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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish In The Hawaii Bowl


Is it Thursday already? Sure, so I guess we’ll whip out another Throwback Thursday. One of the things I’ve been trying to do with this series ever since I rebooted it in January, is to try and highlight some of the “better” moments over the last 20 years. At some point... there aren’t going to be a whole lot of “better” moments from this era.

To that end, today’s entry may not be exactly what you’re looking for as a fan of Notre Dame, because it holds more truth than fandom.

2008 Hawaii Bowl: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 49, Hawaii Warriors 21

I couldn’t get this game out of my head since we recorded the last episode of the OFD Podcast. In the show, Jude and I were discussing garage sales and Notre Dame (in a weird way). That led to Jude talking about his chance encounter with the 2008 Hawaii Bowl Trophy. That piece of hardware was just randomly sitting in the FIDM (now FIM) office — BECAUSE WHAT BLUE BLOOD PROGRAM DISPLAYS THE HAWAII BOWL TROPHY IN THE MAIN TROPHY CASE? Well... maybe they do now [ducks].

At the time, a lot of Irish fans were doing backflips like Sergio Brown after the game. It was Notre Dame’s first bowl win since the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1994. That’s a 15-year drought that saw 9 bowl losses — many of them in terrible fashion. So let’s take a look at the awesome things about this game first:

  • Jimmy Clausen damn near threw a perfect game. He was 22-26 for 401 yards and 5 touchdowns. All 4 incompletions hit an Irish receiver in the hands, man. A quarterback could barely do that against air — let alone against a college defense. He was incredible. You can watch EVERY single pass thrown HERE.
  • Golden Tate was Clausen’s main target in the game, and he looked unstoppable. Tate caught 6 passes for 177 yards and 3 touchdowns. While the touchdowns were pretty magnificent, a catch over the middle gave us a GOLDEN SHOWER on TV. Yes... it happened.
  • Armando Allen, who could never manage a long run at Notre Dame, took a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter that caused all the little girls in the stadium to scream their heads off. It made the score 49-14, and the ESPN booth said THAT was the nail in the coffin. Please stop laughing.

Notre Dame wins and some thought Notre Dame turned the corner. I mean, how could they not?

There were a few people that simply weren’t impressed. In the ESPN Studio, Todd Blackledge said he was just happy Notre Dame was able to score after calling two games that year where the Irish failed to score a touchdown (Boston College and USC).

Lee Corso, however, didn’t hold back one ounce as he had this to say:

It’s a sad day when the Irish are crowing about a 7-6 record and a win over Hawaii and talking about the future. Their bar at Notre Dame has gone like this [drops hand down] and they are now accepting mediocrity. And to me, as a lifelong Notre Dame fan, catholic guy from Chicago — that’s sad.

No shit. There were plenty of Irish fans that blasted Corso as a naysayer, hater, and whatever else for that comment — but he was 100% accurate in his assessment. Notre Dame beat two winning teams that year, Hawaii and Navy. Those schools were a combined 15-13 for the season.

Look, it was an important win for the program as it finally got the bowl losing streak off of its back. It wasn’t life-changing though, and maybe it just highlighted even more the depth to which the Irish football program had sunk.

Why am I covering this game today like this? Because so many of the criticisms by the media and even by Notre Dame’s own fans go completely over the heads of some of you out there. Shit, it goes over my head a lot of times as well. That doesn’t mean I think every jab at ND is correct — far from it. But I do think there are moments that are perceived to be better than what they are because we are all starving for something greater.

Corso was absolutely right about the team, and Notre Dame proved it by going 6-6 the following year. That disaster lead to the firing of Charlie Weis — which at least proved Corso somewhat wrong, as Notre Dame at least showed that mediocrity wasn’t going to cut it in South Bend (depending on your definition of mediocrity).

Since then, Notre Dame is 81-34 in Brian Kelly’s 9 seasons. That roughly makes him a 9-4 coach. It’s still not a great mark, but he does have two 12-0 regular seasons, an appearance in the National Championship game, and a playoff appearance to go along with a handful of bowl wins (none in the New Years 6).

Notre Dame has come a long, long way since that Christmas Eve in 2008, but there is still plenty more to do to completely bury those years in the past.

Here’s the full game if you really need it: