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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame vs. Penn State, The ‘Snow Bowl’

It snowed.

In a dramatic conclusion to the series between Notre Dame and Penn State, the Fighting Irish emerged with a 17-16 Snow Bowl victory. [Photo: Notre Dame Media Relations]

As we get closer and closer to the spring game, I tend to start to daydream about some of my favorite Notre Dame football memories. I know, it’s darn near impossible to pick one favorite, but if I had to create a top ten list, this one would definitely be on it. Notre Dame vs. Penn State: The Snow Bowl.

On Saturday, November 14th, 1992, the Nittany Lions of Penn State played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It was the last home game of my senior year, and the senior captains Rick Mirer, Demetrius DuBose, Irv Smith and Devon McDonald were hoping to finish strong on Senior Day; something that hadn’t happened for the previous two senior classes. It was also the last game of the Notre Dame - Penn State series, and so both teams were hoping to snatch one last win.

The Irish got the ball first and moved methodically down the field, but only walked away with three points, on a successful field goal by Craig Hentrich. (ND 3 - PSU 0) On the subsequent Penn State possession, Tom Carter and John Covington combined for an interception, but the Irish were unable to convert any points out of the turnover. The Nittany Lions came up with a touchdown on their next possession, but freshman Bobby Taylor made sure they only got six points as he blocked the PAT. (PSU 6 - ND 3) And that’s when the snow really started to kick in. It was challenging for either team to secure their footing or hold on to the ball. The second quarter was a sloppy mess, and included a forced fumble by Jim Flannigan which was recovered by Brian Ratigan, and Penn State came dangerously close to picking off a pass to Derrick Mayes. At the end of the first half, though, the Irish managed to set Craig Hentrich up once more for a field goal, and his successful 37-yard kick tied the game at 6-6.

The biggest gain of the game by either team came in the third quarter on a Rick Mirer pass to Lake Dawson for 30 yards. That set up Craig Hentrich to convert his third field goal of the game, putting the Irish up 9-6. But Penn State came roaring back and tied the game with 8:35 remaining in the game. It was becoming apparent that this game was going to be won by the team who had possession of the ball last. And then with 4:19 left on the clock, Penn State scored its second touchdown of this contest, regaining the lead and going up 16-9. The Notre Dame drive which followed this Penn State touchdown is one that no one watching the game that day will ever forget.

On second and ten, Rick Mirer found Jerome Bettis for 21 yards down the near sideline. Then on second and sixteen, Mirer managed to scramble for 15 yards, coming up one yard short of the first down. Two plays later he found Ray Griggs at the Penn State 17 yard line, with less than two minutes remaining in the game. From first and goal at the nine, Reggie Brooks ran for five yards, getting them just four yards from the goal line. But on the next two plays, the Irish were stopped. The Irish had to take their final timeout to discuss what play they would run on fourth on goal, with the game on the line. The play that was chosen was a play that Coach Holtz typically reserved for two-point conversion plays, but the gamble paid off as Mirer connected with Jerome Bettis in the end zone for the touchdown.

With no timeouts left and 20 seconds remaining on the clock, Mirer and Holtz quickly conversed on what play to use next, and the result was nothing short of spectacular. With no one open, Mirer rolls right and drops a pass right in the corner of the endzone, perfectly into the hands of an outstretched Reggie Brooks.

As I wrote my first book, I had the chance to hear Reggie’s thoughts on this incredible game. “We always practiced the two-point conversion in practice. It was nothing new to us. Holtz had us on the sideline, told us what the formation was, and we never had any doubt in our mind that we could successfully run the play. The funny thing about that play was I was not even the intended receiver. Irv Smith was supposed to run a pivot route and I was supposed to distract the safety so that he could make the catch. We had never practiced this particular formation before, we just knew that we needed to go out and execute it. We had so much confidence in ourselves. Aaron Taylor likes to say that he was the reason I caught the pass because he missed the block that caused Rick Mirer to have to roll right and throw to me.”

Rick Mirer also shared with me his memories of the Snow Bowl. “ My all-time best football memory, however, has to be the 1992 Penn State game. There was so much drama at the end of that game … going for two points to win the game, playing our last game in Notre Dame Stadium. We ended our time at Notre Dame on a huge highlight. The one we got to sleep on was the Penn State game, and we could not have asked for a better ending . After the Michigan game ending in a tie, and being left with such a weird feeling after that game, I just felt that we had to go for it. We’re either going to win this thing, or not.”

As I look back on all of the Notre Dame games I’ve witnessed over the years, I think this one means so much to me seeing as it was the last home game of my senior year at Notre Dame. I’ve seen some other pretty incredible games, including the 1993 ND vs. FSU game, and the 2012 ND vs. Stanford game, but the Snow Bowl may very well my favorite.

So ... what Notre Dame football game is your favorite? Can you pick just one?

Cheers & GO IRISH!