I know there are bigger rivalries than Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh, but not in my house. Yes, my Dad and I both went to Notre Dame, but his siblings and their children ... they all went to Pitt. And so while you may not see this as a big rivalry, in my world; it’s epic. There’s more to it than that, though. Three of my dad’s aunts, Sue, Louise and Clara May; were huge sports fans. They loved taking him to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play at Forbes Field. They also loved the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and they took my dad to his first Notre Dame football game in Pittsburgh versus the Pittsburgh Panthers in 1951, when he was 7 years old. Flash forward a few decades ... can you guess what my son’s first Notre Dame game was? Yep, you guessed it, Notre Dame vs. Pitt in 2003. The rest of my family may not have been thrilled to be at that game with us in all of our Notre Dame finery, but somehow they manged to tolerate us. (I wish I had a photo to share, but I’m still unpacking after the big move to Branson, and I haven’t unpacked the photo albums yet. ND football problems.)
Over the years since the first Notre Dame - Pitt game in 1909, there have been some great match-ups. The game in 2003 that I took my son to was quite a memorable one. Notre Dame running back Julius Jones had a thing or two to say about ND coming into that game ranked 109th in the nation in rushing. Jones set an all-time single game Irish rushing record that day, rushing for 262 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns. Notre Dame finished the day with 352 rushing yards, compared to Pitt’s eight rushing yards. Final Score: Notre Dame 20 - Pitt 14.
Or how about the 3 OT thriller in 2012, which kept Notre Dame’s undefeated hopes alive for yet another week? Pitt easily jumped ahead to a 20-6 lead over the Irish, but ultimately Pitt’s defense was no match for Notre Dame’s offense as it finally came roaring back in the fourth quarter. After three quarters of a missing in action Notre Dame offense, with ND fans suffering through Golson, then Rees, then Golson again; Golson and Company came out of their slump to tie the game in regulation and head into overtime. At the end of the day, Golson was the hero of this game. Completing 23 of 42 passes for 227 yards, and rushing for 74 yards himself, Golson was able to help create the big plays needed to finish off Pitt and live to see another day.
And who can forget the 4 OT game in 2008? (Even though most of us would like to.) The longest game in the history of both Notre Dame and Pitt, Notre Dame’s fate was sealed by Pitt kicker Conor Lee’s five field goals, four in overtime. That loss still makes my heart hurt. Final Score: Pitt 36 - Notre Dame 33.
But one of my favorite plays in the Notre Dame - Pitt series would be the following play made by Mike Townsend.
When you think about Mike Townsend, you most likely remember the Tony Dorsett tackle from the Pitt game in 1973. “Tony Dorsett was averaging 210 rushing yards per game, and our defense was only allowing teams 165 total yards of offense. Total yards. So we were very excited to take on the challenge of Pitt and Tony Dorsett and Coach Parseghian made sure we were ready. It was a unique game. When we got there, Coach Parseghian told us that if we won the coin toss that we wanted to defer. Why would we want to defer? Well, Coach Parseghian was diligent on doing his pre-game research, and like any other game that is exactly what he had done. He had checked out the weather forecast and deferring was just the thing to do. We won the coin toss and deferred and at that moment the skies were clear. We set up, kicked off to Pitt and the clouds and snow started to move in. The snow got so bad that Pitt could hardly see. They had to rely completely on their running game and they were unable to put it in the end zone. When Pitt kicked the ball back to us the skies had just started to clear. We marched right down the field and scored a touchdown, no problem. And then by the time Pitt got the ball back the snow had returned. It did this all game long. What a genius Coach Parseghian was, and a pretty good weatherman as well!”
“We knew that Tony Dorsett was good. And we knew if we could just contain him it would be fantastic. He ended up with 209 yards rushing in that game (in 29 carries), but he did not score one touchdown. He did all his work between the 20’s. It was a special talent for me to be able to not only catch him that game but to make the big tackle. A tackle that happened after a 50-plus yard chase down the field as Tony headed towards their end zone for what was assumed would be a touchdown. I was so proud to have been part of what stopped him that day.” That huge tackle, at the Notre Dame 21, was a memorable one not only for me, but one that still sticks out in Mike’s mind today. Final Score: Notre Dame 31 - Pitt 10.
Well, I hope we don’t see a 4 OT game this week, but I do hope it’s an exciting one, and a win that will push Notre Dame onward to 7-0. What say you? What’s your favorite Notre Dame vs. Pitt memory?
Cheers & GO IRISH!