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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Northwestern Wildcats 1992

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Not even a broken jaw could keep him down ...

Lee Becton
Lee Becton finds daylight at Soldier Field, Notre Dame vs. Northwestern. (1992)

I was fortunate enough to have been at Notre Dame for four tremendous years of football. During my senior year of high school, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish won the National Championship. And so when I arrived at Notre Dame in the fall of 1989, the football team was on the top of the world. I have so many incredible football memories from my time at Notre Dame, and the game against the Northwestern Wildcats my senior year (1992) was definitely one of them. We road tripped from South Bend, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois to see the Fighting Irish play at Soldier Field. I can’t even tell you how excited we were to watch Notre Dame play at Soldier Field.

Yes, if you look at the 1992 schedule, the Northwestern game was, by far, the least exciting game on the schedule. But, the atmosphere of playing a game at an NFL stadium was something we had never experienced before, and we enjoyed every moment of it.

We headed to Chicago, ready to start our senior year off with a bang, and expected that Northwestern would be an easy opponent; but the first half was anything but easy. Northwestern pulled out every fake punt, reverse, and flea-flicker in their playbook; but once they exhausted their list of trick plays, the Fighting Irish had no problem taming the Wildcats.

Notre Dame’s first touchdown came on a 5-yard reception by junior tight end, Oscar McBride, who played the game with his jaw wired shut as the result of an injury he acquired nine days earlier. (Yep, I said jaw wired shut. He broke his jaw, the left mandible, on a play in the last scrimmage before the game. He caught a pass, turned upfield, and immediately got hit. Coach Holtz came to visit him at the infirmary and apologized, and his jaw ended up being wired shut until the USC game!) He caught a similar pass in the second half for his second touchdown of the game. Northwestern tied up the game with 47 seconds remaining in the first quarter, on a 14-yard run by wide receiver Lee Gissendaner, however those were the only seven points the Wildcats would get on the board all day.

Notre Dame’s second touchdown came on a 3-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Lee Becton, capping off a 86-yard drive by the Irish, and giving Notre Dame a 14-7 lead. Those two touchdowns would be the only Irish points in the first half, and the 14-7 halftime score was not at all what Notre Dame fans were expecting that day.

“At the half it was important for us to remember we were ahead. Sometimes a team can come in and get down after playing like that. We had to remember we were leading,” Coach Holtz told Scholastic Magazine. In a quote from Reggie Brooks, he state, “It was frustrating for us in the first half. That’s where Rick (Mirer) helped. He kept calming us down, telling us not to be over-anxious.”

Even though the Irish got off to a slow start in the first half, they more than made up for it in the second half. The momentum changed in the second half with the help of senior defensive end Devon McDonald. Devon’s inspired play, consisting of seven tackles and three sacks, fired up both the defense and the offense, propelling the team forward. Devon explained, “Those sacks were a team effort. We needed something badly at the time. Something had to happen.” On the offensive side of the ball, senior tailback Reggie Brooks provided the inspiration the offense needed. Playing through a bruised thigh, Reggie managed to rack up 157 yards on nine carries, including a 72-yard touchdown. He was no longer in his brother Tony’s shadow, and it was his time to shine. Coach Holtz told the media that day, “I always thought Reggie could be better than Tony.” Which was countered by Reggie, who said “Tony always said that, too, That’s just like him, though.”

“Big” Irv Smith is eager to embrace “Little” Mike Miller after Miller’s 70-yard touchdown reception.
Nick Spangler - Scholastic Magazine - 1992

It was a good day for the Irish tailbacks. Brooks, Becton, and Clark had a total of 224 yards combined, while Bettis had 134 yards himself. A Rick Mirer bomb to Mike Miller was what really sparked the Irish in the second half. With 5:47 left to play in the third quarter, Mirer fired a 70-yard pass to Miller, who ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. From that moment on, the Irish never looked back, and Northwestern didn’t score a single point in the second half. “I had good protection. Northwestern was in man coverage,” Mirer explained. “I just threw it out there and let him chase it down.” Mirer also changed it up a bit, trying his foot at punting. He successfully pooch punted the ball 37 yards.

Notre Dame may have dominated Northwestern as far as the running game went that day (Notre Dame had 391 rushing yards, to Northwestern’s 81 rushing yards), but Northwestern dominated Notre Dame in the passing game (Northwestern had 327 passing yards, and Notre Dame only had 170 passing yards). “It doesn’t feel like we beat them 42-7,” commented Rick Mirer after the game. They played us really tough.”

I wish I was heading to Evanston, Illinois to see the undefeated Fighting Irish take on the Northwestern Wildcats, but family is my priority this weekend. I look forward to cheering them on from the Kelly Casa, and will be undoubtedly holding my breath ... hoping for yet another Irish win. So, what’s your favorite Notre Dame vs. Northwestern memory?

Cheers & GO IRISH!