Notre Dame raises bar against Nebraska
It was almost a fairy tale.
It was almost a game that Irish fans would tuck away in their memories as a great moment in Notre Dame football to recount years later.
It was almost a legendary story that had all the implications of David and Goliath.
But fairy tales have happy endings, and for the Irish, the 27-24 overtime loss to No. 1 Nebraska didn't quite make the cut.
Yet regardless of the score, the Irish showed they are capable of a high level of play.
What they lacked in skill they made up for in emotion.
The team that stepped on the field Saturday was not last season's 5-7 squad.
It was a squad starved for recognition, a team out to earn some respect, a team that believed from the opening series that they were equal to the nation's top-rated squad.
"I don't think there was anyone on our sidelines that didn't think we would win the game," said Irish head coach Bob Davie. "I never felt one time from that point on that we would not win that football game. And our players felt the same way."
Saturday's Irish squad took tough hits, backed themselves into corners and fought their way out of them.
When it looked like the 'Huskers were steadily pulling away with running back Dan Alexander's rushing touchdown to make the score 21-7 in the third quarter, Julius Jones turned around and took the ball 100 yards on the very next play to keep the score close and his teammates fired up.
When the 'Huskers looked headed for the end zone again late in the third, with quarterback Eric Crouch leading his team to three first-downs on long-yard plays, Irish cornerback Shane Walton stepped up and picked off a pass intended for full back Judd Davies to quell the 'Husker assault.
When Irish quarterback Arnaz Battle and the offensive line were unable to generate any points to tie the score late in the game, Joey Getherall came to the rescue, making an 83-yard punt return to send the game into overtime 21-21.
And while the scoreboard reflected a notch in the loss column, the Irish made huge strides to winning back even the most hardened hearts of fair weather fans.
But Davie and company know that's just not enough.
Anticipating Nebraska's trip to South Bend last week Bob Davie paid tribute the Cornhusker juggernaut about to roll through town.
"If you want to raise the bar as a football team, you raise that bar by comparing yourself to Nebraska," Davie said.
After Saturday's game, the Irish had reason enough to smile — they took the national-champion favorite down to the wire and almost staged their biggest upset of the decade.
They could have been happy with their progress from last season, but they were not.
"I know it's a bottom line situation — we didn't win that football game today," Davie said. "So there was no talk in that locker room about `boy guys we were close and what a great effort'. Bottom line: we didn't win and that's all that matters."
No more settling for less than the best.
No more whining about things that could have been.
No more excuses.
Did you catch that? Someone just raised the bar.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 11, 2000