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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish VS Clemson Tigers, 1977

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The white-shirted Irish nearly found their winter bowl plans canceled by a powerful Clemson team.

Lisa Kelly

This is what we were all hoping for ... Notre Dame vs. Clemson ... both teams undefeated. Can you even believe it? As we count down the days (hours) until kickoff, I’m going to take a few minutes off your countdown clock by looking back at the 1977 Notre Dame vs. Clemson game. But first, here are some statistics on the history of this match-up.

Notre Dame and Clemson have faced each other four times since 1977 with Notre Dame winning once, and Clemson winning three times. Clemson’s largest margin of victory was 30-3, and Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was 21-17.

  • December 29, 2018 - Arlington, TX, 30-3, Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
  • October 3, 2015 - Clemson, SC, 24-22
  • November 17, 1979 - South Bend, IN, 16-10
  • November 12, 1977 - Clemson, SC, 17-21

Here are a few more fun facts:

  • Heisman Winners -Notre Dame 7, Clemson 0
  • Consensus All-Americans - Notre Dame 102, Clemson 30
  • National Championships - Notre Dame 11, Clemson 3

On November 12th, 1977, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish headed to Clemson, South Carolina to face the Clemson Tigers in front of a record 54,189 crowd. It was the first meeting between the two schools. Notre Dame was ranked No. 5 and and had a record of 7-1, and Clemson was ranked No. 15 and had a record of 7-1-1. Clemson was coached by Charley Pell and lead by quarterback Steve Fuller.

The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article written by Gordon S. White Jr.

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame had to play for the first time today without those magical green shirts they first wore in the big upset victory over Southern California on Oct. 22. And the white-shirted Irish nearly found their winter bowl plans canceled by a powerful Clemson team.

But the Irish, who were at least wearing new green numerals on their white traveling shirts, rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat the spunky Tigers, 21‐17, on a chilly day in the Deep South. Joe Montana, Notre Dame’s heady and cool quarterback, scored both of the late touchdowns on dives from a yard out after he had directed good drives to get that close.

The victory kept Notre Dame as the odds‐on favorite for a Cotton Bowl bid if Texas remains unbeaten. It could be that a meeting between an unbeaten Texas and a once‐beaten Notre Dame would be a Jan. 2 battle for the mythical national championship. Bowl bids go out next Saturday right after Notre Dame plays Air Force, a team the Irish should beat handily.

Clemson, an Atlantic Coast Conference team, seemed in charge and about to turn in one of the year’s biggest upsets early in the third period when it moved to a 17‐7 lead. A record crowd of 54,189 persons in Memorial Stadium was thinking in those terms, anyway, but suddenly things turned around on a costly fumble by Clemson. From that point on, it was Notre Dame’s chance to take control, and the Irish took full advantage of the opportunities presented.

Unfortunately, the game was not completed without bitter exchanges between Dan Devine, the Notre Dame head coach, and the officials—Linesman Bill Cummings in particular.

When the game was over Devine said, “The linesman is a disgrace to football.”

Devine said those were the exact words he used to tell Cummings what he thought of his officiating during one point in the third quarter. That cost Notre Dame a 15‐yard unsportsman like‐conduct penalty that could have squelched the long drive to Montana’s first touchdown.

But Montana completed a 27‐yard pass play to his fine tight end, Ken MacAfee, on the next play to extricate the Irish from the loss and continue the 84‐yard scoring march.

Cummings angered Devine, initially, when Clemson’s tailback, Lester Brown, scored a touchdown early in the third period on a wide left pitch play from a yard out. This got the Tigers in front, 17‐7. As Brown took the ball from his quarterback, Steve Fuller, it appeared that Ted Burgmeier, Notre Dame’s right cornerback, was going to stop him for a slight loss. But Cummings, back‐pedaling to avoid the sweep of the play to his side, unintentionally executed a perfect block on Burgmeier that freed Brown for the touchdown.

This was a fourth‐down play, so Notre Dame might have taken over had it not been for Cummings’s interference. The touchdown was, of course, allowed, since an official getting in the way is one of those “rubs of the green.”

After Notre Dame got its drive going toward Montana’s first score, Cummings threw a flag on the Irish for clipping. Devine became so angry he made his statement to Cummings, giving his assessment of the official’s worth to football. Down went the flag again. The Irish took a total of 30 yards on the consecutive penalties.

But Montana’s pass to MacAfee got them going again, and Devine didn’t say anything for a while. Montana, on a fourth‐and‐2 play, hit MacAfee again and the ball was at the Clemson 10 for a first down. Three plays later, on the first play of the fourth period, Montana went over and the score was cut to 17‐14.

That long drive began when Mike Calhoun, the Irish right defensive tackle, fell on a fumble by Ken Callicutt at the Notre Dame 16. This stopped Clemson’s chances to put the game away.

Below is a video with game highlights from the ACC Network: In a classic showdown in 1977 between two top 15 teams, Notre Dame’s Joe Montana leads the Fighting Irish back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit against Steve Fuller and Clemson in Death Valley.

What say you? Do the Irish have what it takes to knock off No. 1 Clemson? Or will it be a repeat of 2018? Are the Irish ready for the Tigers?

Cheers & GO IRISH!