SOUTH BEND, IND. A near-stunner of No.-1 ranked Nebraska will go down as one of the darkest days in Notre Dame football history.
This will be remembered as the Saturday when the only green that mattered to many Notre Dame ticket-holders was the color of money. On Sept. 9, 2000, a priceless tradition finally had a priceup to 500 bucks a ticket.
Apparently this indicated how much coach Bob Davie has devalued the Rockne mystique. Thousands of Fighting Irish fans couldn't bear to watch the Cornhuskersnearly two-touchdown favorites at Notre Dame Stadiumturn the Irish into creamed corn. Davie versus Goliath was beneath their dignity. No matter how well quarterback Arnaz Battle had played in last week's opener, many fans remained Battle-wary.
Here came a Husker horde as price-insensitive as the Clampetts. If Nebraska was allotted only 4,000 tickets, about 30,000 Irish faithless must have sold out. The crowd of 80,232 appeared to be nearly half Nebraska red. Either that or Irish fans got really sunburned.
Oh, the wearin' o' the red. "I am embarrassed," Notre Dame legend Paul Hornung told the Nebraska radio network before kickoff.
Seeing red, ND faculty members were overheard in an elevator saying their colleagues would hear about selling their prime seats to Nebraska nuts. You kept waiting to hear that a wealthy Nebraska farmer had taken a liking to Touchdown Jesus and asked how much Notre Dame wanted for it. You wouldn't have been surprised if the leprechaun mascot had been bribed to ride in on a John Deere tractor.
Amid the red menace outside before the game, I ran into two Chicago guys I know. Both are lifelong Notre Dame fans. Neither cares for Davie. One was debating whether to sell his ticket. The other was debating whether to buy one.
One said: "This is killing me. I'm afraid to root for Notre Dame. If we win, Davie keeps his job."
That probably summed up the terribly mixed emotions of many fans. These two sold their tickets and probably spent much of the profit in a nearby watering hole. But I wondered during the fourth quarter if they were kicking themselves.
According to senior Joey Getherall, decisions like theirs inspired the near-shocker: "I was upset to see so much red. We were saying, 'Everyone is counting us outit looks like they gave away their tickets.' It made us play a lot harder."
Has it come to this? The best way to motivate Davie's team is to sell out to rival fans? Shake down the scalpers?
Getherall's 83-yard punt return tied the score 21-21 early in the fourth quarter. By then the ND defense was shutting down Nebraska's optionstringing it out, taking away the pitchas effectively as probably any team will this season. Notre Dame students were able to scream their clever battle cry back at the red invaders: "Huskers shuck!"
Then it happened. The Irish forced a punt and, with 1:07 remaining, had the ball at their 30 with two timeouts left. Green magic time? One Montana-like pass? Rocket-style escape? Last-second field goal? No, Davie elected to run Battle twice, then run out the clock, forcing overtime.
Under the circumstances, Davie's logic made perfect sense. Battle, who often looked as if he couldn't pass the butter, was 3-for-15 with one interception and three close calls. Davie didn't want to risk letting him throw away a shot at overtime and at least a moral victory.