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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish VS Boston College Eagles, the 1983 Liberty Bowl

Blair Kiel’s leadership, Mike Golic’s punt block, and Chris Smith’s 104 yards rushing propelled the Irish to a Liberty Bowl victory. 

Notre Dame Blair Kiel
Quarterback Blair Kiel of the University of Notre Dame FIghting Irish stands behind center during a college football game against the University of Pittsburgh Panthers at Pitt Stadium circa 1983 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

With two games remaining on the schedule, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish return home for Senior Day to face the Boston College Eagles. The two teams have met each other a total of 26 times with Notre Dame winning 16 (and vacating one win in 2012), and Boston College winning nine. Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was 54-7 in 1992, and Boston College’s largest margin of victory was 30-11 in 1994. Notre Dame’s longest win streak was seven from 2009-2020, and Boston College’s longest win streak was six from 2001-2008.

Notre Dame’s all time record is 936-334-42 (.729), and Boston College’s all time record is 691-515-37 (.571). Notre Dame has played in 38 bowl games (18-20-0), to Boston College’s 28 (14-13-0). Notre Dame has had 105 consensus All-American’s, to Boston College’s 13. Notre Dame has spent 853 weeks in the AP Poll, to Boston College’s 144. And Notre Dame has had 7 Heisman winners, to Boston College’s one.

This week I’m going to highlight the 1983 Liberty Bowl matchup between the two schools. Below is the excerpt from the 1983 Notre Dame Football Review, written by Beth Debauche.

The Liberty Bowl: Irish 19, Eagles 18

Blair Kiel’s leadership, Mike Golic’s punt block, and Chris Smith’s 104 yards rushing propelled the Irish to a Liberty Bowl victory.

Hands may have felt chilled and feet a little frozen but there was a warm place in the heart of Notre Dame fans present as the Fighting Irish sizzled to 19-18 victory over the Boston College Eagles in the Silver Anniversary of the Liberty Bowl.

The Irish travelled down to Memphis amid controversy, due to the University’s decision to accept a bowl bid with a 6-5 record. There was talk that the 13th ranked Boston College Eagles might be more than the Irish could handle. Once in Memphis the controversy became an issue of the past and the unseasonably cold temperature and the game were the issues at hand.

47,071 tickets were sold for the much publicized “Vatican Bowl” but the weather deterred about 8000 fans. Of the 38,229 bundled fans who braved the temperature, many left for the warmth of their homes before the game’s conclusion. Yet few of these fair-weather fans missed much of the action for most of the scoring was confined to the first half.

Boston College, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Doug Flutie, came out “hot,” and to the chagrin of Irish fans it looked as if the Irish were not up to the challenge of a 9-2 Eagle team. In the first series, Flutie, the Eagles’ all-time passing leader, completed on passes of 17 and 29 yards to lead Boston College to the Irish 13-yard line in the game’s first four plays. Then, just three plays later, Boston College split end, Brian Brennan, scored on a 4-yard reception, to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead. Plagued by inconsistency and troubled by a frozen field, Boston kicker Brian Waldron slipped and missed the extra point with 12:07 left in the first quarter.

The fears of the Irish fans were calmed 8 minutes later, when the Irish scored on an impressive 87-yard scoring drive. Notre Dame halfback Allen Pickett carried the ball five times including a one foot plunge for the score to cap this 16-play series. Kicker Mike Johnston hit the extra point and the Irish took a 7-6 lead with 4:24 remaining in the first quarter.

When Boston College received the ball they learned the hard way just how tough the Notre Dame defense could be. Defensive play was the key to Notre Dame’s momentum and helped set up the Irish’s next score. The defense forced Boston College to punt on its own five-yard line with 12:49 remaining in the half. Mike Golic then blocked a John Minalik punt which Notre Dame’s Stacey Toran recovered at the Eagle five. Four plays later, after a holding penalty pushed Notre Dame back to the Eagle 13, Irish quarterback Blair Kiel hit flanker Alvin Miller cutting across the right flank for the touchdown. It was then Notre Dame’s turn to experience kicking difficulty. Mike Johnston’s PAT attempt was blocked by Boston College’s Rob Swanke, leaving the score at 13-6 with 11:49 remaining before the half.

Momentum was with the Irish; on their next possession the Irish drove 53 yards to score again. Kiel connected with tight end Mark Bavaro for 20 yards to start the drive which was capped off five plays later when Allen Pickett scored his 20th touchdown of the season on a pitchout to the right. Mike Johnston’s troubles continued when once again his PAT attempt was blocked, this time by Boston College linebacker Ted Gaffney; leaving the score 19-6.

Notre Dame’s 13-point lead was short lived. It took Flutie only 68 seconds to lead Boston College to a score. He hit fullback Bob Biestek with a 42-yard pass down to the Irish 27. Then two plays later Flutie connected down the middle to flanker Gerard Phelan for the score with 7:02 left until halftime. Boston College opted to go for 2, but thanks to a frozen field, Flutie slipped and Notre Dame went into the locker room at halftime up 19-12. In the first half, Allen Pinkett gained 57 yards in 18 attempts and fullback Chris Smith gained 61 yards in just 9 attempts. For Boston College, Doug Flutie completed only 6 of 21 passes but Irish fans were not resting easy. His six completions accounted for 142 yards which computes to a 24-yard average gain per catch. It was obvious to football fans that the diminutive Flutie had the receivers with which to strike quickly.

The unseasonably cold weather not only played havoc with the field conditions, but also the Liberty Bowl’s famed halftime extravaganza. The show, a tribute to the United States’ participation in the upcoming winter and summer Olympics, called on the services of marching bands of both of the universities. 1972 Olympic gold medal winner for the 800 meters, Dave Wottle, carried an Olympic torch, which due to frozen propane would not light. Miss America, Vanessa Williams, read a half-time salute to the Olympics in which she referred to the lit torch. Despite the troubles, the crowd responded enthusiastically. The highlight of the show was Memphis’ own renowned opera singer, Marquerte Prazza’s rendition of “Climb Every Mountain.” The show was concluded with an impressive fireworks display.

The halftime fireworks were about the only fireworks the dwindling crowd saw after the second quarter. In the third quarter Boston College scored on a three yard TD pass from Flutie to tight end Scott Gieselman. The Eagles again went for two and failed, cutting the Irish lead to 19-18. Neither team was able to generate a scoring drive in the remainder of the game, yet the lack of points did not lead to lack of excitement.

The loyal Irish fans were well aware of Boston College’s capability to score quickly. There was a fear that the Irish would let this victory slip away, which had happened all too frequently this season. The Irish fans’ fears appeared to be becoming a reality with the Eagles’ final possession. The Eagles fielded a Notre Dame punt on their own 12-yard line with 4:03 remaining in the game. On the ensuing drive’s first play, Flutie hit Kelvin Martin on a 36-yard pass. Then Boston College managed to move to the Irish 35 with a series of small yardage plays. With a minute left in the game, Flutie’s fourth down pass fell incomplete, securing the Irish victory.

With victory in hand, the Irish faithful stormed the field to greet the team, which finished the season with a 7-5 record. There was sheer pandemonium on the field, nothing reminiscent of the controversy surrounding the coaching staff and team prior to the bowl trip. The Irish had done something many people didn’t think possible - defeat 9~2 Boston College team. The Irish may not have won a national championship but that could not be determined by the enthusiasm on the field. Optimism reigned supreme and although the victory does not guarantee success for the rest of 1984, it does start the year out on the right note and that is more than could be said if the team did not make the trip at all.

For senior Blair Kiel, it was an impressive finale to his career with the Irish. Kiel led Notre Dame for the entire game and completed 11 of 19 passes for 151 yards with one interception. Allen Pinkett gained 111 yards on 28 carries and Chris Smith gained 104 yards on 18 carries. Both backs will be back with the Irish next season.

The pint-sized Flutie was 15 of 38 for 287 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Flutie won the game’s most outstanding player award but in the end he came up short.

Keys to victory for the Irish were solid performances from the offensive line and a superb defensive effort which held Boston College’s running game to 93 yards. In the battle of little men, Allen Pinkett stood taller than Doug Flutie by one point.

(Beth Debauche is a graduate student from Green Bay, Wisconsin. This is her first contribution to Scholastic.)

Notre Dame struggled some in the second half of the game last week against Navy. Do you think Coach Freeman will be able to refocus the boys for the matchup this weekend against Boston College? Or will they continue to struggle on the field? What say you?

Cheers & GO IRISH!