April 24, 2013

Irish Madness: #16 Seed Play-In Matchups

We're off and running out of the blocks with 4 matchups pitting #16 seeds against each other for the distinction of meeting a #1 seed in the official Round 1.  We here at WeIsND use common sense in referring to the numerical rounds of competition, unlike some other "Madness" tournaments.  But that's neither here nor there - let's get to some matchup breakdowns!

Leading off with some throw back games that share a common thread - both happened to be the last on the sideline for their respective coaches.  Joe Kuharich's tenure came to a merciful end at the hands of the Orangemen (nice to see programs crossed the p.c. line back in the 60's).  Renowned as the only Notre Dame coach with a losing record, Kuharich stumbled to a 17-23 mark over 4 seasons from 1959-1963.  His overall winning percentage could have been worse seeing as the week before the Syracuse game, ND's game against Iowa was cancelled in the wake of the JFK assassination.  

If you didn't click on the link above with the score of the game - do so now for some terrific old reel footage of the game.  Your ears will perk at 0:20 when Syracuse's fullback's name is given.  I imagine Kuharich's players could have guessed he wouldn't be returning for the '64 season, but at least they gave the throngs of fans that packed Yankee Stadium a nice diversion from the national tragedy, as the announcer remarks, "The South Benders are playing inspired football."  

On the other side of the overmatched coach playoff stands Gerry Faust, who amassed a 30-26-1 mark in 5 seasons, but gets credit for leaving some bowls and silverware in the cupboard for Coach Lou.  And for recruiting Tim Brown.  As for the blowout in South Beach, I'll let Jeremy describe its memorableness:

"’85 Miami was a terribly miserable game for any ND fan.  But the reason why it probably takes this matchup is that it helped to stoke the flames and led to what became perhaps the most heated football college football rivalry of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  The teams only played a handful of times during that stretch, but every game felt like the fate of the world rested upon the outcome.  Good vs. Evil.  Catholics vs. Convicts.  And Lou could always point back to the 1985 game any time he wanted to stir up the Lads and inflame their emotions."

So do you like your exiting coaches to go out with the semblance of a fight or a complete thud?  A loss that rings in the Era of Era or a loss that gives birth to a truly riveting, albeit short-lived rivalry.  You decide.  

2010: Michigan 28 - @ND 24   vs.   2011: @Michigan 35 - ND 31

Two classic "memorable for all the wrong reasons" games.   Choose your weapon of Denard destruction as back-to-back heart-wrenchers welcomed Brian Kelly's first two meetings in this rivalry.  Both crushing comebacks occurred inside of 30 seconds, ripping victory away in the same manner UM's weasel mascot steals breakfast from the gentle marmot.  The 2010 game lacked the spectacular back and forth see-sawing of leads that the 2011 game delivered.  But what '10 lacked in theatrics, it made up for in pure, unadulterated brain farts.  Exhibit A: Denard 87-yard run untouched. Exhibit B: Kyle Rudolph slips past secondary for 95-yard go-ahead TD.  Exhibit C: BK's QB roulette was in full bloom with 3 untested signal callers getting the opportunity to underwhelm. Particularly love the last plays of each half with Nate Montana and Dayne Crist throwing the final jump ball attempt a combined 27 yards deep of the end zone.  Wowzers.   

As for the 2011 game...you know what, I've written too much about these nightmares.  The less I write and you think about either of these games, the better.  One must advance, but the cruel fate of getting pummeled by their in-state brethren awaits. 

1994: #6 Michigan 26 - @#3 ND 24   vs.   1996: #4 Ohio St 29 @#5 ND 16

When top 10 heavyweight programs square off in the House That Rock Built, magic is often in the air.  Unfortunately, these two Saturdays mixed the wrong potion and ended up with black magic spoiling the day.  

I vividly recall watching the '94 Michigan game (the last time both schools squared off both ranked in the top 10, btw) in the parking lot of a Ft. Wayne high school parking lot in between matches of a high school tennis invitational.  What I don't remember is how much punishment I handed out to my next opponent in my inconsolable state after Todd Collins bested Ron Powlus in The Shootout in South Bend.  Derrick Mayes's corkscrew turning TD grab is one of the greatest clutch catches I've ever seen.  Listen to the announcer positively gushing about Powlus.  It's as if Beano Cook is in the production van singing Powlus sweet nothings in his earpiece.  For such euphoria to be swept away as time expires by the leg of Remy Freaking Hamilton still galls me.  

1996 turned out to be Holtz's swan song.  If this game had turned out differently, maybe the team marches on to contend for the title...maybe Lou doesn't leave...maybe a better succession plan than DC Bob Davie gets worked out... who knows.  The Irish had just gone to Austin and stolen a victory from #6 Texas, with another top 5 foe waiting for them the following week.  Except the Buckeyes were the better team, immediately, running back the opening kickoff inside the 15-yard line.  It seemed all downhill from there as the drama on the field never matched the fanfare of hosting Ohio State for the first time since the 1935 Game of the Century. 

1991: #13 Tennessee 35 - @#5 ND 34   vs.   2007: Navy 46 - @ND 44

Two down to the wire finishes that stand at opposite ends of the memorable spectrum.  If underdogs and sportsmanship and swaying and frozen ropes of snot and streak-stoppers and hitting rock bottom as a program appeals to you, the '07 loss to the Midshipmen amidst the Losingest Season Ever checks all the boxes.  

On the other hand, the "The Miracle in South Bend," as Rocky Toppers affectionately refer to this '91 game, was exceptionally high caliber.  The Irish happened to be on the wrong end of a comeback for the ages.  When Rick Mirer takes a long sack off of a broken play, it sets up a longer than it should have been field goal for Craig Hentrich.  Big deal, we thought in the stands, sitting comfortably on a 31-7 near the end of the 1st half.  The field goal was blocked, Hentrich was injured (he couldn't kick the game winning FG with :04 left) and momentum decided to wear orange from there on out.   

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Those are your play-in game matchups.  Which resonate more with you?  Cast your vote on the right side of the page, leave your comments here or send Tweets to @WeIsNotreDame, spread the word about #IrishMadness and check back in the coming days for more matchup breakdowns and the next batch of memorable games to vote on. 

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