As most Irish fans are eager to turn the page from last season to the new upcoming one, we thought it would be prudent to reflect back one last time on the memorable one that the 2012 squad provided for ourselves and all Irish fans across the nation. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Holtz era, when winning was just expected. Oh sure, I vaguely remember the Faust years, but somehow avoided the emotional scars that most who watched Irish football during that time period had to endure then and still do to this day.
There are a contingency of fans who think that last season was a disappointment because of the debacle that was the BCS championship game, and while that game will not be making my top 10 Irish games of all time list, I still truly do appreciate the journey that last year’s team allowed us all to take part in.
Just like most fans, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the team that hit the field against Navy, in Dublin. Let’s be honest here, it seemed the Notre Dame football program had found more ways to lose games in 2010 and 2011, than to win them. There were signs of improvement over the last 2 seasons, but after 15 years of mediocrity, were fans really ready to jump back in with both feet? I know I was hesitant to say the least, and extremely skeptical at worst, and it depended on the day, as to how I viewed their chances.
So the Navy game came and went, and while the score seemed acceptable, it felt like the offense was average (other than running wild) and the defense created easy opportunities for them. Still, if you didn’t watch the game, and saw the score, you would have to feel good about the outcome. One game, one win, can’t really complain about that – but we still did. Enter in Purdue, and I have never been so close to getting a Kyle Brindza and Tommy Rees tattoo in my life. A much closer game than I had anticipated, but subconsciously – it’s what I expected. A win is a win, and the Irish left week 2 behind with a record of 2-0.
It is now week 3 and my beloved Irish head up to their personal house of horrors in Spartan stadium. I just knew this was going to be a loss, and it would suck in the way it happened. I was positive that Le’Veon Bell was going to win the Heisman Trophy just on this nights accomplishments alone, and based off his effort the week before against Boise St., I wasn’t alone in that feeling. Little did I know that Notre Dame’s defense would show the world that they were legit, and the Irish’s young quarterback had more game than he showed in the first 2 games. Notre Dame left East Lansing with a 20-3 victory, a 3-0 record, and defense that was starting to be noticed nationally, and I couldn’t be happier!
As happy as I was being 3-0, who would dare come along to ruin said happiness? The Wolverines of course. Denard Robinson had averaged 1000 yards a game on the ground against the Irish the past 3 years, and there was no way he wouldn’t double that on this night. As my doubt grew stronger though, it seemed the Irish defense actually got better. They would eventually force 6 Wolverine turnovers, and in the process, finally scrape the “S” off of the front of Robinson’s jersey. The Irish had found a way to actually stop a late Michigan drive, and finally held on for a late game win, 13-6. Holy hell, we are now 4-0 and have won against Michigan and Michigan State.
So now the Irish head off to Chicago for the Shamrock Series game against Miami, and so did I. Sitting at the top of Soldier Field, I was certain I would never feel my fingers or toes again, but it could have been worse – I could have been a Miami fan who had to suffer through the cold and their team’s miserable performance, as they were demolished by Notre Dame 41-3. I think the ticket broker who I ordered my tickets through hated Notre Dame, as he placed me right smack in the middle of what felt like a 100,000 Miami fans. If it weren’t for the fear of being stabbed or shot, it would have been a great time to gloat. After the game against Michigan, Irish fans needed an easy game like this and Brian Kelly and his squad delivered.
Now sitting undefeated at 5-0, the Irish came rolling back into South Bend to take on what most considered their toughest challenge to date, the Stanford Cardinal. In my head I was thinking if we can just get past these guys, the Irish really only have two tough games left, in Oklahoma and USC. This game was one for the ages, and damn near put me in the hospital. I can’t count how many times I had to push pause on the DVR in the 4th quarter because I thought my heart had either stopped, or was about to shoot through my chest. I watched so many key plays in slow motion, just knowing that if I watched it like that, the Irish would succeed on each play. My phone was blowing up with calls and texts asking “did you see that?” – Of course I saw that, what the hell else would I be doing? As everyone knows, it took one of the best 4 play goal line stands in the history of Notre Dame stadium to preserve Notre Dames undefeated season, and all Irish fans dream of going unbeaten.
After the previous week’s game against Stanford, I needed an easy game and was hoping that BYU would provide that. Somehow I knew deep inside that Notre Dame would suffer from “letdown syndrome” and boy was my intuition right. I could have grabbed 10 of my buddies at the bar and been more competitive than the Irish offense was in the 1st half. One lousy touchdown in the first half, and we give up 14 points in the 2nd quarter and trail by 7 going into half. Thankfully the defense came to play in the 2nd half, shutting out the Cougar offense, and the Irish prevail 17-14, and stay undefeated. So much for a week off, and by now I am contemplating therapy just to try and make it through the rest of the season, but 7-0 is 7-0, and now I had about 42 minutes to relax and enjoy the win before I started to worry about the trip to Norman, and the match-up with the fighting Stoops.
Now the Irish squad was starting to seem like one of destiny(if that’s a thing), but still had roadblocks in front of them, and how they performed in Oklahoma could play a large part in determining their fate towards the end of the season. Sure there were plenty of stats that explained why the Irish would win, but I was having none of that. Honestly, I was just hoping the guys would have a good showing, and keep it close. Irish fans have had enough embarrassments over the last 10 plus years when it came to nationally televised high profile games, and I didn’t want to hear about another one the morning after.
Stoops game plan was brilliant early in the game, as the Irish looked confused on defense and couldn’t keep up with the frantic display of speed and decision- making. The game seemed so fast, that I was certain I had accidentally pressed the fast forward button on my remote control. Than something happened, and it all slowed down, and I am still not sure why. The Irish defenders started to regain their sanity and understand where they needed to be, and all the work they put in over the week had started to show on the field. Maybe this Brian Kelly guy might know what he is doing after all. It was a close game until the latter part of the 4th quarter, when the Irish killed all Sooner hope, as Kyle Brindza nailed a 46 yard field goal to give the Irish a 10 point lead. They eventually won 30-13, and walked out of Norman still undefeated.
Now in walks a 4-4 Pittsburgh team that had lost to Youngstown State early in the season, but that didn’t matter, because every Irish fan knew they were going to play Notre Dame like it was for the national title – and they did. This was just another game that fueled the fire of all the doubters out there who claimed that Notre Dame had lucked into being 8-0, and how could a top team need 3 overtimes to beat a team like Pitt? Trust me when I say it made me no happier or stress-free to have to sit through this nail biter, as games like this were becoming the norm, and not the exception. What I do know is that for about 10 minutes I loathed Cierre Wood, and was never so excited about another man’s failure – yes I am talking about you Kevin Harper. Regardless, the football gods had smiled on the Irish again, and they now stood at 9-0 for the first time since 1993, and had just 3 games left.
The next two games actually went as planned for Irish fans, as they took care of Boston College and Wake Forest, by scoring 59 points and only giving up 6 points over this 2 game stretch. Don’t get me wrong, I was positive the ghost of Boston College kicker David Gordon was going to haunt the 2012 Irish, just as he did in real life back in 1993, but alas, it never happened. The offense looked extremely lethargic, and that’s being kind, but still the Kelly led squad won the game against the Eagles, and easily took care of Wake Forest the week after. They had made it to 11-0 and the last team that stood in their way was arguably their most hated rivals.
A nationally televised night game in Southern California is not exactly the perfect scenario for the Irish to finish their undefeated season, and have a shot at a national title. Oh sure, these were not the same Trojans of 10 years ago. Hell, they weren’t even the same USC team from 2 years ago, but it didn’t matter in my mind. I was sure that this magical season was going to end tonight, and amp up my hatred for the team that dons the cardinal and gold to dangerous levels. It didn’t matter that their defense was pedestrian at best, they had no depth, and had to pull a kid from the local high schools J.V. team to play quarterback. , an Irish loss was inevitable.
The Irish took an early 10-0 lead over the Trojans, but I knew it wasn’t going to be this easy, and it wasn’t. USC fought back and as halftime approached, the Irish had a slim 16-10 lead. The 2nd half would be no easier, as the Irish offense could only muster another 6 points, all off the leg of Kyle Brindza. As much grief as most Notre Dame fans gave him throughout the year, he sure seemed to come though an awful lot. Of course it came down to another defensive stop by Notre Dame, and of course it happened to be at the goal line again. The Trojans had four attempts from Notre Dame’s one-yard line to punch it in, and the only thing that got punched was them – right in the mouth by the Irish defensive line. That’s correct, the Irish defense had dug deep again, and with a trip to the BCS title game on the line, unleashed 15 years worth of frustration on the Trojan offensive line.
As I sat there in my chair, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I had only seen the Irish go undefeated in the regular season just once, back in 1988, and I was sure someone or something was playing a joke on me. Before the season started I would have been happy with an 8-4 record, and maybe if things had gone right, they could reach 9 wins. If someone would have told me the Irish were going to go undefeated before the season started, I would have assumed they were a fringe fan, or one of their hobbies was recreational drug use. The facts are though, they did go undefeated, regardless of what I thought, what the media thought, or anyone else actually.
The 2012 season has been talked about, rehashed, and in some case pushed to the side, in anticipation of the 2013 season, and I found myself guilty of this also, but have since changed my perspective. Instead of trying to rush to the next greatest installment of the Fighting Irish, I have decided to pull the reigns back on that, and reflect often on what this 2012 squad gave me, and all Notre Dame fans. The 2012 Fighting Irish football team gave its fans a perfect regular season, a team that never quit, a team that played with heart and one that never doubted itself, and some true football moments that will be remembered 20 years from now
So before you rush off and start counting the days before kickoff against Temple on August 31st, make sure you step back and understand what a gift Irish fans were given last year, regardless of what happened on a dark January night in Miami. There are fans of 122 other FBS schools that would have traded places with us in heartbeat, and we shouldn’t cast it to the side with such carelessness.