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Which of These Notre Dame Football Games Killed a Relationship?

A week after Valentine’s, let’s talk heartbreak

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Notre Dame at Texas Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Notre Dame Internet ecosystem was set abuzz recently by a fan’s tweet that went viral, garnering retweets from the likes of Brady Quinn, Ian Book, Mike Golic, and many more. If you haven’t seen it, check it out:

That last line piques my interest as it says even more than it intends. Clearly, there was an especially painful loss by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that elicited an extreme emotional reaction from Kate, testing the patience and empathy of this young man and finding him wanting. Her (obviously excusable) behavior in the aftermath of the loss was likely the final straw that pushed this lightweight to leave Kate like the quitter he was.

The question is: which loss was it? If you’re an Irish fan with any self-respect or pride, you can no doubt name any number of suspects. A few things can help narrow down our investigation.

First, Kate’s Twitter profile indicates that she graduated college in 2016, making her approximately my age, and the message was sent using a mobile-friendly email interface. That puts oldies like 2005 USC and 2002 Boston College out of the running.

We also know Kate is now married to a great guy named Steve and the two are expecting a lovely child. This means that in all likelihood, the breakup with Sir Whines-A-Lot here happened at least three years ago.

Applying those caveats and doing a little history-major math, I arrived at the conclusion that this break-up must have taken place within the time range of 2011-2016. There’s a lot of material there, but several games stand out. Let’s begin:

2011 South Florida Bulls

This game is a contender because of its gaping chasm between pregame expectations and in-game reality. 2011 began with high hopes for the Irish, who returned a ton of talent and hoped to compete for a BCS berth. Things looked good on the first drive of the opener as the Irish methodically moved down the field, and happened.

South Florida v Notre Dame Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

Jonas Gray’s goal-line fumble was returned for a touchdown, and things got even weirder from there. Dayne Crist unraveled and the Irish were shut out in the first half. He was relieved by Tommy Rees, who was hardly better and whose goal-line interception off the head of TJ Jones prompted the birth of purple-faced Brian Kelly.

The thing that really sticks out about this game in my memory is the feeling of “I thought we were past this.” I remember being with my parents after the game and just being silent; there was nothing that could be said that we hadn’t been saying for years. That’s exactly the kind of silence that can make a cowardly man uncomfortable.

2011 Michigan Wolverines

In my view, this is one of the strongest candidates on the board. A week after the debacle against South Florida, the Irish traveled to Ann Arbor in the hopes of getting the season back on track. Instead, they blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and allowed Michigan to drive down the field in the last 30 seconds and win the game on the play that is the reason you remember the name Gary Gray.

(I thought about putting an image on here, but it was too much to even look at).

Where USF was the kind of loss that made you stew in silence, this one was a rage-inducer. Being in the presence of an Irish fan in the aftermath of such a loss could very well have ended in conflict.

Discover BCS National Championship Game - Notre Dame v Alabama Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

2012 Alabama Crimson Tide

Undeniably the highest-profile flop of the decade, this one is an obvious candidate. What undercuts its tragedy factor - and the reason I think it’s the least likely culprit among these games - is that it wasn’t all that surprising. Don’t get me wrong, I drank the 2012 Kool-Aid. It was the first semester of my freshman year, and the memories I have from that magical run have stuck with me to this day. I wore that “#1rish” shirt proudly, shouted “WE WANT BAMA,” and loudly proclaimed to all my friends that the Irish were back.

But I think we all know that after the date with the Crimson Tide was fixed, even if we didn’t admit it to ourselves, a feeling of impending doom started to grow in the corners of our minds. That feeling was confirmed when both teams stepped onto the field and the differences in size and athleticism immediately became apparent. It was a disheartening ending to a season that had most Irish fans believing the glory days had returned, but that’s the kind of logical, understandable heartbreak that usually strengthens relationships rather than ending them. What’s more, it wasn’t as though the Irish had chances to win and made baffling mistakes or failed to execute; they were simply overwhelmed by a better team. I think there needs to be a little more weirdness involved for a loss to end a relationship.

2013 Pittsburgh Panthers

An underrated infuriating classic, this game was the nadir of a ho-hum 2013 season. Despite the fact that it was not all that consequential and took place during a forgettable campaign, my friends and still rage about it to this day. In case you forgot, the Irish lost 28-21 at Pitt, and the following things happened:

  • Stephon Tuitt was ejected for targeting on one of the most egregious calls in the history of that penalty.
  • TJ Jones lost a fumble on the Pitt six yard line with the Irish driving to take the lead.
  • Pitt tied the game on a 63-yard touchdown pass. During the run after the catch, Matthias Farley had both hands around the ball carrier’s hips at the 38 and let him slip away.
  • Tommy Rees threw a red-zone interception on a potential game-tying drive in the 4th quarter.
Notre Dame v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Irish went into this game 7-2, and a win here likely would have meant a 10-win season in 2013 to follow a stellar 2012. It’s not nearly as significant as some of the other losses in this era, but that’s part of what made it so frustrating at the time: there seemed to be no point to the anger, no purpose to the suffering. Little was lost, but it seemed to hurt just as badly, and a man incapable of understanding that sort of emotional depth may have found it impossible to countenance.

2014 Florida State Seminoles

A top-five road matchup in primetime, this was a then-undefeated 2014 team’s answer to the 2012 Oklahoma game, an opportunity to make a statement that they belonged in the title conversation. The Irish were up to the task, going blow-for-blow with the Jameis Winston-led Seminoles in what was likely the best game of Everett Golson’s career, only coming up short when a go-ahead touchdown was called back because of a penalty on CJ Prosise that was probably the right call, but also hadn’t been made earlier in the game, which made it extremely frustrating.

Notre Dame v Florida State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This one stands out for its combination of genuine heartbreak - the Irish fought valiantly in a hostile environment against the defending national champions and nearly pulled off what would have been the program’s best win in years - and rage factor, caused by the aforementioned controversial penalty. In other words, the range of emotions it caused was complex, and for a lesser man like the ex in question, that can be intimidating.

2014 Northwestern Wildcats

Pick a baffling trend from the middle Kelly era and it happened in this game - turnovers, an ill-advised two-point conversion attempt, missed field goals. Among all these, one sequence stands out above the others. The Irish, looking to ice the game late in the 4th quarter, did the smart thing and fed the veteran Cam McDaniel to bleed the clock, only for the normally sure-handed back to inexplicably lose a fumble. The Wildcats then only had to move the chains a few times - no trouble against the Brian VanGorder-led Irish defense - to get into field goal range and send the game to overtime, where the Irish then lost.

Northwestern v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Everything that was true of the 2013 Pitt loss is even more painfully true of this game, where we saw a team that desperately needed to come together unravel instead. The completeness of that unraveling was driven home by the fact that it was McDaniel, not the already-suspect Everett Golson, whose turnover let the game slip away. Even worse, it was at home. The base level of respectability and competency we had come to take for granted over the past couple seasons was giving way to anarchy. The confusion and depression that followed from that make this one of the strongest contenders on here.

2015 Stanford Cardinal

Both teams came out guns blazing on offense in this extremely entertaining game, with DeShone Kizer orchestrating a heroic final drive that culminated in him barreling backwards into the end zone to take the lead with thirty seconds remaining. Alas, the defense was a BVG-era unit that gave Stanford no trouble (and indeed chipped in with a couple helpful penalties) on their way into field goal range, where they broke Irish hearts with a game-winning kick as time expired.

Notre Dame v Stanford

In addition to crushing Notre Dame’s already-faint College Football Playoff hopes for 2015, this game also extended the embarrassing losing Irish losing streak at Palo Alto, which didn’t come to an end until this last season. In so many ways, micro and macro, the Irish were so close in this game - and just came up short. A true heartbreaker - could it have led to more heartbreak after? It’s possible.

2016 Texas Longhorns

After the 2015 regular season ended with the Irish losing a road barn-burner, 2016 started in exactly the same way, with the Irish losing 50-47 in Austin and (allegedly) bringing Texas BACK. The Irish were behind 31-14 in the third quarter of this game and were forced to play from behind for the rest of regulation. How did that happen? First of all, true freshman and eventual SMU Mustang Shane Buechele carved up the defense that inexplicably was still coached by Brian VanGorder. Secondly, DeShone Kizer, who came out on the first drive looking like Jesus Christ, was intermittently benched in favor of the ineffective Malik Zaire in Brian Kelly’s devastatingly misguided attempt to placate two talented quarterbacks who both felt they had earned the starting job.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Notre Dame at Texas Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Once Kizer was given free rein, he led a ferocious comeback and the Irish took the lead in the fourth quarter, but could not keep it as the defense continued to allow Texas to score. A golden opportunity to win in regulation arose when Shaun Crawford returned a blocked PAT to give the Irish the ball with a tie game, but the offense was unable to capitalize, allowing the Longhorns to win in double overtime.

In addition to the infuriating coaching and horrific defense that made it possible, this game also has a uniquely depressing what-if factor: it’s hard to imagine 2016 going as badly as it did if the Irish had started the season with a big-time road win against a premier program. Then again, had that collapse not happened, we also may not have been rewarded with the new-look Brian Kelly we got post-2016. I guess what’s true in love is true in football: sometimes heartbreak is just opening the door to something better.

2016 Duke Blue Devils

Duke defeated the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium. I should just stop there.

But I won’t. Notre Dame got out to a 14-0 lead before completely falling apart and losing 38-35 to the Cooper Manning of Blue Devils sports teams.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Duke at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This one gets bonus depression points for being the game that let us know something was going really, really awry in 2016. The Irish were already 1-2 coming into the day, but those losses were to Texas and the Michigan State Spartans - both of whom were ranked and had yet to pull off their own swan dives for that season - and there was still some hope that they were better than their record appeared and could pull off a decent season. This game made it clear that the suck was just getting started.

2016 NC State Wolfpack

I don’t want to pick on the 2016 team too much, but this one is impossible to ignore because of its pure WTF factor. Notre Dame’s offensive brain trust bizarrely insisted on running a pass-heavy offense while a hurricane raged over their heads, with predictable results. They made this decision with Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson on the offensive line and Kizer, Josh Adams, Tarean Folston, and Dexter Williams available as ball carriers.

Ohio State-Penn State highlight busy weekend of college football action Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

What was ostensibly a football game turned into a hideous, turnover-filled rugby match with even less organization. It was impossible for an offensive touchdown to be scored in such a game, so the only one came via a Wolfpack punt block that was returned for six, and the Irish lost on the last play after fumbling the snap.

Bonus fun fact about this game: it took place the day I met the woman who became my wife, and on one of our first dates shortly after, she, who had barely ever watched college football, responded to my complaints by asking why they didn’t just run the ball. And that’s how you know you’ve found a good one.

What do you think? Which of these games was too much for our mystery ex to handle?


Which of these losses would put the most strain on a relationship?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    2011 South Florida
    (91 votes)
  • 20%
    2011 Michigan
    (197 votes)
  • 11%
    2012 Alabama
    (111 votes)
  • 1%
    2013 Pitt
    (15 votes)
  • 22%
    2014 Florida State
    (222 votes)
  • 4%
    2014 Northwestern
    (39 votes)
  • 6%
    2015 Stanford
    (60 votes)
  • 7%
    2016 Texas
    (77 votes)
  • 8%
    2016 Duke
    (86 votes)
  • 7%
    2016 NC State
    (71 votes)
969 votes total Vote Now