The Notre Dame football program and horse racing’s Triple Crown has some things in common.
I'll Have Another (left) is trying to break a horse racing Triple Crown slump, just like Notre Dame is with its football program.
The Irish have won 11 consensus national titles since 1924, and there also have been 11 Triple Crown winners since 1919. Both are in their longest slumps — Notre Dame 23 years without a national title and horse racing sans a Triple Crown champion in 33 years.
Both also have had numerous teases over the past 15 years. Since 1997, there have been seven horses that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown before losing the Belmont, while Notre Dame has had five seasons with manufactured “Return to Glory” themes because of nine or 10 wins — only to falter in the end.
This weekend, I’ll Have Another is vying to capture the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes after thrilling wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness earlier this spring. If he does, some silly superstition just might raise hopes in Notre Dame’s football program. In the years there have been a Triple Crown winner, Irish football is 97-8-5 overall. It never finished out of the AP Top 10 in those seasons, and eight of the 11 resulted in unbeaten seasons or national titles, if not both. Here’s the breakdown:
1919 Horse: Sir Barton
Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame team wins 14-9 at Nebraska, a prime nemesis, to propel his first unbeaten campaign (9-0) and is declared Western Champions.
1930 Horse: Gallant Fox
Rockne’s final team — “the best I’ve ever had” — captures its third consensus national title with a 10-0 mark.
1935 Horse: Omaha
Highlighted by the miraculous 18-13 win at Ohio State — voted the top college game in football’s first century (1869-1969) — head coach Elmer Layden's team finishes 7-1-1.
1937 Horse: War Admiral
In a truly defensive season where the Irish out-score the opposition 77-49, Notre Dame finishes 6-2-1 and No. 9 in the AP (the second year of the poll).
1941 Horse: Whirlaway
First-year head coach Frank Leahy has the first of his six unbeaten campaigns (8-0-1) in 11 seasons to finish No. 3.
1943 Horse: Count Fleet
The 9-1 Irish defeat the teams that finish 2 (Iowa-Pre-Flight), 3 (Michigan) and 4 (Navy) to capture the first of four national titles under Leahy.
1946 Horse: Assault
Despite the scoreless tie with Army, 8-0-1 Notre Dame gets the nod over the Black Knights for the national title.
1948 Horse: Citation
A third straight unbeaten season (9-0-1) results in a No. 2 finish behind unbeaten, untied Michigan.
1973 Horse: Secretariat
Ara Parseghian's team improves from 8-3 to 11-0, highlighted by a 24-23 Sugar Bowl win over No. 1 Alabama to capture the national title.
1977 Horse: Seattle Slew
After sputtering out of the gate, Dan Devine's Irish (11-1) win their last 10 and capture the national title with a 38-10 drubbing of No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
1978 Horse: Affirmed
Notre Dame (9-3) wins nine of its last 10 last against the No. 1-ranked schedule to finish No. 7, capped with the memorable 35-34 conquest of Houston in the Cotton Bowl.