What Are Our Most Traumatic Notre Dame Football Losses?

Browsing the Twitter machine on Friday, I came across a prompt tweet from sports personality Jon Alba.

This, of course, got me thinking about our beloved Fighting Irish and all of the times they’ve broken my heart over my 30 years of fandom. I saw a lot of the obvious answers regarding Notre Dame: Boston College 1993, USC 2005, Michigan 2011. I thought which of those is the most traumatic for me. They were all traumatizing in their own way and for different reasons, so I figured I’d share those reasons with everyone and get us all feeling sad about things, and perhaps come to a conclusion. Happy Friday!

The Phantom Clip

This is patient zero of my Notre Dame trauma, literally my earliest memory of fandom. As the story goes, it’s New Years Day. Everyone is over at our house, I’m nine years old, Rocket has to return a punt for Notre Dame to win, he does it, the ref throws a flag for an erroneous foul, I go and cry in my room. Quite the introduction to heartbreak and I’ve never really gotten over it. Rocket was destined to do this, he was a legend in the sport, and this play was to be his glorious send-off. How could it get ruined this way, some goofball phantom penalty? That’s life, kid.

David Gordon, You Monster

This is the “no, not like this” traumatic loss, because Notre Dame had just reached the mountain top the week before. Imagine if USA hockey in 1980 beats the Russians, goes down 3-0 in the gold medal game, only to come back to take the lead 4-3, then ultimately loses 5-4. They couldn’t win the Game of the Century, ascend to #1, then lose the very next week, right? Yes, they can. Even to this day, when re-watching the 1993 BC game, I turn it off after Lake Dawson scores the final touchdown. Now that’s trauma. This was another, “Greg cries in his room” game, but it was the final one.

Remy Hamilton? No, Not Again!

In back to back home games from the end of 1993 to the start of 1994, Notre Dame lost in pretty much the exact same way. The Irish scored a go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes only to see their opponent drive into field goal range and break our hearts. This was particularly difficult because of the “no, not again” nature of it. This had just happened, how can it happen again? I can’t happen again. But, it did. And the scar at this point was permanent.

And to make matters even worse, this time it was Michigan after we had just suffered from Boston College doing the same thing to end the ’93 regular season.

The Bush Push

The 2005 USC Trojans were billed as one of, if not the best, college football teams of all time. But Notre Dame was good, real good, and we all knew they could beat USC. There was a restlessness the night before, but not in a dreading way. There was an excitement. You just knew it was going to be a classic, and it was. Notre Dame played the way we knew they could, and they were a 4th and nine away from pulling off one of the greatest wins in stadium and program history.

But, Ambrose Wooden’s arms were two inches too short, USC punched it in with help from some illegalities, and I was in the fetal position in my friend’s apartment. The only solace was the belief that we had found our man in Charlie Weis, and even THAT turned out to be false.

Michigan, 2011

This one is a special kind of trauma because it included all of the pent up frustration from the week before against South Florida and because Michigan was such trash that year, and it was so needless and unnecessary. Notre Dame jumps out to an early 14-0 lead, Tommy Rees is dealing, the running game is rolling, it’s all happening. Then one bad thing happens, Notre Dame recovers, and it’s 24-7 going into the 4th quarter.

We know how it all went wrong from there, no need to get into it. Just know that as it all unfolded, I was at a game watch with my future wife’s new business colleagues, folks I’m meeting for the first time, screaming, “WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!?!” at Gary Gray. I’m a 30-year-old human being at this point, by the way. And when it was over, I was so despondent I was sitting against a wall on the floor staring at nothing and talking to no one for an hour.

Florida State, 2014. Those Cheating Cheater Refs

For this one, the scene is especially important. My wife and I’s first child was born the day before, and it was one of those long deliveries, so I slept on the floor and in a chair in her delivery room. After she came out, some minor complications necessitated a short stay in the NICU, which meant I had to wheel my wife from her room over to our daughter to nurse every three hours. No one is sleeping, we are stressed because of the baby, and when the game goes off, I’m catching it in bits and pieces.

I’d like to say I was the type of person who didn’t really pay attention at this point. I was a new dad; my wife and daughter’s health are all that matters, so on and so forth. Well, it wasn’t really like that. The game mattered, not to the point where I’d skip out on the real responsibilities I had, of course, but, WELL IT WAS A BIG GAME, OK? And when you’re on no sleep, and Notre Dame is playing the defending national champions on the road, and it looks like they are going to win and “Oh my God Everett what did you just do on 4th down!”, you start to think crazy things like maybe your kid was sent from heaven to be the thing that turns the tide of the Notre Dame program! And for a split second, a fleeting moment, it’s all true! And then the ref, in his great wisdom, decided no, actually you are meaningless, and none of this matters because I’m calling a pick WHEN THE PERSON GETTING PICKED ISN’T ACTUALLY TOUCHED AT ALL! And the next thing you know, you’re wheeling your wife to the NICU and complaining to strangers in the hospital that the refs in Tallahassee ruined everything.

Come to think of it; this is my most traumatic loss. I thought my daughter was some sort of messiah for about three seconds. No coming back from that.

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  1. Lou Holtz’s first game as head coach against Michigan was a 23-24 loss…a game we win today because the catch in the back of the endzone by our TE would have been ruled a touchdown by review. His foot was clearly inbounds. Then Carney, one of our best kickers ever, “splats” the FG attempt. I was devastated.
    BGC ’77 ’82

  2. The 1993 loss to BC was devastating. I hate thinking about that game. The comeback was awesome. The last play was crushing. To this day I feel sick about it.

  3. Without a doubt the 1964 loss to USC was the crusher. Notre Dame coming off a 2-7 season in Ara Parseghian’s first year and comes with 1:33 of going undefeated. A phantom holding call on a goal line push – called on John Atamian’s number – only he was in the hospital and never made the trip. Who get called for holding on a goal line push?

  4. 2005 USC most heartbreaking for me…yes, I shedded a tear because of how hard our guys played that night and the heroics it took to stay with that dynasty of a team but to come up short in the last seconds…not to mention we were all losing our minds when the fans ran onto the field thinking we had initially won. This was heartbreaking because we were coming back to relevance and it was exciting under a new coach. Expectations weren’t extremely high but we were good.

    And then the most disappointing loss has to be last year’s Michigan game for me. It wasn’t heartbreaking, it was simply disappointing because we were better than them on paper and had a lot of recent success. We win that and we are back in the playoffs again knowing the rest of the schedule was soft. Not only did we lose but we got annihilated. GA at GA was going to be tough and we competed and nearly pulled it off. This made me feel Kelly and our program were truly back. Then a HUGE regression against Michigan to make me realize we still really aren’t there and have since lost all confidence in Kelly and Book.

  5. I still to this day think the BC loss took something out of the program that still remains today. All Pete Bercich had to do was intercept that pass on the final drive. Game still haunts me.

  6. Wow. We are roughly the same age so you nailed every one of them that I remember since I was 5.

    2005 USC is probably most traumatic. One miss on this list for me was 1991 against Tennessee. 31-14 at halftime. Also, another from 2005 against MSU. They recover the fumble with a chance to win in regulation. That was a season that I will forever remember as one of my favorites, but man, what could have been, still lingers a bit

  7. Every Irish fan the rocket breaks it against colorado what wait a minute theres a flag tore my heart out go irish

    1. Just trying to help ND fans answer a few questions on “worst program loss.” Not my words

      2001 Fiesta Bowl. Oregon State Beavers destroyed ND. In the game, Oregon State quarterback Jonathan Smith (current HC) threw for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns and led the Beavers to a 41–9 rout.

      It was one of the most humiliating nights ever for college football’s most storied program. Only a late touchdown against the Beavers’ reserves prevented it from being the worst Notre Dame defeat in 24 bowl appearances.
      Happy Easter!

      And don’t sleep on the 2020 Beavers. They will open against the other OSU in Stillwater.

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