The echoes needed more than a simple wake-up at Notre Dame. They needed a defibrillator and some paddles. “CLEAR!’’ The Four Horsemen, Rudy, Rockne, the Gipper, Ara, Holtz and even Touchdown Jesus were all so far in the past that they were mocking the Irish by now.
They had stopped being reminders of what Notre Dame is and instead become symbols of what Notre Dame once was.
You can’t beat Clemson or Alabama or Ohio State by reputation and lore. So Notre Dame’s 47-40 double-overtime win Saturday over Clemson, which was ranked No. 1, wasn’t really about myths and legends.
It was about the Irish punching Clemson square in the nose.
It was the best day in the history and lore of modern-day Notre Dame football. And for the first time in years, current players, recruits and the Irish’s glorious and legendary past were all tied together again.
So I talked about it with some of the faces of Notre Dame’s championship past and with current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
Pete Cordelli, the quarterbacks coach of Notre Dame’s most recent national title team from 1988, described former Irish head coach Lou Holtz’ philosophy.
“No. 1: Never flinch,’’ Cordelli told OutKick. “Always feel like momentum is coming your way. No. 2: We have to be the most physical team on the field at all times. All times!’’
Cordelli saw it Saturday. He saw Notre Dame as more physical than the best football program in the country. He has watched all the games. It had been years since he’d seen that against a top team.
“The one thing we always felt — and Ara (Parseghian) — always told us is we were a national championship team or bust,’’ Gerry DiNardo, the former LSU head coach who played on the 1973 Notre Dame national title team told OutKick. “We weren’t part of a conference. You couldn’t be all-conference. You could be all-American. You couldn’t get a conference championship ring. You could get a graduation ring and a national championship ring.
“Those were the only two things available to you. That mindset was always there. My junior year, we won the national championship. My senior year we did not. We were probably ranked third or something. You can look it up. I wouldn’t even remember.’’
They were No. 6.
Notre Dame hasn’t won a national championship in 32 years, nearly a third of a century. Until Saturday, it hadn’t beaten a No. 1 ranked team in 27 years.
So no high school recruit had seen Notre Dame do either of those things. No current Notre Dame player had either. No player who played 15 years ago would remember a championship. Even the movie Rudy came out 27 years ago.
Notre Dame has been hovering right below the national elite. So the question is whether the Irish have reached the top now and are ready to join Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State, or whether this win was just a one-off over a team without its starting quarterback. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was out with COVID.
My opinion: Notre Dame is with them now. That doesn’t mean they will win the national championship, but they are at that level now.
But if I’m going to be honest, I felt that way, too, before No. 1 Notre Dame played Alabama in the national championship game at the end of the 2012 season. I thought the Irish defense with Manti Te’o would be enough to hold back Alabama’s offense and make for a great game.
And on the first play, Notre Dame looked great. From the second play on, Alabama’s offensive line just swatted Notre Dame’s front seven away like mosquitoes. Final score: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14.
When it was over, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he had seen what a championship team looked like and that Notre Dame had a lot of work to do.
This week, I asked Kelly if Notre Dame looked like a championship team to him Saturday against Clemson.
“I said that the physicality of Alabama was such that we needed to duplicate that in our program,’’ Kelly told OutKick Monday. “And here we are in where I feel like our physicality was a separator in terms of the ability to control the line of scrimmage (against Clemson). We rushed for over 200 yards. We kept them to under 50 yards.
“So controlling the line of scrimmage was what my vision was in terms of what a championship team looked like. And then those other pieces come together in different forms. That physicality was certainly at the heart of it.’’
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams rushed for 140 yards, including three touchdowns. He also had the game-winner in the second overtime. The Irish defense then had back-to-back sacks on Clemson quarterback DJ Uaigalelei to set up the win.
By 2012, Cordelli wasn’t at Notre Dame anymore. But he remembers that blowout to Alabama well.
“My oldest daughter and her husband went to Notre Dame,’’ he said. “My youngest daughter’s husband went to Alabama. They all kept asking me every day `Who’s going to win?’ My wife asked me if I was going to answer, and I said, `Yeah, about 10 minutes before kickoff. Two of them are going to be really mad.’ So I told them that Notre Dame’s just not quite ready for this.
“Obviously, my daughter and son-in-law got mad. So they go out after the first quarter to watch the game in the parking lot. They had a number of adult beverages to ease the pain.
“But I’m really impressed with the way Notre Dame took that game over in overtime Saturday against Clemson. When it was time to elevate your game, they played with a purpose. They WERE the most physical team on the field.”
Cordelli connects past and present. And all along, Notre Dame has kept its national TV contract. In a time when sports TV ratings are down, Notre Dame’s game against Clemson was its highest-rated game in 15 years. A regular season Irish football game demolished the ratings of the average game in the NBA Finals with LeBron James.
And now, going into this weekend’s game against Boston College, Notre Dame is undefeated and ranked No. 2. Alabama is No. 1.
It’s as if the past has just been waiting for the present to catch up.