I took you to the depths of Notre Dame Football with the Top 75 losses series and spotlighted some lows, heartbreak, and interesting stories of past teams. It's pretty crazy to think that with a few extra bounces here and there that the program could be sitting at 15+ National Championships and accolades.
Today, I begin a shorter series on the other side of the coin of Notre Dame's greatest wins. This won't be as thorough nor is there much of a formula to rank the wins but there will be 100 of them in total. Heck, I'm not even ranking the wins I'm just going to list them chronologically. The vast majority of the victories listed are defeats over great opponents and highly ranked teams which in some cases led directly to major hardware for the Irish. There are some of the program's greatest comeback victories, a few important historical games, and crucial rivalry wins sprinkled in as well. Let's get to the happy times.
23 years into the program's history, with the school's 94th overall win, and on the 9th try Notre Dame won its first game against Michigan in what could be considered the first great win in Irish football history. After the win--in Ann Arbor no less--Michigan didn't feel the need to play Notre Dame again for another 33 years.
The day quarterback Gus Dorias and end Knute Rockne popularized the passing attack and stunned the powerful Cadets in West Point. It was the first meeting between the schools and a game that firmly put Notre Dame on the map as a serious national football power.
Notre Dame lost by a single point the prior year in the first meeting with Nebraska but returned to Lincoln in 1916 to soundly defeat the Cornhuskers. The Huskers would finish as the Missouri Valley Conference Champions and Notre Dame would add another to its growing load of impressive road victories in the early 20th Century.
Notre Dame had proven it could defeat an Eastern power like Army and was winning big games against several Midwestern powers by the early 1920's but hadn't defeated an Ivy League team yet. The program had lost decisively at Yale 6 years prior and got another shot under Knute Rockne on a trip to New Jersey. The easy win effectively erased any doubt that Notre Dame was a top national power.
As chronicled in last year's OFD summer series "1924" this win was a catalyst for Notre Dame's first truly memorable season. The series with Army had shifted to New York City in 1923 and this was the only game to be played in the now gone Polo Grounds. This was also the only loss of the season for Army and spawned Grantland Rice's famous "Four Horsemen" article after the contest.
In Notre Dame's first and only bowl game until 1969 (as well as the only Rose Bowl appearance in program history) the Four Horsemen defeated Pop Warner's Indians on a sweltering hot day in Pasadena. The victory secured Notre Dame's first National Championship.
The first ever meeting the two schools ended up an Irish victory. The Middies would also fall to Michigan and Army later in the season. Notre Dame only succumbed to Army to miss out on a second championship under Rockne.
This wasn't the first game in the series against Southern Cal but the second. In 1926 the Irish made the trip out west to Los Angeles and defeated the Trojans by a single point. The following year USC made the trip east and lost again by a single point. The crowd of nearly 120,000 fans is still considered by many to be the largest ever to witness a college football game. The Trojans would finish the season with this game as their only loss.
12-6 win vs. Army (Yankee Stadium)
Notre Dame came into this game with 2 losses and would finish the season with 4 defeats. This was considered Rockne's weakest team and they were heavy underdogs against 6-0 Army but battled the Cadets to a scoreless first half. During halftime head coach Knute Rockne gave his "Win One for the Gipper" speech and inspired the team to a big second half and ultimately the upset win.
13-12 win vs. Southern California (Soldier Field)
The Irish faced several top teams in 1929 in the likes of Navy and Army but the Trojans were the top team on the schedule. USC made the trip to Solider Field again to play the last neutral site game of this storied rivalry before the game shifted to South Bend for all remaining Irish home games. For the third time in four years Notre Dame escaped with a one-point victory. The teams tried to schedule a rematch in the Rose Bowl but couldn't come to terms. USC would go on to obliterate Pittsburgh 47-14 in the bowl and finished 6th in the country. Notre Dame with their 9-0-0 record were crowned National Champions.
14-0 win at Northwestern
7-6 win vs. Army (Soldier Field)
27-0 win at Southern California
Knute Rockne certainly went out in style. These last three games of 1930--all away from South Bend--capped the legendary coach's back-to-back National Championships and are one of his defining legacies. They beat Northwestern who would finish 4th in the country, Army who would finish 9th, and a statement win over USC who finished 6th. Just under 4 months after the USC game Rockne was dead from a tragic plane crash.
18-13 win at Ohio State
The first "Game of the Century" featured 4-0 Ohio State hosting 5-0 Notre Dame and ended with one of the greatest finishes and comebacks in college football history. The Irish trailed 13-0 early in the fourth quarter but scored to make it 13-6 after the PAT bounced off the uprights. Notre Dame then picked off OSU only to lose a fumble on the ensuing possession at the Buckeyes goal line. With 90 seconds left the Irish scored but again missed the PAT and still trailed by a point. Somehow, OSU fumbled near mid-field and Notre Dame would take two plays to score the game-winner as time expired. The Buckeyes would win all other games this season and were considered a National Championship favorite if not for this upset.
26-6 win vs. Northwestern
Notre Dame spoiled perhaps Northwestern's biggest moment in their program's history. The Irish were out of the title hunt with two losses but the Wildcats came into the regular season finale in South Bend undefeated and No. 1 in the country. They had just clinched the Big Ten title the prior week with a win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Irish trounced Northwestern and prevented the Cats from winning their first National Championship.
Up next: The Greatest Wins, 1941-1963