New life for fans, coaches, team
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Associate Sports Editor
As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Notre Dame Stadium, head coach Bob Davie and receivers coach Urban Meyer could be heard shouting, "It's over! It's over!" and hugging as they jumped up and down on the Irish sidelines. After four weeks of questions regarding his play-calling and clock management, Davie finally had a chance to enjoy a victory and the rewards of coaching.
"It's a lot easier tonight when I get home," Davie said after the game. "This will be the first night I can watch ESPN and catch the highlights. It will be fun to go home and see what other people did across the country without having to turn the volume down."
The volume on the Davie household TV may have been loud Saturday night, but it wasn't as loud as Notre Dame Stadium was on Saturday afternoon. Two weeks ago against Michigan State, the Spartans faced a critical first down late in the fourth quarter with the game still in doubt.
If the Irish could force the Spartans to punt, there was still a chance of a Notre Dame victory. With such a crucial play coming up, one would figure that the crowd would be loud — but it wasn't. Two weeks ago, the crowd was merely apathetic.
But this week was a different story. The game was still in doubt with just a little more than two minutes left on the clock. The Sooners faced third-and-10 from their own 20 yard line. Trailing by four, quarterback Josh Heupel had to lead his team 80 yards if the Sooners were to go 4-0. This week the crowd responded to the crucial situation. The keys were out, the fans were on their feet and the stadium with shaking with noise. Two plays later, the Irish had the ball back and a second victory was in hand.
"I thought our fans did a great job," Davie said. "We haven't made it easy for our fans this year. But to come out in the second half and still see that stadium sold out — you could feel the momentum swinging our way."
Irish fans have slipped to a pretty sorry state when the head coach seems surprised that people haven't left at halftime.
Davie often says that Irish fans are the best in the country but until this week, they hadn't looked like the best in the country. They hadn't even looked like the best in the county. Penn High School has had better fans then ours the past few weeks.
But this week, it was completely different. There was life in the stadium. And that life extended beyond just the sidelines.
Sophomore tackle Jordan Black said last week that winning would "really put some life into this team."
There was life in every player on the field. From Jarious Jackson who battled through a toe injury and the haunting turnovers of previous weeks to put together a near flawless game to defensive back Lee Lafayette, who had been picked on by opposing quarterbacks in previous games, but responded to grab the interception that turned the game around for the Irish, there was a different Irish team on the field Saturday.
Trailing by 16 points in the third quarter, the Irish could have quit. They had seen previous comeback attempts fail and it would have been easy for Notre Dame to just give up and accept their fourth loss on the season.
"It was a gut check for them and the kids really responded in the second half," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "They have had great character all year. They have battled and battled for us. They could have quit. It would have been easier for them to say "I'm not going anymore.' But instead they battled and I was really proud of them."
The Irish battled back against adversity and earned the right to finally enjoy a victory.
"It's just about enjoying the win," Davie said. "It's about the guys going home and enjoying this win. For tonight, this makes things better."
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Monday, October 4, 1999