Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the Bad Ones | by Jay

Napoleon had his Waterloo; Shakespeare had Titus Andronicus. Even the Rolling Stones had Emotional Rescue. And speaking of flops, every Notre Dame coach, no matter how great, has suffered a bad one sometime during his career. (Some, like Willingham, have a stash of 'em).

Charlie's blowout loss to Michigan was the worst of his young tenure with the Irish, and if he's destined to be one of the greats, he likely won't top it. The very best Irish coaches have endured a Little Big Horn only very rarely, and as Dylan said below, it's usually an historic occurence when an Irish coach loses by more than a couple dozen points.

Rockne lost by 26 or more points only once in his career. Leahy, also only once. Devine never did. Ara had a couple, and Holtz, never. (Willingham, by contrast, suffered losses by 26 points or more seven different times -- in just three years.)

Herewith, the worst losses, by the best coaches:

Rockne. 0-27 loss to Army, Oct 17, 1925, at Yankee Stadium. ND had beaten or tied the West Pointers seven times in a row coming into the game, and the Irish were the reigning national champs in 1924. But the '25 Irish were a very young team, Army was growing into a juggernaut, and even Rockne thought the Irish would lose. "Army will win, but defeat will do us good. Our team has brains and ability, but it needs a lot of experience," said Rockne at the time. He was right -- the Irish were drubbed for four touchdowns and never mounted a serious threat to the Cadets.

Leahy. 0-35 loss to Michigan State, Nov 10, 1951. Leahy only lost 11 times over his career, but this was the worst, by far. The Irish were #11, and the Spartans #5, and it seemed that it would be a pretty competitve game. But on the Spartans' first play from scrimmage, halfback Dick Panin took the handoff and went 88 yards for what turned out to be the winning touchdown, and the rout was on. The Irish didn't even cross the 50 until the second play of the fourth quarter, and were outgained 465 yards to 173. After suffering the worst defeat of his career, Leahy couldn't help but crack a wistful joke: "Now I know how some of those other coaches feel."

imageParseghian. Ara had a couple of bad ones, starting with a 6-40 loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on Jan 1, 1973. The Irish were 8-2, having lost to #1 Southern Cal in the regular season finale, but were outmanned by the Huskers, who featured diminutive Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers. Rodgers had a game for the ages, scoring four touchdowns and passing for another. The Irish offense was completely stalled, and didn't score until late in the fourth quarter. This Orange Bowl turned out to be famed Husker coach Bob Devaney's final game, and newly-minted Tom Osborne would take over the following year.

Ara's most infamous defeat, however, was a 24-55 loss to Southern Cal on Nov 30, 1974. It ended up a blowout, but it sure didn't start that way. The Irish were up 24-6 at the half, and it looked like ND would cruise to an easy victory. But Anthony Davis took the second half kickoff 100 yards for a score, and the Trojans exploded for a 35-point outburst in the third quarter, the most ever scored against the Irish in a single quarter. Southern Cal scored its eight touchdowns in a span of just 17 minutes, all against the #1 defensive squad in the country, one that had yielded just nine touchdowns in the ten previous games. Davis ended the day with four scores, and the Trojans scored 55 unanswered points all told. "It was the greatest, most incredible game," exclaimed the namesake, about what would come to be known as The Anthony Davis Game. "We had some magic. We turned into madmen."

Devine. 18-40 loss to Tennessee on Nov 10, 1979. The 13th-ranked Notre Dame lost to an unranked Volunteer squad at Neyland Stadium in a game that was a comedy of errors for the Irish: four fumbles (two lost), two interceptions, and failing to score three times from the Tennessee 26-, 17- and 1-yard lines. Meanwhile, the Vols drove the field at will, even despite losing starting quarterback Jimmy Streeter in the second quarter to an injury; running back Hubert Simpson scored four touchdowns. Irish linebacker Bob Crable couldn't explain the Irish performance. "We were flat for some've got to have discipline to be ready every week. Not many teams do."

Holtz. 10-35 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, Jan 1, 1988. Coming on the heels of the second-worst loss of his career, a 24-0 whitewash at Miami, Lou's first bowl game as an Irish coach was a decisive whipping. The 12th-ranked Irish actually led the game 10-3 with four minutes to go in the half, and had outgained the 13th-ranked Aggies 208-73 to that point. But Terry Andrysiak threw an interception in the end zone that A&M was able to convert into points, and then Braxston Banks fumbled on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, and the Aggies scored again. A two-point conversion on a swinging gate made it 18-10 A&M at the half. Early in the third period, the Irish forced a fumble on their own goal line, and momentum seemed to swing back to Notre Dame for a fleeting moment. But Mark Green fumbled it back to A&M on the very next play, and soon the Aggies were in the end zone again. The game ended with an ugly incident, when Aggie player Warren Barhorst, the walk-on "12th Man", stole Tim Brown's towel from around his waist. Brown ran him down and tackled him from behind, drawing a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Holtz's Irish, of course, would rebound nicely the next year.