The year was 2012, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team was, pretty surprisingly, 5-0.
The Irish had been unranked to begin coach Brian Kelly’s 3rd season, coming off back-to-back 8-5 campaigns that featured a lot of rough, questionable moments. But now, in the 125th season of Notre Dame football, Kelly had the Irish looking much more formidable than they had in a long time.
The team destroyed the Navy Midshipmen in Ireland to start the season, and narrowly avoided a loss in the home opener against Purdue. With Manti Te’o battling both real and eventually-fake personal losses, ND rallied around him to shock a then-10th-ranked Michigan State Spartans team on the road, and subsequently took down the Michigan Wolverines at home the next weekend.
Then, in the Shamrock Series game at Soldier Field in Chicago, ND took years of rivalry with the Miami Hurricanes and lit it all on fire. This team was hitting a groove.
So, with a 5-0 record, the best defense the Irish had had since 2002, and an offense led by an exciting freshman QB and a really strong running game, the 4-1, 17th-ranked Stanford Cardinal came to town for a College GameDay matchup that would be the team’s toughest test yet, and an excellent barometer for how the rest of the season might play out.
What followed was one of the signature games, and moments, of Brian Kelly’s coaching career, and the ending was one that still gives Notre Dame fans goosebumps when they think back on it today.
Because that game and ending were so fantastic, and since the Irish take on Stanford tomorrow in the first top-10 matchup in South Bend since the 2005 USC game, we’ve cobbled together an oral history of that 2012 goal line stand from the memories of the One Foot Down staff and some of Pat Rick’s friends.
Let’s relive that wonderful, magical, and exhilarating October 13, 2012 evening in all its glory and get a little riled up for tomorrow night’s showdown, eh?
Considering Notre Dame was undefeated and ranked 7th in the country, and Stanford was 4-1, ranked 17th, and had knocked off one of the preseason national title favorites in USC just three weeks prior, the excitement for the game between the two schools was already HUGE heading into their mid-October matchup at Notre Dame Stadium.
Then, ESPN’s College GameDay made an announcement:
We're heading to South Bend next week to see the Stanford Cardinal take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame!— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 7, 2012
Needless to say, this only heightened the energy surrounding this game.
Fans. Were. Jacked.
Billy Gorman (Staff Writer, One Foot Down): “I remember everybody was pretty excited for this one because we were undefeated by winning some heart-stopping games. GameDay was on campus too, so it added a layer of excitement that we hadn’t had yet that year, besides maybe the Michigan game.”
Lisa Kelly (Staff Writer, One Foot Down): “The feeling on campus was electric, with College GameDay being there that morning. It was quite the magical day from start to finish.”
Billy Gorman: “Because I was an architecture major, I had a job in the Bond Hall computer lab, which is one of the only places on campus that can print large-scale for free. I had other students coming in all week to print their GameDay signs, so I had a preview of what was going to be there Saturday and it added to the excitement.”
Matt Greene (Staff Writer, One Foot Down): “As it was my first year in the band, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman. The season that year was crazy. I didn’t have the best chance to grasp the magnitude of it all until after the fact. I took everything in college week-by-week as I was trying to keep my head above water with practice, as well as classes.”
Brad Wechter (Editor, One Foot Down): “I was with my dear old dad, my brother-in-law, and two of my nephews, as well as some good family friends who are Notre Dame alumni. My general feeling was excitement for the festivities (COLLEGE GAMEDAY), but I felt apprehension about the game. It was my first ever College GameDay on-campus opportunity despite having been to many games, and I bought into it. It was fun, and the nephews were loving it. That was enough for us. After all, the last game all of us had been to was the Tulsa game the year prior, and that was just emotional in all the wrong ways.”
Pat Sullivan (Editor, One Foot Down): “It was my senior year at ND, and obviously in my time I had seen the downfall of Chuck Weis and a couple mediocre seasons with Brian Kelly. So, to say being undefeated heading into this game had me excited is a massive understatement. I don’t think I paid attention in any of my classes that entire week.”
Jude Seymour (Editor, One Foot Down): “I felt great about the game, since the Irish had so thoroughly dismantled the Miami-Florida Hurricanes the week prior. You may remember that game for a ton of reasons — Shamrock Series, weird helmets, Soldier Field return — but I remember it for one ridiculous reason: Everett Golson did not start because of some mysterious ‘violation of team rules.’
Tommy Rees came in, went three-and-out and then the Hurricanes committed an infraction on the punt which extended the drive. Golson came in, and I was in disbelief about what sort of infraction warranted a THREE PLAY BENCHING.”
Matt Greene: “The Stanford game that year was at the start of fall break, so right after midterms. Because of everything going on, I did not have much time to prepare for GameDay itself to come to campus. However, everyone was super pumped we were undefeated and finally had GameDay come to campus.”
Jessica Smetana (Staff Writer, One Foot Down): “I know for a fact I was out of town that weekend on vacation. Looked through iPhone photos, texts, the whole nine yards and I have literally no clue where I was that night or what I was doing. I do not remember watching any of this game or even watching College GameDay that morning, which is extremely unlike me. I am perplexed. If you know my whereabouts on the night of October 13, 2012, please tweet it at me.”
Philip Gough (Staff Writer, One Foot Down): “The anticipation of the game couldn’t have been higher. I remember the feeling in the air as the 1-4 Holy Cross Crusaders headed down to Hamilton, New York to take on those tooth paste lovers from Colgate.”
Despite a big Holy Cross football game happening in New York and dreary, rainy weather in South Bend, the Irish fans were out in full force for GameDay, tailgating, and all the other wonderful game day traditions on October 13th.
Lee Corso picked ND at the end of GameDay, further fueling the long day of revelry in the rain that the tailgaters had ahead of them.
Krystal Hentges (Notre Dame Class of 2013): “All around awesome day. My mom had her first and only peppermint patty shot at the tailgate.”
Michael French (Notre Dame Class of 2013): “Oh man, I LOVED those little wines. Those were such a treat.”
Bill Nichols (Notre Dame Class of 2013): “Hugo* was there. And GameDay. And it rained. Maybe for like a second. I don’t remember, I was drunk.”
Grace Spaulding (Notre Dame Class of 2013): “I think you have your article ^^ ”
*Pat Rick Editor’s Note: No idea who Hugo is.
Ellie (Bill’s Girlfriend, referencing all the pictures from that game): “Bill, how is this ‘I think it rained for a second’ ????”
Bill Nichols: “Oh yes. I was right. It rained.”
After a day of raucous tailgating while wearing homemade trash bag ponchos, Irish fans headed into the stadium or plopped down on their couches, prepared to cheer on their team with everything they had.
Lisa Kelly: “It was my first press credentialed game, and so I watched the game from the press box, until the last five minutes when they let the media go down on the field.”
Billy Gorman: “2012 was my first year at Notre Dame as a graduate student, so I was watching the game from the student section with a bunch of my classmates.”
Joshua Vowles (Site Manager, One Foot Down): “The weird thing is...I don’t remember much about this game — at least watching it live anyway. I was at work that day, and Tim O’Conner (@oaknd1) contacted me to ask where I was. He informed me that I was credentialed for this game and it was getting late. I was covered head to toe in dirt and mill grease and as I looked at the clock...it was almost 2:00 PM. There was no way I could make it to the game in time after a shower and change, and so I stayed.
Well that was dumb. I had thought I could watch the game at work, but work had other plans that day. It really wasn’t until I got in the car on my way home at 6:00 PM that I was able to pick up on the action.”
Jeff Czerniakowski (Staff Writer, One Foot Down): “It was the night of my senior year homecoming dance. I watched the game at home, at a friend’s house, and at the restaurant we ate at before the dance. I was pissed because the rest of my family got to go to College GameDay and to the game.”
Martin Sweigert (Staff Writer and Podcaster, One Foot Down): “I apologize, this quite unbelievably is one of those games that I just don’t recall much. I certainly don’t have a “where were you” type of story. I can tell you that in that season, there were times I thought Notre Dame’s defense could make a goal line stand against the tree-eating machine from FernGully if they had to.”
Brad Wechter: “I watched the game from what I think was Section 7. We were about 8 rows behind the Stanford bench at the 20-yard-line.”
Jude Seymour: “It was a very chaotic time for me personally. My first son was to be born 16 days later. I was working on a congressional campaign that was ending — for better or worse — on Nov. 6th of that year. I don’t recall where I watched the game, but I tweeted at one point that I ‘backed the DVR up’ to re-watch a play. So I’m going to guess I was at home.”
The game got off to a slow start, with both teams managing to turn the ball over on fumbles (ND) and interceptions (Stanford), with plenty of punts to go around as well.
Jude Seymour: “Working off my Twitter timeline, I was most concerned about the rain. I tweeted a lot about how I thought the rainy conditions would keep the scoring low, and how the team with the fewest turnovers would prevail. (Notre Dame turned the ball over three times, once more than Stanford — and won. So much for that theory.)
Billy Gorman: “I think most people were expecting a low scoring defensive battle just based on how both teams were built and had played so far that season, so I don’t think there was too much surprise as to how the game played out.”
Finally, after a Kyle Brindza field goal gave the Irish a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter, the Cardinal went on a 10-0 run, sparked by a recovered fumble in the end zone for a touchdown when Everett Golson was blindsided by a Stanford defensive lineman.
Stanford led at the half, 10-3.
Jude Seymour: “I remember the Stanford fumble recovery touchdown vividly. Yes, I was pissed at Everett Golson — but more so because I took a stupid pride in the fact that Notre Dame had not played from behind all season until that point. That’s sort of amazing, right? Five-and-a-quarter games without being at a deficit.”
Brad Wechter: “I was, as I said, apprehensive, especially after the Irish went into the locker room down 10-3. The second half action is, to be honest, a bit of a wet, rainy blur.”
After a scoreless 3rd quarter that included an Everett Golson lost fumble, the game headed into the 4th with more rain coming down and with the Irish desperate to score some points and tie that thing up.
Jude Seymour: “It didn’t impact the final score, but I remember being so frustrated with Golson for deciding to take on a defender instead of stepping out of bounds. My recollection is that he carried the ball so recklessly that it was only a matter of time before someone would jar it loose. And that’s exactly what happened late in the third quarter. The refs even reviewed the play to see if his foot hit the out of bounds line, but there wasn’t enough to overturn. I felt at that point that Stanford hadn’t done enough to win. Essentially, Notre Dame was beating itself.”
Lisa Kelly: “I was very nervous about the game. Stanford is never an easy opponent. Each game in 2012, the closer we got to an undefeated season, the more and more nervous I got.”
Jeff Czerniakowski: “I just remember having this feeling that Notre Dame would not lose. I am usually a nervous wreck and for some reason I was not nervous throughout this game.”
Philip Gough: “Despite some early back and forth scoring, the Holy Cross Crusaders fell behind in the second half and couldn’t make it up. Being the special team superstar that I was, I naturally had an incredible day on the stat sheet due to the amount of kickoffs that day:
Just kidding, it was a slow day at the office as I didn’t record a single stat, instead displaying a “participation” stat. I probably had some great hustle and downed a punt or two, to be honest. It is fun to note that I was playing with current NFL player, Kalif Raymond, who was a freshman at the time. Anyway, I was not able to watch the Notre Dame game that day, but was closely following along as we made the sad drive back to Worcester.”
Finally, at the end of the 3rd quarter, the Irish put together a drive into Stanford territory. However, after a couple Mike Golic Jr. false starts and some 1-yard rushes, ND was facing a 3rd-and-18 on one of their only successful drives of regulation (one of the others was the Golson fumble).
Then, of course, QB Everett Golson fired a gutsy, gorgeous pass to senior TE Tyler Eifert. The Notre Dame faithful didn’t hate it.
Jude Seymour: “Just as I thought Golson couldn’t do anything dumber, he threw a high dart to Tyler Eifert AND TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF. Molly Moran called it an “Eifert Tower.” That’s exactly what it looked like with two Stanford dudes draping him like lattice girders.”
Billy Gorman: “Golson to Eifert felt like one of the biggest plays of the game because the offense just couldn’t score all day.”
On their next possession, the Cardinal drove down the field and tacked on a field goal, reclaiming the lead 13-10. The Irish had momentum now, though, and the ND offense again moved down the field in search of another score. However, as the Irish crossed into Cardinal territory, Everett Golson took a brutal hit to the head from a Stanford player.
Stanford was flagged, but the damage was already done — Golson left the game with what would end up being a concussion, and with the ball at the Stanford 34-yard-line and less than 3 minutes remaining, Thomas Kevin Rees took the field to once again try to close out the game, as he had done against Purdue and Michigan in past weeks.
At that moment, the rain started to really come down. The pressure was on the junior QB and the fans got tense, but were still optimistic for various reasons.
Billy Gorman: “When Golson got hurt we obviously didn’t know what it was in the stands, but knew he was banged up coming in and Rees had already finished games, so I think everybody was confident he could do it.”
Matt Greene: “With Golson’s injury, I remember hating that, but also knowing just to roll with it since Tommy had led games that season before.”
Lisa Kelly: “As I was standing there watching the last five minutes, and the rain was falling, someone walked up next to me and said hello. I looked over and it was Vince Vaughn. Yes, you read that right, Vince Vaughn. I literally had no words. I don’t often get star-struck, but at that moment I definitely was speechless.”
Rees indeed progressed the ND drive further, completing a pass to Tyler Eifert and then throwing back to Eifert again on the next play, drawing a pass interference penalty and moving the chains. The Irish then ran three plays without picking up the next first down, leading to a 4th-and-2 situation at the Stanford 5-yard-line with just 21 seconds to play.
Jude Seymour: “Irish fans had seen this storyline before, right? He (Tommy Rees) was going to calmly deliver the game-winning touchdown, just like he had marched the team down the field to set up the game winning FG in the Week 2 win against the Purdue Boilermakers. But I’m also an Irish fan. So when they got stuck, my first thought was probably, ‘Oh, placekicking has been anything but certain.’ “
Despite the rain pouring down and the gravity of the moment, Brindza calmly kicked the field goal through the uprights, tying the game at 13 with 20 seconds to play in regulation.
Jude Seymour: When Kyle Brindza nailed that sucker, my second thought was likely, ‘Oh too much time left.’ (The 2011 Michigan Wolverines game had scarred me).”
Stanford took a knee instead of trying to make a last-ditch effort to win it, sending the game into overtime.
Billy Gorman: “The game tying field goal was more relief than anything and I think once they tied it up, I was a lot more confident going into overtime than I had been most of the game.”
Lisa Kelly: “My heart was absolutely racing. I couldn’t believe the game was going into overtime, and I was standing on the sideline for my very first time, watching it all play out. Unbelievable. Truly a ‘not real life’ moment.”
Jude Seymour: “I’m feeling good. The momentum is with Notre Dame and I am the Internet’s foremost Tommy Rees apologist. So, naturally, I think we’re going to win.”
Billy Gorman: “I don’t think I was ever NOT confident based on how they played so far that season, I think I was just very frustrated because it seemed like they couldn’t do anything on offense. Once Eifert caught the TD I felt better, though, and when Brindza hit the tying field goal at the end of the game I felt pretty confident. I loved the rain too, it made the game so much more fun.”
Jeff Czerniakowski: “I was watching everything unfold on my phone in a crowded restaurant. Yes, I was that guy.”
Brad Wechter: “I was happy to be there. I took a lot of crappy pictures with my iPhone whatever. But I was not confident.”
Krystal Hentges: “We somehow ended up with a sombrero during the game. Sport itself was v. exciting.”
The Irish got the ball first in extra time, and OT got off to a rocky start as Rees was immediately sacked by Stanford’s Trent Murphy on first down.
However, Rees showed the unflappable nature of a veteran who’d played in big moments before. On 2nd and 17, Rees hit Davaris Daniels for 9 yards, setting up a more manageable 3rd-and-8 from the Stanford 23-yard-line.
Lisa Kelly: As I watched the game from the sideline, and the seconds ticked off the clock, I found myself getting closer and closer to the edge of the field. In fact, when DaVaris Daniels makes his overtime catch on 2nd and 17, you can see me on TV in my lovely polka dot rain coat (lower left screen).”
Despite the nice gain, the Irish still desperately needed to pick up the first down. Settling for a field goal would not be ideal, especially considering weather conditions could make kicking that field goal a nightmare.
With the rain continuing to dump down, Tom Rees then made the play of his life, avoiding an excellent and aggressive pass rush in his face to just barely toss a floating pass toward the sideline, where Theo Riddick was running his route. Notre Dame fans oftentimes bring this play up as one of their favorites, and it’s easy to see why.
Matt Greene: “I had honestly a cautious optimism. Throughout regulation and then through OT, I still thought we had a shot to win. That shot was intensified after Tommy saved the drive with the float pass to Theo. It was almost like we were at least destined to score some points in OT.”
Jude Seymour: “The pass to Theo Riddick -- that was a huge play by the senior, but it felt like it hung there FOREVER. I felt like the ball placement made a ton of sense. Either Riddick was going to make an amazing play, it was going to be incomplete, or he was going to have to sell that the defender tripped him. Thankfully, Theo hung in.”
Brad Wechter: “The pass to Theo was unbelievable. It’s what fueled my optimism later that year when I attended the Pitt game.”
Pat Sullivan: “That Theo catch is easily one of my favorite Notre Dame football plays I’ve ever seen. Theo is the best, and so is Tom Rees for that gorgeous toss amidst the pressure.”
Following the first down from Riddick’s heroic catch, Irish fans were truly beginning to believe. What Tommy Rees and TJ Jones did next certainly didn’t do anything to quell that feeling.
Jude Seymour: “The TJ Jones catch is still incredible to me. This was not a well placed ball, and yet the junior just absolutely hawked that thing. Now I’m convinced the Irish are going to win.”
Billy Gorman: “Like I said, I felt pretty confident heading into overtime for some reason. Once TJ caught the touchdown, I only got more confident.”
Brad Wechter: “After the Irish scored, I remember looking up to the northwest nosebleed section of the stadium, remembering the ‘03 Florida State game in which my friends and I opted to play ‘I Spy’ (we were in middle school) looking out over campus instead of watching the game from those seats, and being thankful I was a part of something that was at least relevant and competitive.”
Lisa Kelly: “After TJ made that diving catch in the end zone, I knew we were going to win the game. Everything was going our way, the momentum was definitely in our favor, and the defense came back out on the field absolutely on fire. Stanford might as well have been trying to run through a brick wall — it wasn’t going to happen.”
Jeff Czerniakowski: “Tommy Rees leading the team to potential victory was a nice surprise. I was feeling good after the Irish scored since that defense was so good in 2012.”
Stanford began their possession with QB Josh Nunes throwing a pass behind the line of scrimmage to Stepfan Taylor, who was immediately smothered by the Notre Dame defense for a loss of 5 yards. Notre Dame Stadium was LOUD.
However, Nunes managed to scramble for 13 yards on the next play, and then a Stepfan Taylor run up the gut nearly evened the score, as Taylor was finally dragged down at the 4-yard-line after a gain of 13 more.
It was now first and goal-to-go from the Notre Dame 4-yard-line, and the Irish defense that had yet to give up a rushing touchdown in 2012 hunkered down in its goal line defense, ready to make one final stand, as the rain continued to cascade down around them.
The first play was a handoff to Taylor, who managed just 1 yard.
Jude Seymour: “Taylor was a beast. He had a strong lower body and the Irish players were having a hard time keeping a good grip on his wet jersey. He had just run for 13 yards on the previous play and trucked Matthias Farley at the end of it. I thought Stanford would feed him four times if necessary and he’d probably score.”
Lisa Kelly: “Honestly, I could barely watch. Had I been at home, my hands would have been over my eyes, for sure. But being that I was on the sideline, standing at the 20-yard-line, my eyes were glued to every play. It didn’t even seem like it was real. I truly felt like it was all a dream, and I was going to wake up warm and cozy in my bed. When ND held the rush, pretty much no problem, I started to feel a bit more relieved.”
Matt Greene: “The goal line stand was a progression of a freak-out. Mind you, I’m down on field level with the band. My sight line is dead-on with the North end zone goal line. It couldn’t have been a more perfect view to watch it all unfold.”
Billy Gorman: “I felt pretty good when Stanford only gained 1 yard from the 4, and the student section was pretty loud the entire time.”
Brad Wechter: “There were some people locking arms, and some Stanford fans starting to look nervous a few seats down from us.”
Now, with a 2nd-and-goal situation at the ND 3-yard-line, Stanford handed the ball off to Taylor again. This run wasn’t a complete stuffing of the back, as he squirted through a hole and looked like he might have gotten into the end zone. He was instead spotted down at the 1-yard-line.
Lisa Kelly: “When it looked like Stanford had actually scored the countering touchdown, my heart stopped. When the refs didn’t signal touchdown, I did my best to breathe again.”
Matt Greene: “1st & also 2nd-and-goal were expected. I figured they would get at least a few yards. I was pretty much preparing for Stanford to score to tie it up. So I was thinking a bit ahead to the 2nd OT, to be honest.”
Jude Seymour: “I was even less confident with Louis Nix III shaken up on the previous play. I was pretty sure this was a touchdown. If they marked him short, great. They’d have it on third down, though.”
Pat Sullivan: “The student section was so intense. I remember all of us nervously fidgeting and linking arms and just freaking out leading up to each play.”
Brad Wechter: “You could hear the hearts beat on both sides. Could have just been the rain, though.”
Having gained 3 yards on two carries, some began to wonder if Stanford coach David Shaw would call for a pass — maybe via play-action — but Shaw made the call to continue to ride with the only effective component of his offense, Taylor and the offensive line.
Stanford handed off to Taylor yet again, and this time the powerful back didn’t gain anything. He was met just in front of the goal line by Manti Te’o in an incredibly picturesque stonewalling, leaving Stanford with still 1 yard to go, and now a 4th down play that could decide the entire game.
Jude Seymour: “Stepfan Taylor rush for no gain — Nix returns, and frankly, the play call sucked. Notre Dame was selling out for a run between the tackles — and that’s exactly what Stanford delivered.”
Lisa Kelly: “When Taylor slammed into Manti Te’o, who pushed him right back, I knew we were going to hold them.”
Billy Gorman: “3rd down, I don’t think anybody could really tell if Stanford had scored so everybody kind of collectively held their breath looking for a signal.”
Matt Greene: “On 3rd-and-goal, to this day I still believe Taylor came the closest to crossing the goal line. I’m surprised that there wasn’t a review of that play.”
Brad Wechter: “ ‘DON’T CELEBRATE YET!’ - everyone that was a true ND fan.”
Pat Sullivan: “That 3rd down stop was like something from a movie. Manti hit Taylor literally just in front of the goal line, stonewalled him, and forced a 4th-and-goal for all the Tostitos. The student section, at this point, had given up on being nervous. We were just going nuts, trying to will the defense with our noise to make just one more stop.”
With the rain still pouring and everything coming down to one goal line play featuring their beloved defensive front of Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Manti Te’o, etc., Notre Dame Stadium was reaching a fever pitch.
Stanford rolled up to the line once again in their power formation, and once again handed the ball to their best player, Stepfan Taylor.
Taylor ran to the right and was met by a wall of Notre Dame players, stopping his progress. Taylor, as whistles blew, rolled off the tacklers and off of bodies below him to stretch the ball into the end zone. He thought he had scored, but the refs had already ruled him down.
Jude Seymour: “Stepfan Taylor rush for no gain — I expected big bodies and perhaps some sort of play action. Nope.”
Lisa Kelly: “On fourth and goal, it was a big Notre Dame brick wall. After that ridiculous tackle by Te’o on the play before, no way were they going to let Stanford get into the end zone. Watching it over again, it made my eyes fill up with tears. I am still filled with so much emotion, reliving how I felt being in the middle of all that.”
Pat Sullivan: “Rewatching that moment alone in my apartment has me so riled up right now.”
Notre Dame Stadium erupted with earsplitting elation upon seeing the initial call, and the Irish team, all the way cranked up from making a goal line stand for the ages, began to celebrate wildly and prematurely in a moment of pure, unadulterated bliss.
Pat Ambrosio (Notre Dame Class of 2013): “I think that 4th down stop was the loudest I’ve heard ND stadium.”
Billy Gorman: “On 4th down we all saw the defenders on the field react and then the bench, so everybody lost it at that point thinking the game was over. Everybody’s initial reaction came from the players. Once we saw the defenders on the field celebrating and the bench rush the field, we all thought Notre Dame had won. I remember once the bench rushed the field the first students in the stands started to do the same.”
Lisa Kelly: “The entire sidelines, and the student section (which was right behind me), went absolutely nuts, and everyone on the sidelines, myself included, all ran out onto the field to celebrate.”
Jeff Czerniakowski: “I screamed in the restaurant and yelled ‘NOTRE DAME IS UNDEFEATED!’ My senior year homecoming would have been a little less fun after watching ND lose, so it was nice they got the job done. My date was happy too since the win meant I’d be in a great mood. Everyone around me thought I was crazy. I mean, I guess I was watching a football game on my phone during a nice dinner, but whatever. I was the only Notre Dame fan in the group so nobody really cared except for me. I was told to calm down a few times but I couldn’t control my emotions. It was the first time in my life that Notre Dame was undefeated so long into the season.”
Brad Wechter: “It was delirium. We were wet, we were tired. Most of us had been there for the whole show. College GameDay, the Notre Dame Alumni Tailgate (not me, but many we were sitting with), or we were just dumbfounded guests that couldn’t believe we saw a classic. It was loud. We all knew the inevitable cold we would have on Monday was definitely worth it, and we celebrated as such.”
Pat Sullivan: “I remember the stop happening, and then I remember my group of friends (and everyone else in the student section, essentially) collectively leaping down about 3 rows of bleachers just out of pure joy and adrenaline. Energized and protected by the moment, it didn’t hurt at all. After we all scrambled to collect ourselves, we saw the players, mid-raucous celebration on the field, being herded back to the sideline. Uh oh.”
Jude Seymour: “I’m working off Tom Hammond and the crowd, which are both now deafening. I saw Bennett Jackson sort-of wrap up Taylor, but I couldn’t get a good sense of when the refs decided forward progress was halted. I figured by the fact that half of the team was now celebrating that the second effort had come after the whistle. It reminded me a lot of the goal line stand against the Boston College Eagles, which made Deke Cooper a bit of a legend my freshman year.”
Philip Gough: “The wifi on the bus was sub-par, so I was forced to follow along on Twitter/ESPN live updates as the game went down to the wire. I was sitting next to one of my close friends who is cousins with Bennett Jackson, so naturally he was following along as well. Seeing the tweets that Bennett made the fourth down tackle was a bright spot in an otherwise shitty day. This team has always had the ability to boost my spirits, and I am holding onto hope they bring a similar joy this Saturday night.”
Joshua Vowles: “My only other memory is standing in my living room while my wife was rocking our baby boy. Worlds ended on that goal line stand as I let loose every bit of frustration from missing most of the game with pure joy and loudness — oh, I was ridiculously loud.”
Amidst the chaos, the referees and security corralled the teams back to their sidelines and the initial field-rushing fans back toward the stands. A review was called for, to ensure Taylor had not crossed the plane of the goal line. Irish fans’ hearts stopped mid-celebration, feeling a mix of anger, terror, and frustration that the most pure feeling of bliss their football team had given them in years was potentially about to be ripped away from them.
Billy Gorman: “When we heard the play was under review, everybody just kind of stopped in their tracks and there was a lot of confusion, I remember, trying to clear the field. It was just a lot of anxiety waiting for the review. I think we’d been conditioned to expect the worst a lot as Notre Dame fans, but that season felt different. It just felt like this was going to go our way and I have no reason for having felt that — just my gut feeling.”
Matt Greene: “On 4th-and-goal, I knew we stopped him. Like I said, the 3rd run was closer. I freaked out, but it was more in shock than anything. But then, they called for a review. Like so many times before, Notre Dame gets calls overturned, so again I was more planning on a second OT.”
Lisa Kelly: “The wait was absolute torture, but I just knew the refs had made the right call.”
Jeff Czerniakowski: “I honestly turned the game off and didn’t even know they reviewed it until later that night. As soon as they called the runner’s progress stopped and the players celebrated, I screamed and turned off my phone. It wasn’t until I got back home that night that I realized the controversy.”
Jude Seymour: “I marvel a bit about what kind of push Stanford got on that play — and it still didn’t work. Jackson’s hit was enough to slow down Taylor’s momentum, which caused him to get his legs tangled with the poor tight end who tried — and failed — to take on Carlo Calabrese. I understood Mike Mayock’s point about Taylor’s second effort seeming like it was enough, provided the whistle had not blown. I just figured the refs weren’t going to overturn the pro-Irish call on the field in a game played at Notre Dame Stadium. Of course they made the right call.”
Brad Wechter: “No memory. I just remember the rain and taking a picture of the scoreboard.”
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the final ruling, the referees came back onto the field for the announcement.
What followed was one of the loudest moments in recent memory at Notre Dame Stadium.
Matt Greene: “The actual review call was ridiculous. It seemed to take forever, which added to me thinking they would overturn it. Also, the ref made the call by saying ‘the students thought the game was over,’ but then he said the call stands. It was a rollercoaster of emotion.”
Pat Sullivan: “I still get goosebumps watching that video. It was SO loud when he said the word ‘stands.’ I remember the students in the front of the student section beginning to rush the field again as the players sprinted to meet them in celebration, and as we prepared to follow onto the field from our seats midway up the section, we took a little time to just unleash some screams of utter triumph. My friend Hux caught that on video (an annoyingly sideways video, at that).”
Lisa Kelly: “Hearing the ref’s announcement…‘the ruling on the field stands as called, the game is over’…was such a relief. We all ran back out on the field and I was just trying to take it all in. I ended up in the perfect position to catch the team singing the alma mater, and got this awesome shot of Manti singing his heart out. Absolutely amazing.”
Brad Wechter: “We were all Manti Te’o at that moment.”
Billy Gorman: “To this day I don’t think I’ve ever heard the full explanation of the review. As soon as we heard ‘stands’ the cheering was too loud to hear anything else and from that point on it was literally a rush to get on the field. Before the review I remember the ushers were trying in vain to keep students off the field. Once the announcement was made the mass of students was so great that the ushers were helping everybody over the walls and onto the field, just trying to make sure that nobody got hurt in the rain.”
Matt Greene: “After that, the heavens broke loose. I think Mary cried tears of joy from heaven, because it absolutely POURED down on Notre Dame Stadium. Euphoria and chaos is an understatement. Students started storming the field. It was magnificent. I was so dumbfounded but also relieved and so damn happy all at the same time. I more so remember just freaking out by myself, but I have to believe I gave high fives and hugs to my friends in the band around me.”
Deirdre Emery (Elon University Graduate, Married to Thomas Emery, Notre Dame Class of 2013): “That was my first ND game (actually maybe my first college football game) and I remember leaving thinking that storming the field was a usual occurrence.”
Krystal Hentges: “Second time ever we rushed the field, and I didn’t lose my shoe this time!”
Pat Sullivan: “RIP to that shoe.”
Matt Greene: “It became even better when we didn’t do a post game show. We usually did, but the band staff just said to get back to the band building whenever. So many people were soaked and happy. A friend of mine from high school who was a freshman at ND found me and gave me a giant hug on the field. It was so damn cool! As a freshman, it was a time that I truly felt like a college student, a true part of Notre Dame football.”
Brad Wechter: “Yeah. Don’t remember. It was all too much.”
In a pure moment of sports joy, the students and team celebrated together on the field, drenched underneath the still-pouring rain, but none of this detracted from the experience. They linked arms for the alma mater, took tons of pictures, and just generally prepared for a great night of celebration ahead.
Alison Meagher (St. Mary’s College, Class of 2013): “Screamed so loud, at the end of the day I blacked out from excitement...not alcohol. Yes, I’m a bit of a nerd.”
Pat Sullivan: “Mid-terms had just happened that week leading up to the game. Fall break was the following week. That means no one had any responsibilities for the night. Imagine 12,000 football-crazed nerds with nothing to do but drink and celebrate an overtime goal line stand victory in a rain storm. Finny’s was WILD that evening.”
Truly, this was a game for the ages — especially for younger fans who hadn’t had the luxury to be alive or old enough to remember the days of Holtz, Devine, Parseghian, etc.
No matter an ND fan’s age, though, it’s pretty much agreed across the board that this game will always be a cherished memory.
Michael French: “My initial thought is that it was the best (and my favorite) sporting event I’ve ever been to live.”
Alison Meagher: “Agreed with Mike. Best game I’ve ever been to.”
Arren Yoshimura (Michigan alum who was in the group chat that I used to pose my questions to friends about this game): “Gross guys, no one needs this nonsense.”
Lisa Kelly: “This is probably the second best game I’ve seen in person, with the first being Notre Dame vs. Penn State in 1992 (the Snow Bowl).”
Jude Seymour: “Honestly, it was a great moment. But because I watched the game by myself, I don’t think it ranks very high.”
Matt Greene: “That moment ranks up there as a Top 5 moment as an ND fan. To witness it in person, but also to have my vantage point, is something I won’t ever, ever forget.”
Billy Gorman: “This game ranks pretty close to the top of my moments as a Notre Dame fan. I’ve always thought live experiences are just inherently greater and I’m not old enough to have ever seen a Notre Dame national championship. This game probably only ranks behind the entirety of the 2012 season for me. I grew up on the Brady Quinn/Jeff Samardzija/Tom Zbikowski ND teams and I idolized them, but the 2012 team felt different. I’m sure part of it was I was now a student at Notre Dame and part of it was that my student tickets in 2012 were the first I’ve ever been to a Notre Dame football game. The Stanford game was just a perfect storm and I think was sort of a microcosm of that team and that season as a whole.”
Jeff Czerniakowski: “It is something I will never forget. I will always remember the restaurant, where we sat, watching on my phone and yelling after the goal line stand. It wasn’t my typical watching from the couch, so it stands out.”
Pat Sullivan: “It’s probably my favorite sporting event I’ve ever been to, just ahead of the 2015 Notre Dame vs. Kentucky Elite Eight game. This edges that out, though, because it was a win, I was a senior and in the student section, and because it was a Goddamn overtime goal line stand in the rain. It doesn’t get better than that for a mid-October game.”
Brad Wechter: “Easily the second best for me, next to 2015 USC. I was still a huge Notre Dame football fan in 2012, and my two nephews, converted brother-in-law, and diehard Catholic father were all there to witness that classic win with me. But we were all quite cold and wet, and that season ended poorly. So it’s number 2.
I was in the same seats for the USC game in 2015, but my second ticket was occupied by one of my best friends who was not from the United States and was seeing his first ever American football game. He loved every moment of it, and I was 100 percent bought in. It was special to introduce a new and incredibly fun concept to someone totally unaware of the context, and watch them enjoy it to the fullest. And the game was incredible. That’s number 1.”
To conclude this oral history, I asked everyone if they had any parting thoughts as they finished remembering this glorious ND football moment...
Billy Gorman: “Just thanks for making me relive this one. This was one of my favorite moments as a Notre Dame fan and probably the best game I watched from the student section, so it’s always fun to go back to it.”
Jeff Czerniakowski: “Manti Te’o was an absolute beast. The scream he let out after winning that game still fires me up today.”
Brad Wechter: “I remember returning to Chicago at around midnight, soaked to the bone (3rd wettest I’ve ever gotten at a football game, behind ND @ Clemson in 2015 and Saints @ Bears in like.. 2013 maybe?). My dad was staying on the futon in my living room (didn’t own a home yet), and we had to find a parking spot in Pulaski Park, a few blocks east of where I lived. Then we walked into my apartment, ignorant to the fact that we walked through an area with no streetlights, because we could have handled anything at that moment. Then we turned on the highlights only to watch Alabama’s comeback against LSU about 1,000 times. We were kinda pissed that no one was covering the ND goal line stand, but we can only thank NBC for that. Good times.”
Jude Seymour: “Yes.
- Matt Cashore took one of the best photographs of his life at this game.
- David Shaw will forever be a crybaby because of this game.
- At this point, we are 1) both aware of Lennay Kekua and 2) also believe she is dead.
- I still *hate* pink accessories in football games because I don’t think it accomplishes anything tangible for the cause it purports to support.
- One other thing: I will forever be annoyed by Stanford fans who engage in some sort of revisionist history when it comes to this game. ‘Oh, Taylor was in. We were the rightful winners.’ That wasn’t a game-winning touchdown. That was possibly a game-tying touchdown. Even if the extra point was drilled, it’s still a tie ball game. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to add seven to 13 for those who root for the Cardinal, but this canard comes up pretty much every time the goal line stand is discussed for an extended period of time on Twitter.”
Joshua Vowles: “That’s pretty much it from my memory bank. Obviously I watched the game on replay about a dozen times since then, but no reaction to a replay compares with the reaction of that LIVE action. I haven’t missed parts of a game like that since.”
We all know what this moment and game led to throughout the rest of 2012. ND decidedly beat a Bob Stoops Oklahoma Sooners team in Norman (he was 101-9 there, by the way), survived a couple scares with BYU and Pittsburgh, handled USC in LA with another goal line stand, and finished the season 12-0.
Then, of course, everything kind of crumbled. The Irish got drubbed in the BCS National Championship by Alabama, the Manti/Lennay Kekua thing happened, and a few years later, the entire season would be officially vacated due to some players who had gotten inappropriate aid on their school work.
But ignoring all of that negative garbage, the 2012 Notre Dame-Stanford game was one of the most exciting finishes to an Irish football game in the past few decades, and that goal line stand was a glorious nod to tough, smash-mouth football that everyone can agree kicks major ass.
Here’s to hoping tomorrow night’s game features more unforgettable, inspiring, ridiculously awesome moments that we will be looking back fondly on years later.
Go Irish, beat Cardinal. Suck it Cardinal. Go, Irish go.
Friends, I hope you enjoyed reliving that day/game/moment as much as we did. I invite you all to recount your own 2012 Stanford game memories, as everyone’s story is just a little different, but so, so awesome considering the common thread of that goal line stand lifting us up to new heights of happiness, even if just for a brief moment.