A couple weeks ago, Phil posted on here about home-and-homes he’d like to see the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play. As I pondered that question, I realized most of my answers revolved around revenge: settling old scores with teams that had inflicted some injury on the Irish in the recent past. This article combines that thought process with an amusing memory I had the other day: namely a certain Midwestern program’s recent attempt at a “revenge tour,” and how it turned out:
As fun as it is to remind ourselves of the Skunkbears stepping on that rake, the idea isn’t without merit. The thing is, it can’t just be a normal schedule: a true, Count of Monte Cristo-esque revenge plotter must be highly targeted and personal, willing to wait patiently for years. So the question is: if I were Jack Swarbrick and I were meticulously scheduling teams who had wronged the Irish to satisfy my thirst for vengeance, who I would be targeting?
For purposes of this experiment we will exclude annual rivals like the USC Trojans and Stanford Cardinal, as the opportunity for revenge is already built in (it’s not like those guys have given us much to be angry about in recent years anyway). For the same reason we will also not include teams on the 2022 schedule, so no Clemson Tigers or Ohio State Buckeyes. With those guidelines in place, let’s dive in:
Group 1: Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’
These programs have been down for a long time, which is why they need to be kicked. The scores here are old, some old enough that I don’t remember them - but the Irish never forget.
It’s hard to fathom now, but for a stretch in the 1990s Colorado was a behemoth of a program and had several high-profile clashes with Lou Holtz’s Irish teams. While the Irish drew first blood in the 1990 Orange Bowl, the Buffs won the sequel in 1991 thanks to a horrendous phantom clipping call that wiped away a go-ahead touchdown by Rocket Ismail.
Salvation by the whistle allowed the Buffs to claim a national championship at Notre Dame’s expense that day. Never mind that I hadn’t been born when this happened. Never mind that Rocket himself now values that moment as a life lesson. It’s a travesty that cries out for justice, and since the only subsequent game between the two teams was a 1996 Fiesta Bowl in which an overmatched Irish team was easily handled by a #4 Buffs squad, we haven’t gotten it.
It might not be possible to inflict a greater punishment on Nebraska than simply having to experience their last couple decades of football, but I’d like to give it a try. Not only did these guys take advantage of vintage Bob Davie teams in some of the first Notre Dame games I can remember watching, they also popularized the trend of red teams taking over Notre Dame Stadium, a phenomenon I have now had to witness in person not once, but two times (take note, those of you who will be holding tickets for the 2023 Ohio State game).
If that isn’t enough for you, consider this: Nebraska was also the first mover in the 2010s conference realignment saga that ultimately caused Notre Dame to lose its yearly Midwest rivalries. So yeah, I’d say it’s well past time Jack set up a date to push this pretender of a program a little further into that grave it’s been digging for itself.
Group 2: The Last Game Really Pisses Me Off
These are teams that recently beat the Irish in embarrassing/annoying fashion, creating content fodder for hackish commentators and talking points for intolerable fan bases. These offenses cannot be allowed to stand, and these programs need to be put back in their place.
This one is personal to me because I was there for it. I was there when Texas was BACK.
Later developments made this game worse in retrospect, as what appeared to be a mere heartbreaking loss ended up being the first domino in a miserable 2016 collapse. Texas added insult to injury by having a garbage season themselves, and indeed remain mired in a swamp of ineptitude to this day. That hasn’t stopped the Longhorns and their fans from constructing a legend around that night, and as a Texas resident I still haven’t stopped hearing about it.
A date with the Longhorns is always fun whether they are up or down, but considering the current state of the program the opportunity is ripe to get some revenge for that wild, unforgettable, maddening night in Austin.
If Miami’s 2017 season was a movie, it would be a rock-doc: a rollicking rise to super-stardom followed up by an equally rapid and calamitous fall back to Earth. Unfortunately, the pinnacle of their ascent came in a thrashing of the then-#3 Irish. This was one of two big-game blowouts (don’t worry, we’ll get to the other later) in the late Kelly era that were perplexing because the Irish were not physically overmatched, but seemed to simply not get off the bus (knowing what we know now about Chip Long’s coaching style, these occasional offensive no-shows from 2017-19 make more sense).
Regardless of how and why it happened, that night in Miami was one of the most miserable viewing experiences in recent memory for Irish fans, and cannot be allowed to stand as the last word in this series.
Notre Dame’s 2021 clash with the Bearcats was the first game I had attended in person in over three years. What I hoped would be a triumphant return produced one of the more annoying games I have ever seen, for a number of reasons:
- Despite the two-possession margin, Notre Dame should have won this game and probably would have if they had just avoided a couple of their many self-inflicted wounds on offense.
- Cincinnati, of all teams, redded out Notre Dame Stadium and partied in it for half an hour after the game while we dutifully obliged them with postgame music.
- This game was the only thing keeping Notre Dame from making a second consecutive playoff appearance.
- The Bearcats were oh-so-petty in the postgame, which I can respect - especially given subsequent developments - but still, screw them.
Yeah, get these guys on the schedule again pronto. That championship window won’t be open long, and I hope we’re there to start the reckoning.
Yes, we are back to the wretched northern rival who originated this concept. I really don’t think I need to explain this one, so let’s just quickly point out that everything said above about the 2017 Miami game is also true of the 2019 Michigan game, and doubly so because it’s Michigan.
The Irish don’t currently have a game scheduled with the Skunkbears until 2033, which is unacceptable. At this rate, who knows if we’ll even have a civilization by then?
Group 3: Giants to Slay
I.e., the big boys. These are top-tier programs with whom the Irish have had memorable clashes in recent years. Beyond the revenge factor, these would just be great games and opportunities for Notre Dame to step forward as a program.
This was a great home-and-home that produced some incredible games, and should be renewed for that reason alone. Add to that the Dawgs’ ridiculous, embarrassing whining around the 2018 playoff - you remember, that awesome and uber-talented Georgia team that already had two losses and then got bodied by four-loss Texas - and the aforementioned 2017 stadium takeover, and you’ve got me out for vengeance.
This is just a classic grudge match that needs to be on the schedule soon. If it is, hold on to your butts (and tickets).
This could probably be slotted into the last category as the proximate cause of the Sooners’ inclusion here is Notre Dame’s 2013 home loss to them, an infuriating game which the Irish handed to a very beatable Oklahoma team in the first few minutes. But there are other factors in play here as well.
While Notre Dame is routinely subjected to the “tHeY sHoUlDn’T bE iN tHe PlAyOfF” treatment because of a couple bad losses, Oklahoma routinely slides in without much protest despite having an objectively worse track record, with equally bad losses and no wins in twice as many tries. These guys are the real playoff charity case but get none of the heat. You can also throw in the recent addition of Brent Venables, which redirects some Clemson hate in the Sooners’ direction.
(It is also worth noting that having my last name and living around a lot of Oklahoma alums, I have a personal stake in taking these guys down a peg).
Alabama Crimson Tide
Similar to Michigan, I don’t think this one really has to be explained, except to say that Alabama is the final boss. These have been the guys consistently, brutally reminding Notre Dame that it still has further to climb, and the Irish could make no bigger statement than finally completing that climb with a win.
I hope it doesn’t have to wait this long, but the Tide will roll up to South Bend in 2029. One hopes the Irish are ready by then.
Obligatory Mention: Brian Kelly
Someone would surely bring this up in the comments if I didn’t address it, so I will. I have generally warm feelings toward the LSU Tigers as a program owing to some family connections to the school. I have had nothing but good interactions with their fanbase and I certainly don’t hate them for courting Brian Kelly - you don’t blame competitors for competing, and it was absolutely in their best interest to back up the Brinks truck to his “forever home”
Kelly himself is a different animal. I can certainly understand his decision to leave Notre Dame considering the offer he received, and I likely would have been content to see him float off in the sunset prior to this spring. His recent lame, overcompensating-ex complaining has changed my perception, and the idea of a Marcus Freeman-coached team made up of players Kelly could never have recruited at Notre Dame rolling up to Baton Rouge and beating his new team is pretty appetizing. So yeah, throw LSU on the tour - a home-and-home with LSU is a scheduling home run anyway.