticks on the clock, Raghib Ishmail waited to return a punt, symbolizing the struggling Irish's last chance to win the game. The Rocket fielded the punt, dashed right, cut left, bounced off a tackle, and found a seam streaking down the right sideline. Leaving flying Buffalo defenders in his wake, he zigzagged through the punt coverage and barrelled into the end zone, dropping to one knee in prayer as well as obvious exhaustion.

While Irish fans screamed and jumped for joy, a piece of yellow laundry was observed half a field away on the right sideline. A clipping call brought the whole play back, and the Irish offense sputtered out, giving the Buffaloes their coveted half of a championship. I'm not going to pontificate about the call, I'm just going to link you to the video and let the viewer decide. But it's horseshit.

Brutality Factor: 7 out of 10. No national title on the line, thanks to two last-minute losses to Stanford and Penn State.
Scott Bakula Would Take Over the Body of: The unverified ref who through the flag. Put on your glasses, it ain't a clip.
Result: Colorado doesn't win a share of the title, the Rocket adds another glorious moment to his reel, and the worst moment of my childhood is averted.

Honorable Mentions: 1989 at Miami - Let 'em fight, Lou. 1978 at USC - fumble ruled forward pass. 2000 vs. Nebraska - Davie runs out clock. 1974 at USC - Don't kick to Anthony Davis.

:Thanks to 7Mules, ShermanOaksND, wetbird, weisenheimer, and Irish88 for suggestions.
:Referenced Works: Talking Irish, Delsohn. Fighting Irish Football Encyclopedia, Steele. 100 Years of Notre Dame Football, Schoor.
:Rocket Clip courtesy of ND Club of Memphis
:Picture for '64 USC game is actually from '74. If you need a visual reference, there's a picture of the winning TD in "100 Years of Notre Dame Football"