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Notre Dame Football: Starting the season off in a goofy way

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I suppose “non-traditional” is more suitable, but I’m not that guy

Notre Dame v Navy Photo by Barry Cronin/Getty Images

This season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish start the season on a Sunday night in Florida during Labor Day weekend in a game against the Florida State Seminoles. It’s a goofy way to start the season. Before we go any further, the word “goofy” here isn’t necessarily a negative — it just means that it’s not a game on a Saturday in a college stadium.

Notre Dame has played in eight of these goofy games since 1986, which makes this year’s season opener game nine. In all but one of these eight games, the Irish were led by either Lou Holtz or Brian Kelly. Let’s take a quick look at these goofy things.

Goofy Starts

YEAR OPPONENT SCORE / RESULT DAY STADIUM SEASON RECORD
YEAR OPPONENT SCORE / RESULT DAY STADIUM SEASON RECORD
1989 Virginia 36-13 IRISH Saturday Meadowlands 12 - 1
1992 Northwestern 42-7 IRISH Saturday Soldier Field 10 - 1 - 1
1994 Northwestern 42-15 IRISH Saturday Soldier Field 6 - 5 - 1
1996 Vanderbilt 14-7 IRISH Thursday Vanderbilt Stadium 8 - 3
2002 Maryland 22-0 IRISH Saturday Giants Stadium 10 - 3
2012 Navy 50-10 IRISH Saturday Aviva Stadium Ireland 12 - 1
2016 Texas 50-47 TEXAS Sunday Darrell K Royal 4 - 8
2019 Louisville 35-17 IRISH Sunday Cardinal Stadium 11 - 2

Lou Holtz murdered three of his four goofy games. It started with a thumping of the Virginia Cavaliers (which was the first game after the Irish beat West Virginia for the national championship, so we own those states now according to natural law) and eased into a couple of blowout games in Chicago against Northwestern. Sure — playing Northwestern in Chicago isn’t all that goofy, but it still fit the criteria here.

But now we arrive in the fall of 1996, and the Irish start the season on a freaking Thursday night against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Notre Dame fumbled the ball 4 times that night and crawled out of Nashville with a 14-7 win.

Notre Dame v Maryland
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 31: Head Coach Tyrone Willingham of Notre Dame looks on from the field as he holds the Kickoff Classic XX trophy after defeating Maryland on August 31, 2002 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Notre Dame shut out Maryland 22-0.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It took another six years before the Irish decided to get weird to start a season, and this is the lone NON-Holtz/Kelly goofy game. Ty Willingham started his career with a 22-0 win over the Maryland Terrapins in Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

It took another decade before we came out of our Ty Willy shell and got goofy again to start the year. The Irish went to Ireland to beat down the Navy Midshipmen, but struggled mightily against a bad Purdue team a week later — proving that there needs to be a buffer between Ireland and the next game (duh).

Notre Dame’s only loss in a goofy game opener in over 30 years, came in 2016 when the Texas Longhorns edged out Notre Dame in a 50-47 2OT game in Austin on a Labor Day weekend. It was an ominous start to a trashy season.

Notre Dame’s last goofy game came in 2019 against the Louisville Cardinals in a Labor Day night game. Notre Dame got off to a slow start, but still beat the Cardinals 35-17 (which covered the spread).

Notre Dame was supposed to get weird again last season, but COVID was weird enough and the season opener against Navy in Ireland was cancelled.

And now we have arrived in 2021, and the Irish are taking a play out of the 2016 playbook — hold on to your butts. Luckily for us, Brian VanGorder won’t be this far east on the Gulf Coast to give the Irish the cooties in Tallahassee.

It’s another night game season opener on Labor Day weekend, and I’ve seen the comparisons to the 2016 season, and I refuse to believe them. Playing a season opener on a Sunday is goofy enough, we don’t need to put that other kind of evil on it all.

Got that BK?

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 11 College Football Playoff National Championship - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images