I’m sure that a triple OT victory against an unranked opponent was far from the plan that Brian Kelly had for Notre Dame. Losing the turnover battle 3 to 0 surely wasn’t in there as well. Nor was having the QB rotation finally backfire in the form of a Tommy Rees interception that led to 7 points for Pitt. I’m sure Kyle Brindza’s kicking woes had no place in there as well.
With all that I had planned for this football weekend, I figured the actual game would be the least of my worries.
Boy, was I dead wrong.
For this football weekend, I decided to take my girlfriend’s parents with us to the game. Her father, a Pitt alum, had always loved Notre Dame, but knew he couldn’t afford to go. Neither of us had any idea just how much love he had for ND though until we brought him back a hat from a football game last year. He immediately put it on and couldn’t stop talking to us about ND. His wife also seemed enchanted by the idea of one day setting foot on campus.
I knew I had to get them out there and this past weekend seemed like the perfect time to go.
We arrived on campus Friday evening and I played tour guide. It’s always interesting to watch the reactions of someone walking on campus for the first time, especially someone who thought the possibility alone was a dream. Actually, check that — it’s a joy, reminding me of my first time on the campus and forcing me to remember just how special my time was there.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the weekend. Even organizing lodging for the four of us was a breeze thanks to our friends at Rent Like a Champion. Securing a nice, cozy house managed to impress them — especially since they thought I put in a ton more work than a few clicks on RLAC’s website. The house also had a grill so we set up a small tailgate to kick off our Saturday. Add on the fact that we were just a 15 minute walk to the stadium and I was golden.
So initial earning of brownie points: success.
Of course, no true ND gameday experience is complete without heading to the stadium and JACC lots. One of the managers in my class had a tailgate set up so we stopped by to give them a little taste of the ND tailgating atmosphere (and by extension, just how drunk managers can get when gathered together).
Everything was going according to plan. Everyone was enjoying themselves. All that was left to enjoy a nice stress-free Notre Dame victory. As Notre Dame opened the game with a decent drive and FG, I still felt as if all would be well.
Then Ray Graham took off for 55 yards and I felt like another charge of assault was needed.
Even then, though, I had little panic. Even after Brindza missed a FG, I was still fairly calm. It wasn’t until the combination of an overturned Irish TD turning into a FG followed by a Ray Graham TD until worry started to creep in. When Tommy Rees flashed back to 2011 and threw an INT, I started to worry. When that INT turned into seven more Pitt points, I was in full panic mode.
It seemed as if the entire stadium joined me. Voices came from all directions as to who the next QB should be, and no one could settle on a unanimous choice. Even Hendrix’s name was floated out by more than one fan in my section. “Here we go again”, “Why does ND always do this”, and “REALLY, WE ARE GOING TO LOSE TO PITT?!” joined in soon after.
Down by 14 in the third quarter’s waning moments, Everett Golson started to give us all hope with a TD drive. The defense held and despite being pinned on his own two yard line, Golson looked ready to complete the improbable comeback. He started to transcend and let his natural talent take over. No one open? No problem, he’s running for the first. Leave someone open, he’s going to find them. It was the very thing I talked about during the offseason, Golson was displaying the one thing that a felt Rees lacked. Golson had “it”.
2nd and goal. Golson drops back and I see Niklas find a small window in the corner of the endzone. Golson sees it too and I see him wind back to throw. I know if he just lofts it to the far corner pylon, its an easy TD.
There’s no loft, no touch, it’s an easy INT and Notre Dame football has just delivered yet another gut punch.
With 3:59 left, some fans have apparently seen enough. A small exodus begins and I’m in absolute shock. Yes, things look bleak, but this is far from over. Are some of our fans really this ready to jump off the bandwagon? Hasn’t our defense showed us enough this season to at least convince us that there is a good chance the offense will get one last shock?
Whatever, let the small group leave. The stadium is still near capacity and this game ain’t over yet.
Pitt goes for the kill and ND gives up nothing, forcing Sunseri to throw the ball away. Then a fumbled snap. Then “Crazy Train”…
…by the way, as much as Notre Dame initially butchered the use of piped-in music against USC last season, this season has improved by leaps and bounds. It’s now to the point where “Crazy Train” has been reclaimed from punchline to the serious, go-to song to get the crowd in full throat. The transformation has been incredible. The stadium simply exploded when Ozzy’s voice hit the PA and the resulting incomplete pass sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Golson came out with a chance to redeem himself. The first play looked like an initial disaster as Golson seemed to run around the pocket forever. Then he launched a bomb right into the hands of DaVaris Daniels. Somehow, a play destined for failure turned into a 45 yard gain. Theo Riddick then found himself open for a short Golson TD strike to bring the Irish within a two-point conversion of saving their undefeated season.
Ball snapped, play broke down yet again. No matter, Golson again found a way and ran it in himself.
The crowd again exploded in one of the loudest cheers I’ve heard at ND stadium in quite a while. For the first time all game, my section was moved to do pushups. Personally, I went positively nuts and had a similar reaction that I did when Quinn and Sameardzija kept their BCS hopes alive with a last second TD against UCLA in 2006 (another game that ended up harder than expected).
Overtime was no easier on the emotions. Especially when I was convinced Cierre Wood leaped in for a TD, only to see Pitt celebrate a fumble recovery. I was positively sick. I knew the odds, it would take a miracle for ND to survive to a third OT.
That miracle arrived.
Pitt was convinced the FG was in the bag. Their entire sideline rushed onto the field and stood stunned as the kick sailed wide right. They looked like they had seen a ghost. The echoes had awoken and they were the victims this night.
The mystique that had once been lost at ND Stadium was back. No matter what Pitt did it wasn’t enough. No matter how many mistakes ND made, it didn’t help. There would be a third OT and once again Pitt could only manage a field goal.
Everett Golson came out and finished his comeback.
It was far from the expected outcome. The result certainly didn’t advance the Irish national title hopes, but it didn’t destroy them either. As I said on Friday, the Irish just have to win, no matter what and no matter how ugly.
The unexpected should really be the expected in this crazy sport. While the other three title hopefuls may have held serve, that doesn’t mean it will be the norm for the rest of the season. In fact, Kansas State might just have entered their nightmare scenario as their MVP and Heisman hopeful, QB Collin Klein suffered an injury and his status for this weekend is unknown.
College football simply doesn’t always go as planned and Notre Dame squeaking by Pitt is a prime example of it. Despite that, this weekend was one of the more memorable ones that I’ve ever had at ND. My girlfriend’s parents got one hell of an experience for their first trip too.
Enjoy the ride on this “Crazy Train”.