Date in Cardinal Football: Notre Dame 11-27-99
George O'Leary's overreaching resume, the rapid expansion of the college game on television, and Boston College's stunning 39-37 win in South Bend in 1993. Each of these happenings played a part in the gradual decline of Notre Dame Football's predominance on the national scene...as did this date ten years ago.
When senior place-kicker Mike Biselli's 22-yard field goal attempt rang true and gave the Cardinal a thrilling 40-37 win in overtime, it also sunk Bob Davie's floundering Irish to new depths of depravation. Notre Dame fell to 0-5 on the road and 5-7 overall in 1999, its worst season in 36 years.
The desperate Irish converted on a late touchdown and two-point conversion play to tie the game at 37-apiece with 1:32 remaining, only to see the Rose Bowl-bound Cardinal respond with their own scoring drive to finish the regular season at 8-3.
"It's so great to go out there and see the linemen's faces and know that nobody can stop us," quipped quarterback Todd Husak after completing 24 throws in 34 attempts for 334 yards. The Cardinal offense surpassed 5,000 yards of total offense in a season for the first time in school history.
With 57,980 in the house, the usual suspects did the damage. Biletnikoff Award-winning All-American wide receiver Troy Walters caught two touchdowns and extended his Pac-10 record for receiving yards in a single-season (1,456). Mike McLaughlin made his 45th consecutive start at center. Biselli knocked through four field goals, including the one that supplied the winning margin. They and the rest of Stanford's 20 seniors survived an otherwise inconsistent effort.
Notre Dame turned a 17-0 first-quarter deficit into a 21-20 lead before intermission, which was surrendered as the first half ended when Biselli hit a 47-yard field goal. The Irish amassed 241 rushing yards on the night, running seven straight times while driving for the tying touchdown and two-pointer with 1:32 to play.
"We were a little flat there," said Stanford defensive coordinator Kent Baer. "And we were flat at the beginning. We clinched our first Rose Bowl in 28 years last week…The distractions all week were unbelievable, and we really didn't practice very well."
For the first time since the Kennedy assassination, Stanford played a post-Thanksgiving regular season home game. Alumni parties and luncheons popped up over campus, where a Big Game victory the previous week clinched the Pac-10 crown. The Notre Dame game – which had previously always been played the first week of October since the teams began playing regularly in 1988 – had the novelty factor going for it.
The schedule change was announced in the preseason of 1994. Some on The Farm loved the idea of national exposure on a weekend dedicated to football. Others winced at the loss of tradition (the Big Game no longer being the final home game) and the Irish's gain.
Coupled with its usual clash at USC, the Domers now had a yearly pulpit for West Coast recruits. Shivering hordes of vacation-minded "Subway Alumni" in blue and gold would venture out to sunny Palo Alto regardless. Now the schedule included one less game with Stanford students in session.
The mistake became evident two years later. The first week of October in 2001 – when Stanford (3-0) sat idle before losing to 5-0 Washington State the following week – would have been a prime slot for a Notre Dame visit. Instead, steady rain fell when a half-empty Stanford Stadium hosted an uninspiring 17-13 Cardinal win in front of a disappointing "announced" crowd of 51,780 in November. To quote "Lars82", "We'll be begging for the Seattle Bowl after this." Draw your own conclusions, but I remember at the time thinking:
All those Stanford seniors, on an impressive 9-2 team, deserved a far better atmosphere for their final home game.
Another game before facing the WSU Cougars would have sure been nice.
Coach Ty Willingham sure has a good thing going here. He'll never leave.
But discouraging words were still far away early in the 1999 contest. ABC's Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts called the action from the broadcast booth, and the Cardinal led 14-0 after only 88 seconds.
On their team's opening series, Husak hooked up with Walters on a 62-yard bomb. Then safety Aaron Focht returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown. After the two sides traded interceptions, Biselli's first field goal made it 17-0 in the first quarter; His third had the Cardinal leading 23-21 at halftime. Back-up quarterback Joe Borchard sneaked two yards for a touchdown and a 37-29 score with just over eight minutes left.
In the end, Stanford (plus-10 in turnovers and the Pac-10's top passing team during the 1999 regular season) showed they could overcome their flaws.
"Our goals haven't changed." Tyrone Willingham said with characteristic verbosity. "Just score one more point than the other team."
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