I have been lucky enough to be extended a position on the staff here at OFD, and I figured what better way to introduce myself officially to the commentariat than by sharing the amazing performances that have shaped my experience as an ND fan, starting in 2000. Sure, it may not have the glory of national titles included in it, but these were the games that made me sit up and say "Did you see that guy? What a game!". These are the games I will remember, and the players that I will tell my kids about, even if the seasons were never that grand. These were the games that cemented me in blue and gold.
#10: Julius Jones & Joey Getherall vs. #1 Nebraska (September 9th, 2000)
The Stat Line:
Jones: 15 carries, 52 Rushing Yards | 2 KR, 145 Return Yards, 100-yd KR TD
Getherall: 1 PR, 83 Return Yards, 83-yd PR TD
The Final Score:
#23 Notre Dame 24 - #1 Nebraska 27 (OT)
This was the single game that molded my Notre Dame fandom into what it is today. I was just getting to the age when sports really matter and you have the ability to pay attention to everything that's going on. I was extremely lucky to get to go to this game with my grandfather. We arrived, did a little tailgating (consisting of eating sandwiches; I was 13), and made our way into the game. This was, in my world, the biggest game Notre Dame had ever played in.
Nebraska came into this game the heavy favorite. They were #1 in the country, in the midst of one of the great eras of their football history, with their Frank Solich-led Blackshirts defense and option attack. They featured a great option running back in Dan Alexander, and an even better option quarterback in Eric Crouch, who would go on to win the Heisman trophy the following season. This was a true powerhouse team - they were looking to secure their fourth national title in seven years.
Just to tip the scales even further in their favor, this game was played in front of a surprisingly pro-Huskers crowd. The amount of Huskers fans in attendance at the game was staggering, and the game has even come to be called the "Sea of Red" game. I remember walking through the concourses of Notre Dame Stadium headed to our seats and seeing what seemed like 2 Husker fans for every Irish fan. In the time before StubHub or even Craigslist, it was a truly impressive display of a fanbase and the lengths they would go to see their team.
Notre Dame had just come off of a surprising home victory versus #25 Texas A&M the week before, and were looking to shore up the reputation of this team that had finished 5-7 just a year earlier. Bob Davie was entering his 4th year as coach, and was certainly feeling the heat at the beginning of the 2000 season to put up a great year. Needless to say, this game against the #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers provided him with a great opportunity to make a statement about the 2000 Fighting Irish football team as a true power.
The first half of the game went well for the Irish, as they were able to hold Nebraska to a 14-7 scoreline, answering two touchdown runs from Crouch (including one 62 yard scamper) with a 1 yard plunge from Irish tailback Tony Fisher. The second half got off to an inauspicious start following a 28 yard Dan Alexander touchdown, putting the Huskers up 21-7. The Nebraska Blackshirt defense was ready to hit the field and make sure Notre Dame would not get back up from this deficit. But they never got the chance.
Julius Jones took the ensuing kickoff at the goal line in between the hashes. He received great blocking on the left side of the field and snuck through to the sideline. With only the kicker to beat, Julius turned on the afterburners and threw Irish fans (including myself) into pandemonium. Julius Jones had just flipped the game on its head by returning this kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. In what had been a controlling performance by the Huskers up to that point (Notre Dame had 112 total yards of offense at halftime), this was the first moment ND fans, and possibly the team itself, truly thought "We can beat these guys."
Notre Dame's defense was revitalized and was able to get Nebraska under control, and soon after forced a punt early in the 4th quarter that Joey Getherall stepped back to field.
Getherall made one move, juked the shoes off of the kicker, and gave the Huskers nothing to catch but the number on his back as he headed into the endzone. He had tied the game at 21-21, giving the Irish a shot at shocking the number 1 team in the country. Unfortunately, when the game went to overtime, the Irish were only able to convert a field goal on their first possession, and eventually fell after an Eric Crouch 7-yard touchdown run, right in front of the Notre Dame student section.
Jones & Getherall didn't need to put the team on their backs with huge statistical games to earn their spot on this list; they each changed one of the biggest games in Notre Dame recent history with impressive individual moments. This team would go on to finish 9-3 in 2000, losing in the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon State, and Bob Davie would be fired a year later - but we will always remember the game against Nebraska and the great returns from Jones & Getherall that flipped the game on its head and gave Notre Dame a chance to knock off one of the best teams in that era.