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The Greatest Wins in Notre Dame Football History: 1964-1980

Mmmm three National Championships.

Jonathan Daniel

Welcome back to the Greatest Wins in Notre Dame Football History! Part 3 takes us through the Era of Ara and the invention of color television. Everything is so pretty now.

Part 1: 1887-1940

Part 2: 1941-1963



Dome4_medium 28-7 win vs. Southern California

In the Worst Losses series the No. 1 defeat was against USC in the 1964 finale. The following season the Irish were out for revenge and got what they were looking for. The football review for the year sums up this game between No. 7 Notre Dame and undefeated No. 4 USC rather succinctly with "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, Notre Dame kicked the bejabers out of USC on a leaky Saturday afternoon."


Dome4_medium 26-14 win vs. Purdue

Purdue was a consistent thorn in the side of Ara Parseghian and opening the 1966 season against the No. 8 Boilermakers certainly wasn't an easy task. Led by senior All-American quarterback Bob Griese Purdue was looking to upset the No. 6 Fighting Irish for the second straight year. Under center for Notre Dame was sophomore and first-year starter Terry Hanratty who was about to show the world a new passing attack in South Bend.

Hanratty finished the day with 304 passing yards on just 24 attempts while fellow sophomore end Jim Seymour snagged a school-record 276 of those yards on 13 receptions. The Irish defense was fearsome even against the explosive Purdue offense. Notre Dame wouldn't allow more than 14 points the rest of the season until the second to last game. For their part, Purdue would go on win the Rose Bowl.

Dome4_medium 51-0 win at Southern California

Before arriving in Los Angeles to end the 1966 season the Irish played the previous week in the "Game of the Century" against Michigan State in East Lansing. That 10-10 tie was not without controversy but Notre Dame remained No. 1 in the country and in line for a championship when facing the Trojans at the Coliseum. USC came in already with 2 close losses but were the Pac-10 champs and heading to the Rose Bowl.

The Irish were without QB Terry Hanratty (injured early in the MSU game) and it was up to sophomore Coley O'Brien to lead the offense in his first career start. Notre Dame didn't miss a beat and completely overwhelmed the Trojans. USC hadn't surrendered more than two touchdowns in any single game and the Irish beat that mark in the 1st quarter alone. At the half the score was 31-0 and Notre Dame never looked back. The 51-0 win still remains the biggest victory in this rivalry and at the time was the most points ever given up by a USC football team. Notre Dame would be voted National Champions after this win.


Dome4_medium 45-21 win vs. Oklahoma

The 1968 season opened up against the No. 5 Sooners with Notre Dame coming in ranked No. 3 in the country. Oklahoma took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter but Notre Dame bounced back and out-played their opponent the rest of the way. The now-famous Hanratty-to-Seymour connection found the endzone twice before the break and the Irish led 21-14. In the second half the points were continually piled on for an easy victory. It would turn out to be a bit of a down year for the Sooners but they still were co-champions of the Big Eight Conference.


Dome4_medium 3-0 win vs. LSU

There was a lot on the line in South Bend on this late November Saturday in 1970. The Fighting Irish were 8-0 and the top team in the land. LSU had lost their opener but ripped off 7 straight wins and were the top team in the SEC. It was also the first-ever meeting between the Tigers and Irish. Notre Dame came in averaging over 500 yards of offense per game but saw that production cut in half against a strong LSU defense. The Irish defense--no slouches themselves--held the Tigers to just 165 total yards as a 4th quarter field goal gave Notre Dame the victory.

Dome4_medium 24-11 win vs. Texas (Cotton Bowl)

If you recall in the Worst Losses series we lost in 1964 to USC thus spoiling a National Championship and the Irish did it again in 1970. However, before that loss Notre Dame had already accepted a bid to the Cotton Bowl. The opponent in that game would be No. 1 Texas who were defending their 1969 championship in addition to riding a 30-game winning streak.

The game is memorable for Ara Parseghian using a new defense that mirrored Texas' powerful wishbone running attack. The Horns had beaten ND in the previous Cotton Bowl and some adjustments were made the second time around. Texas still out-gained the Irish by 70 yards and Longhorn quarterback Eddie Phillips set a new Cotton Bowl total yardage record (broke Theismann's mark from the prior year) but they fumbled the ball 9 times and lost 5 of them. The Irish were able to score a few touchdowns early and held on to win with a scoreless second half.


Dome4_medium 23-14 win vs. Southern California

Notre Dame began the 1973 ranked at No. 8 but couldn't move up in the polls after playing 5 unranked teams to start the season. On October 27th the No. 6 ranked USC Trojans traveled to South Bend to give the Irish their first real test of the season. Southern Cal were the defending National Champions although they had tied Oklahoma in Los Angeles a couple of weeks earlier.

On the first play of the game Irish defensive back Luther Bradley knocked USC star receiver Lynn Swann's helmet off and set the tone. Later, running back Eric Penick raced 85 yards for a touchdown as the Irish ended USC's 23-game unbeaten streak.

Dome4_medium 24-23 win vs. Alabama (Sugar Bowl)

Even after beating USC the Irish only moved up to No. 5 and that's where they stood until bowl season where they jumped a couple spots to No. 3 in the country. Notre Dame met No. 1 and 11-0 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It was the first time the Tide and Fighting Irish had ever played against each other.

The game is memorable for the classic ending. Alabama took a lead on a trick play but Notre Dame answered with a field goal to take a 1-point lead with under 5 minutes left. The Tide offense stalled but pinned the Irish deep near their goal line setting up a pivotal third down attempt. In what may be the most famous pass in Notre Dame history (26:40 mark in the video), quarterback Tom Clements fired the ball out of his own end zone to tight end Robin Weber for the first down. The Irish were able to run out of the clock and finish the season as National Champions.


Dome4_medium 13-11 win vs. Alabama (Orange Bowl)

The Irish met Alabama for a second straight year in a bowl game and also for the second straight season the Crimson Tide were undefeated and looking for a championship. However, an early fumbled punt gave Notre Dame great field position and an eventual 7-0 lead. In the 2nd quarter a long 17-play drive yielded another touchdown for the Irish. It would be all they needed to hold off Alabama. This was head coach Ara Parseghian's last game at Notre Dame and a fitting end to his career.


Dome4_medium 21-14 win at North Carolina

Trailing 14-0 in the 4th quarter the Irish pulled off one of the school's greatest comebacks in Chapel Hill during the 1975 season. New head coach Dan Devine put in a young quarterback named Joe Montana mid-way through the 4th when the score was 14-6. The Irish moved the ball for a score and Montana passed for the successful 2-point conversion. With under a minute left Notre Dame got the ball back after a missed Tar Heel field goal and Montana hit receiver Ted Burgmeier for an amazing 80-yard touchdown to steal a victory.

Dome4_medium 31-30 win at Air Force

Montana did it again. Despite the comeback the prior week at UNC it was not Cool Joe who started at Air Force for the team's second straight road game. He did come in during the 2nd and finished the game but Notre Dame trailed 30-10 to begin the final frame. Then Montana ran for a 3-yard score, hit tight end Ken MacAfee for a 7-yard touchdown, and Jerome Heavens scored from a yard out. This game remains the 3rd biggest comeback in school history and the second in terms of deficit overcome in the 4th quarter.


Dome4_medium 19-9 win at Pittsburgh

The 1977 season was supposed to be a chance at a title for Notre Dame but to start off on track they would have to beat No. 7 ranked and defending National Champion Pittsburgh on the road. The previous season Pitt had easily defeated the Irish in South Bend but were now without star running back Tony Dorsett who gained 754 rushing yards in his career against Notre Dame.

Pitt raced out to an early lead but eventually Notre Dame got its act together on offense and let the smothering defense go to work. After surrendering an early 9 points to Pitt the Irish were shut them out the rest of the way and defeated a top 10 team to start the year.

Dome4_medium 49-19 win vs. Southern California

The "Trojan Horse Game" which spawned the "Green Machine" moniker for this era. After beating Pitt to open the season the Irish were shocked on the road at Ole Miss in week two. By the time USC came to town Notre Dame had recovered to 4-1 but had fallen to 11th in the country while the Trojans came in 5th with only a 1-point loss to Alabama as a blemish on their record.

Notre Dame warmed up in the blue home jerseys but came out for the game in green jerseys. From the start the Irish controlled the game. The score was tied 7-7 early in the 2nd quarter before the Green Machine ripped off 4 straight touchdowns to take a 35-7 lead. Each team would score two more touchdowns to finish with the 49-19 ending. This remains tied for Notre Dame's 5th biggest win in the rivalry.

Dome4_medium 38-10 win vs. Texas (Cotton Bowl)

We already chronicled Notre Dame facing No. 1 Texas in a bowl game to finish the 1970 season and 7 years later the Irish were at it again against the top ranked Longhorns. This time Heisman winning running back Earl Campbell would be waiting to take on Notre Dame.

However, turnovers killed the Horns. They coughed the ball up four times in the first half alone and allowed Notre Dame to lead 24-10 into the break. In the second half Campbell was limited to just 30 yards as Texas was shutout the rest of the way. The Irish tacked on two more touchdowns to conclude a convincing victory. Coming in at No. 5 in the country the Irish jumped to the top of the nation and were awarded a National Championship after this Cotton Bowl.


Dome4_medium 35-34 win vs. Houston (Cotton Bowl)

The greatest comeback in school history and also known as the "Chicken Soup Game". The Irish trailed 34-12 with under 8 minutes to play in the game against Southwest Conference champion Houston. Quarterback Joe Montana missed the beginning of the second half while suffering from a fever due to the unseasonably freezing Dallas temperatures and was given some chicken soup to bring his temperature up. The Irish would block a punt, return it for a score, and convert the 2-point play to get the comeback started.

Montana later scored and converted another 2-point conversion to trail by just 6 points. Notre Dame got the ball back again and with 2 seconds left Montana made the game-winning throw to Kris Haines. There was a penalty on the first PAT but Notre Dame nailed the second to win 35-34.


Dome4_medium 12-10 win at Michigan

The series with Michigan started up again in 1978 with the Wolverines winning in South Bend by two touchdowns. The next season the No. 9 Irish traveled to Ann Arbor to face the No. 6 home team. This game was prominent for Notre Dame scoring all of its point off field goals and having star linebacker Bob Crable block Michigan's last second field goal attempt to win the game.


Dome4_medium 31-10 win vs. Purdue

The Boilers went 9 straight years playing Notre Dame as an unranked team after dominating the Irish during portions of the Parseghian era. In 1979 Purdue was back in the polls and defeated Notre Dame early in the season. When the teams met in 1980 the Boilers were ranked 9th and Notre Dame 11th to kick off the season. The home team won easily as Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann was unable to play due to a sprained thumb suffered during a Tuesday practice that week.

Dome4_medium 29-27 win vs. Michigan

The following game after hosting Purdue the Irish welcomed No. 14 Michigan to town. One of the most memorable games in Notre Dame Stadium history, the Irish led 14-0 but allowed Michigan to come back and take a 21-14 lead into the second half. They got the score to 21-20 later, and took a lead in the 4th quarter only to see Michigan add a touchdown with 41 seconds left.

Down by 2 points, the Irish moved the ball thanks primarily to a pass interference call and found just enough time to set up for a 51-yard field goal by Harry Oliver. The walk-on kicker just barely sent the ball through the uprights to close one of the best finishes in school history.

Dome4_medium 7-0 win at Alabama

Notre Dame had defeated Alabama three times in three tries in history up to this point with the Tide being ranked in the Top 10 in each contest. For the 1980 version the Irish made their way down to Birmingham to face 8-1 and 5th ranked Alabama.

It was a defensive battle for the ages. Notre Dame didn't even gain 200 yards while the Tide were limited to 246 yards. If not for 3 fumbles lost Alabama might have notched their first win over Notre Dame but it was not meant to be. A second quarter touchdown run by Phil Carter was all the Irish needed for the victory. This was Alabama's first egg on the scoreboard in 4 years.