While there are numerous polarizing debates about the potential future additions to Notre Dame Stadium, from FieldTurf to Jumbotrons, there is one irrefutable fact about the edifice: The years where the Fighting Irish football team finishes unscathed on its home field usually turn out to be the special campaigns.
Protecting home turf is one of the foremost objectives each season, even if it required pre-game fights like this one against Miami in 1988.
Last year at this time when we listed preseason goals for the 2012 Notre Dame team, at the top of the list was, “Go unbeaten at home for the first time since 1998 (and only second time since 1990).”
This year it’s going to be, “Win a BCS bowl for the first time since the creation of the alignment in 1998, especially because this is its final year.” If it happens to come in the BCS National Championship Game, that’s even better. But first things first. Last year the foremost priority was to return to upper-tier status on the home field. Can it be repeated?
“You’ve got to start with a win, you’ve got to win your home games and you’ve got to win your rivalry games,” head coach Brian Kelly summarized of the base objectives any college head coach has entering a season.
From Nov. 21, 1942 until Sept. 30, 1950, Notre Dame won 28 consecutive home games under four-time national champion Frank Leahy. The closest it has come since then is the 19 straight it won from Sept. 19, 1987 until Oct. 6, 1990.
In the 63 football seasons since 1950, Notre Dame has been unbeaten and untied at home 13 times, or an average of about once per five years. It entered last season with its school-record drought of 13 straight seasons of not going unblemished at home (the previous record had been eight from 1956-63).
The Fighting Irish had to scratch and claw to finally achieve that feat, including 11th-hour victories against Purdue (20-17) and Brigham Young (17-14), and even going “past midnight” to finally vanquish Stanford (20-13) and Pitt (29-26) in one or more overtimes.
Among Notre Dame’s three Hall of Fame coaches hired since 1950, Ara Parseghian finished unbeaten at home four times in his 11 seasons from 1964-74, Dan Devine twice in six years, and Lou Holtz three times (consecutively from 1987-89) in his 11 years.
Neither Parseghian nor Devine was able to do it in back-to-back campaigns. Notre Dame did not lose at home in 1969 and 1970, but in 1969 it did have a 14-14 tie with USC.
The final overall Irish record in those 13 seasons since 1950 when it finished perfect at home was 129-15-3 (.885), with national titles in 1966, 1973, 1977 and 1988, sharing a fifth title in 1964, and near misses in 1953 (No. 2 at 9-0-1), 1970 (No. 2 at 10-1) and 1989 (No. 2 at 12-1), plus the 12-0 and No. 1 ranking last season prior to the BCS National Championship Game debacle versus Alabama.
Not finishing unbeaten at home doesn’t mean the Irish are destined for a bad season. In fact, Alabama has won two straight national championships despite losing at home in November (to LSU in 2011 and Texas A&M in 2012). But an unblemished mark at home usually guarantees a great, memorable ride.
This season’s six-game home slate is comprised of Temple (Aug. 31), Michigan State (Sept. 21), Oklahoma (Sept. 28), USC (Oct. 19), Navy (Nov. 2) and BYU (Nov. 23).