Triple Tredecuple Option, I’m straight stealing an idea from Pete Sampson’s mailbag at The Athletic.
Here’s the question, from reader Matt T.:
Just in case there is no football this fall, what would be the best rewatchable schedule of Notre Dame games to replicate a season to watch with family this fall? The parameters, each one has to take place in the same week of the season and the rivalries of USC, Stanford and Navy have to be included. For example, what game is the best home opener? Is it 2003 Washington State or 2015 Texas? What road USC game could take the place at the end of the year — maybe 1986? Thanks for all the content over the years.
Pete’s answer are solid (here’s a playlist!), but let me see if I can make an equally compelling list without duplicating any of his picks. (Pete took into consideration actual weeks, whereas I did not consider byes. I just don’t have all day!)
Week 1: No. 22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 36, No. 5 Michigan Wolverines 20 (1998) — The Wolverines have won exactly one-half of one national championship in the last 71 years. Tom Brady made his first career start for the defending half-champs, but Jarious Jackson and Autry Denson stole the show with a pair of passing touchdowns and rushing scores, respectively.
Week 2: No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers 37, No. 2 Notre Dame 22 (1968) — Like Pete, I’m going to give you a good game even if the Irish didn’t prevail. The then-No. 3 Irish had beaten the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners — whooped on them, in fact — the week prior and were now hosting the top-ranked Boilermakers. There were a total of 55 first downs and 933 yards of offense, but the story of the game was how the Boilers stopped the Irish seven times within their own 30 yard line.
Week 3: No. 9 Notre Dame 27, No. 6 Texas Longhorns 24 (1996) — At the very beginning of quarantine, UHND’s Greg Flammang did a great recap of this game, including Keith Jackson sounding a bit despondent that the Irish have prevailed.
Week 4: No. 16 Notre Dame 36, Washington Huskies 17 (2005) — I cannot, in good conscience, recommend the 2013 Michigan State Spartans game, even though it was the Big Ten champions’ lone blemish on the season. It’s just a terrible re-watch.
Instead, I’m going to make an impassioned plea for someone to read this and upload the 2005 game at Husky Stadium, also known as “The Ty Bowl.”
This game is perhaps most famous for “Pass Right,” the play Charlie Weis let 10-year-old Montana Mazurkiewicz, dying of an inoperable brain tumor, call to start the game. Running a pass from your own one-yard-line isn’t the easiest thing, but Brady Quinn and Anthony Fasano executed “Sprint 339 Naked” perfectly.
Week 5: Notre Dame 50, Syracuse Orange 33 (2016) — Although it comes amid a very difficult season, I love this game. It’s bonkers.
Consider this sequence: On the first offensive play from scrimmage for either team, DeShone Kizer finds Equanimeous St. Brown for 15 yards. Brown breaks two tackles and outruns two other Syracuse defenders for a 79-yard touchdown.
Eight plays later, Syracuse responds with a touchdown of their own. But, ut oh! Jarron Jones blocks the point after and Cole Luke returns it the opposite way for two points. 9-6 Irish, and just 2 minutes and 24 seconds have elapsed.
The Orange kick off. Notre Dame rushes Josh Adams twice, before Kizer returns back to St. Brown. This time, he finds him 39 yards downfield. The ball is just past the Orange defender’s fingertips and St. Brown scores his second touchdown of the day. It’s 16-6, Irish with just 3 minutes and 37 seconds elapsed. St. Brown already has 146 receiving yards.
Brian VanGorder has been fired, but we’re still operating within his defensive scheme. So, three plays later, Eric Dungey finds Amba Etta-Tawo down the sideline. The ball is underthrown and Julian Love falls down. Etta-Tawo gives Devin Studstill a shake, and now it’s 16-13 with just 4 minutes and 43 seconds elapsed IN THE FIRST QUARTER.
Cole Murphy kicks off to C.J. Sanders, who makes one cut and is touched by no one en route to a 93 yard touchdown. Bob Wischusen is beside himself. “Are you kidding me?” the play-by-play analyst says. “We have not yet played five minutes!”
It almost got sillier, too, when Torii Hunter appeared to have rolled off the back of a defender en route to a 70-yard touchdown on the Irish’s next offensive possession. Alas, video replay ruled him down after just 11 yards.
This game also has Dexter Williams’ stupid “oh-my-god-he’s-turning-a-loss-of-two-into-a-loss-of-eight-whoops-never-mind-touchdown” touchdown.
Week 6: No. 7 Notre Dame 20, No. 17 Stanford Cardinal 13 (OT) (2012) — An epic goal line stand in the rain in overtime is the highlight of this undefeated regular season.
Week 7: No. 9 Notre Dame 49, BYU Cougars 23 (2005) — Do I want to watch Brady Quinn throw six touchdowns against the hapless Cougars? Yes. Am I disappointed that Notre Dame hasn’t uploaded this home game yet to YouTube? Also yes.
Week 8: No. 9 Notre Dame 35, No. 14 N.C. State Wolfpack 14 (2017) — Talking about this game for two days in a row? Wild. The Irish ran for 318 yards — almost 6 yards a carry — against a defensive line that included Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street. Pretty, pretty good.
Week 9: Notre Dame 21, Navy Midshipmen 17 (1997) — If we’re forced to watch a Navy game, let it be one with a little drama. The Irish had won 33 consecutive games against the Mids, and yet...
“We were up and the game was in hand,” recalled Allen Rossum during an interview six years ago. “They threw up a desperate Hail Mary. Deke Cooper, who was our safety at the time, instead of just knocking the ball down, he wanted to pad his stats a little bit and tried to get an interception. Well another guy, Deveron Harper, our corner, had the same idea and they ran smack into each other. The ball went up into the air and there happened to be a Navy guy who maybe had just gotten down there, got the ball and was scot free to the end zone.
Week 10: No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State Seminoles 24 (1993) — You’ve got Snow Bowl and you’ve got The Game of the Century. I went with the latter.
Week 11: Notre Dame 38, No. 17 USC Trojans 37 (1986) — Let’s go with Matt T.’s suggestion here. John Carney makes a chip-shot field goal with no time remaining to erase the Trojans 17-point fourth quarter lead and win the game.
Week 12: No. 1 Notre Dame 34, No. 3 West Virginia Mountaineers 21 (1989) — Who doesn’t want to relieve the Irish’s last national championship?
Week 13: Notre Dame 49, Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors 21 (2008) — Gotta stay true to the brand.